“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.”
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