Truesee's Daily Wonder

Truesee presents the weird, wild, wacky and world news of the day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

 

Yawn leads to jail time

Yawn leads to jail time for Ill. courtroom spectator
Steve Schmadeke
 
CHICAGO TRIBUNE
08/09/2009

CHICAGO — Clifton Williams arrived at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill., and sat in the fourth-floor courtroom where his cousin was pleading guilty to a felony drug charge.
As Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak handed down the cousin’s sentence — two years’ probation — Williams, 33, stretched and let out a very ill-timed yawn.

Williams’ sentence? Six months in jail — the maximum penalty for criminal contempt without a jury trial. He man was locked up July 23 and will serve at least 21 days.

“I was flabbergasted because I didn’t realize a judge could do that,” said Williams’ father, Clifton Williams Sr. “It seems to me like a yawn is an involuntary action.”

Chuck Pelkie, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said the prosecutor in the courtroom that day told him “it was not a simple yawn — it was a loud and boisterous attempt to disrupt the proceedings.” Jason Mayfield, the cousin of Williams who was pleading guilty at the time, said it was “not an outrageous yawn.”

A Chicago Tribune review of a decade’s worth of contempt-of-court charges reveals Rozak jails people — typically spectators whose cell phones go off or who scream or shout profanity during sentencing — at a far higher rate than any other judge in the county. There are now 30 judges in the 12th Judicial Circuit, but since 1999, Rozak has brought more than a third of all the contempt charges, records show.

And while it is not uncommon for judges to jail people for ignoring subpoenas or court orders or appearing in court drunk or under the influence of drugs, Rozak’s charges tend to involve behavior that would not otherwise be criminal.

Judges have broad discretion under the law, which defines contempt as acts that embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in its administration of justice or lessen its authority or dignity. As long as the sentence is not longer than 6 months, there is no review of the case — unless the offender appeals to the judge or a higher court.

“We want judges to be able to manage the courtroom ... but we have some concern that when the contempt is personal, judges might react too harshly,” said University of Chicago law professor Adam Samaha. “Contempt that happens right in the judge’s face is likely to trigger an emotional reaction.” Observers describe Rozak as running the type of strict courtroom that was commonplace a few decades ago. Defense attorneys say Rozak is “tough but fair” and runs particularly well-managed trials. Rozak has been elected twice, in 2000 and 2006, both times with recommendations from the state bar association.

“I think he’s terrific — he understands how the world works,” said Joliet defense attorney David Carlson, who has appeared before Rozak as a prosecutor and defense attorney. “Some of the most serious felonies we have are handled in his courtroom, so I think there should be a level of seriousness and decorum.”

So far this year, five criminal contempt charges have been brought by Will County judges. Four of them were brought by Rozak, including the case of Derrick Lee, a Joliet man who “resisted” sitting where sheriff’s deputies directed him, talked in a “very loud” voice during court and referred to Rozak as “boss,” according to the judge’s contempt order. Lee, who also was wanted on an outstanding warrant, was sentenced to 30 days but was released two days later after apologizing.

Chief Judge Gerald Kinney said he hadn’t heard of Williams’ case and couldn’t comment on its propriety, but said that he would’ve liked a more detailed order from Rozak in imposing the maximum penalty. He was not aware that Rozak brings a high percentage of contempt charges and said he has not received a significant number of complaints about the judge, a former public defender who has been on the bench since 1995.

Rozak could not be reached for comment.

Rozak’s order sentencing Williams to six months in jail found that he “raised his hands while at the same time making a loud yawning sound” that caused the judge to “break from the proceedings.”

“I really can’t believe I’m in jail,” Williams wrote his family in a letter. “I done set (sic) in this (expletive) a week so far for nothing.”

People in other Will County courtrooms have received less severe sentences for seemingly more flagrant offenses. In Judge Richard Schoenstedt’s court last year, a woman was disruptive during closing arguments of a trial, shouted, “This is bull ...” as she was led away, was held to the floor by a deputy and “continued to be disruptive” after later being brought back before the judge. She received a seven-day sentence for contempt, records show.

Rozak has sentenced more spectators to jail for infractions involving cell phones than any other judge in Will County in the last decade. In 2003, a man who called the judge an “ass” after Rozak ordered him to turn over the phone when it rang in court was sentenced to 10 days but did just 24 hours after apologizing to the judge.

Three years later, a man twice refused to turn over his ringing cell phone to a deputy and then, his phone ringing before the bench, refused to hand it to Rozak. He also received a 6-month sentence, but it was reduced to 18 days after the man apologized, court records show.

In the two-story brick home where Williams had been living with his aunt Cheryl Mayfield and caring for his 79-year-old grandmother, family members said they were in shock over the sentence but were unable to afford an attorney to appeal. Mayfield said her nephew was supposed to start a job at a Chicago car wash shortly after his yawning arrest.

“This is ridiculous — you’ve got all these people shooting up kids and here this boy yawns in court (and gets 6 months). It’s crazy,” she said.

“This could happen to any one of us.”


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

Archives

June 2021   May 2021   April 2021   March 2021   February 2021   January 2021   December 2020   November 2020   October 2020   September 2020   August 2020   July 2020   June 2020   May 2020   April 2020   March 2020   February 2020   January 2020   December 2019   November 2019   October 2019   September 2019   August 2019   July 2019   June 2019   May 2019   April 2019   March 2019   February 2019   January 2019   December 2018   November 2018   October 2018   September 2018   August 2018   July 2018   June 2018   May 2018   April 2018   March 2018   February 2018   January 2018   December 2017   November 2017   October 2017   September 2017   August 2017   July 2017   June 2017   May 2017   April 2017   March 2017   February 2017   January 2017   December 2016   November 2016   October 2016   September 2016   August 2016   July 2016   June 2016   May 2016   April 2016   March 2016   February 2016   January 2016   December 2015   November 2015   October 2015   September 2015   August 2015   July 2015   June 2015   May 2015   April 2015   March 2015   February 2015   January 2015   December 2014   November 2014   October 2014   September 2014   August 2014   July 2014   June 2014   May 2014   April 2014   March 2014   February 2014   January 2014   December 2013   November 2013   October 2013   September 2013   August 2013   July 2013   June 2013   May 2013   April 2013   March 2013   February 2013   January 2013   December 2012   November 2012   October 2012   September 2012   August 2012   July 2012   June 2012   May 2012   April 2012   March 2012   February 2012   January 2012   December 2011   November 2011   October 2011   September 2011   August 2011   July 2011   June 2011   May 2011   April 2011   March 2011   February 2011   January 2011   December 2010   November 2010   October 2010   September 2010   August 2010   July 2010   June 2010   May 2010   April 2010   March 2010   February 2010   January 2010   December 2009   November 2009   October 2009   September 2009   August 2009   July 2009   June 2009   May 2009   April 2009   March 2009   February 2009   January 2009   December 2008  

Powered by Lottery PostSyndicated RSS FeedSubscribe