While this blog is investigating the strange and mysterious rulings of Judge Curtis Lane fueled by John Robertson and Paul Mangieri, out of no where comes a glowing article on the Williamson case wherein 150 acres of a home, farmland and timberland was taken from two elderly Christian ladies who were good lifelong friends of Frederick Stegall in Galesburg.
Apparently this is a weak and strange coverup of the nefarious activities in Knox County, IL court system.
So read on and let me know if anyone else has had their local newspapers publish strange and out of character articles in order to cover up crimes against the innocent in probate.
I’m sure it goes on.
Your turn: Our system of laws is still in good hands
Special to the Register-Mail
Did you ever go back to a place you used to work? It’s interesting how things are both the same and yet different. Recently I went back to the Knox County courthouse to observe a two week long jury trial. It evoked a lot of feelings.
I walked into one of the courtrooms where I had presided for 24 years. My picture is even hanging on the wall in one of the other rooms. But there was a different judge sitting where I used to sit. He and I had never worked together so it was interesting to watch someone else’s way of running a trial.
Some of the lawyers had familiar faces. One had appeared before me for years and another had been a judicial colleague until he retired and returned to the practice of law. The clerk had taken care of court files for me and the court reporter had written down a lot of things I have said.
The courtroom was always known as “The Big Courtroom” and had seen a lot of changes through its 140 years. New to me were the accessibility ramps and the television screens. It had also been fancied up since I sat there when I would sometimes find fallen plaster on my chair.
Among of the things I love about the law are its traditions. Everyone stood up when the jury came in. The clerk swore in the witnesses with the same oath used for centuries. (“Do you solemnly swear…”) The judge wore a robe like the one I had worn and like the ones judges have worn since back in England.
There were some differences. The jurors took notes and were allowed to submit to the judge questions they wanted him to ask the witnesses. A couple of jurors wore baseball caps through the proceedings. That was something I never allowed.
The case itself was an interesting one. A man had died and left his farmland to two sisters who claimed they had taken care of him. The Catholic Church and the local gun club sued, claiming that the man had promised to leave his property to them. He had, in fact, drawn up a will leaving everything to the church and the club but changed it shortly before he died.
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For two weeks witnesses testified about the decedent’s connection to the church and how his father had founded the gun club. Other witnesses recounted how he had been very close to the father of the two women who received the estate. With all the back and forth, it started to seem like a television drama.
In time-honored tradition each witness took the stand and told their idea of what happened. Then the lawyers on the other side started probing, looking for holes in their stories. All the while the jurors listened intently and took notes.
My experience was that in many cases less interesting than this one, jurors (and judges if you must know) sometime drift off during the dull parts of testimony. But for this trial, everyone listened carefully. There were even spectators who came to watch the trial every day. That is something you don’t see in a boring contract case.
Finally, the day came for closing arguments. Some of you may be aware that there are more than a couple of lawyer jokes circulating out there. Usually, they revolve around how crooked or inhuman attorneys are.
The arguments made to the jurors and their response to them made me proud of my profession. Both sides argued clearly and rationally. They didn’t shout or try to fool the jury.
They presented their clients’ case in a fair and reasonable way. It was a demonstration of what is good about our legal system and it made me proud to have been a part of it.
The jury was only out for about an hour before returning a verdict in favor of the church and the gun club. They not only gave them the land back but assessed a large penalty against the two women. It was how I would have voted but you can never predict what a jury will do.
The judge, the lawyers and the jurors all did their jobs well. Each one is an indispensable part of our legal system, and I was proud to see them perform so well.
As I sat in that courtroom and observed the same rituals that I had practiced, I thought about all those people both before and after me who have sworn to uphold our court system. Sometimes I could see swirling around the room the spirits of the scholars who had written my law books. Books that taught the logic and majesty of the law to past generations as well as the “youngsters” who came after me.
Americans have long taken pride in our judicial system, but we have also seen the frequent and often vicious attacks on lawyers and the law. Despite the criticism, when I went back to my old salt mine, I left assured that our system of laws is in good hands.
Harry Bulkeley is a retired Knox County judge and a local historian.
Here is the link to the cover up story:
Who ever this guy is, he clearly has not read the entire court file, nor did he ever contact the co-trustees, Penny and Tonny Williamson to confirm the truth of what he asked to be published. He also knows nothing about probate law, or Fred Stegall, or Haynes, Hessler and Blake who appear to have put their dasterdly plans in motion.
If he did, he would have read the following file stamped post trial motion by the Williamson attorneys, Jeff Ryva and Teri Sosalla who know a complete different side of the case:
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE NINTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
KNOX COUNTY, ILLINOIS
F&M BANK, Executor of the Estate of FREDERICK J. STEGALL, Deceased,
GALESBURG RIFLE CLUB, an Illinois not-for-profit Corporation and
THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF PEORIA, an Illinois Religious corporation,
TONNY J. WILLIAMSON and
PENNY J. WILLIAMSON,
Case No.: 2021 MR 21
DEFENDANT PENNY J. WILLIAMSON’S POST-TRIAL MOTION
NOW COMES, Defendant, PENNY J. WILLIAMSON (hereinafter “PENNY”), by and through her attorney THERESA L. SOSALLA of SOSALLA LAW, LLC, and for her Post-Trial Motion states as follows:
- In addition to the matters addressed in this Post-Trial Motion, PENNY adopts and joins Tonny’s Post-Trial Motion filed on her behalf by attorney Jeffrey A. Ryva on March 21, 2023.
- Denial of Defendants’ Discovery. One of the most egregious factors that denied Defendants a fair trial was the trial court’s refusal to allow Defendants to conduct meaningful discovery. The procedural history of this case – having been consolidated with both the guardianship case (21 PP 10) and the estate case (22 PR 10) – is convoluted at best. At any point in time prior to July 15, 2022 when Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint, there had been some type of motion pending
which would impact the nature and scope of the various claims between the parties in the consolidated cases of 21 MR 21 and 22 PR 10. It was not until Defendants filed their Answer to the Second Amended Complaint on July 15, 2022 – as opposed to filing another motion directed at the Second Amended Complaint – that the allegations of that complaint defined Plaintiffs’ cause of action against Defendants.1 However, the trial court had entered an Order following a June 24, 2022 hearing which closed discovery on August 1, 2022.2 The impossibility of completing discovery in two weeks is palpable. The trial court apparently believed that discovery in 21 MR 21 could, and should, have been conducted during the time when Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint were pending. This belief, however, is contrary to a later ruling following a hearing in 22 PR 12 wherein the court stated:
Additionally, the Court made it clear that an extension in discovery would be granted in Knox County Case No. 22-PR-12 due to the Court not expecting the parties to continue with discovery when new Motions to Dismiss had been filed and encouraged the parties and attorneys to attempt to agree on a new discovery cutoff deadline.3
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Compliant in 21 MR 21 was denied on June 24, 2022. It defies logic how the trial court could recognize that discovery would not proceed while motions to dismiss are pending in the Estate case but expected discovery to be conducted in 21 MR 21 during the 17 months the case was on file prior to a
1 See Motion for Extension of Deadlines filed by Attorney Ryva on July 21, 2022 for the status of the discovery at that time.
2 See Order referencing a June 24, 2022 hearing which was not filed until August 4, 2022.
3 See Order entered November 1, 2022.
ruling on Defendants’ motions to dismiss. The trial court arbitrarily treated discovery in the two cases differently. It abused its discretion in doing so. The lack of discovery available to Defendants crippled their ability to defend the claims against them and denied them a fair trial. The only remedy is to vacate the verdict and grant Defendants a new trial to be held after proper discovery is conducted by both parties.
- Penny’s First Motion to Continue Trial filed February 9, 2023. Attorney Theresa L. Sosalla entered her Appearance on behalf of Penny on January 18, 2023. It was anticipated that several motions relevant to clarifying trial issues would be resolved at that hearing. Unfortunately, due to technical problems in the courtroom, that hearing did not proceed as scheduled. The hearing was reset for February 17, 2023. Attorney Sosalla filed a Motion to Continue Jury Trial citing several legitimate reasons why it would be unfair and prejudicial to Penny if the jury trial remained on schedule to begin February 27, 2023. Consequently, Penny’s Motion to Continue was not resolved until 10 days prior to trial at the February 17 hearing; the trial court denied Penny’s motion without oral argument. “Discretion” is defined, in part, as “individual choice or judgment” or the “power of free decision or latitude of choice within certain legal bounds.”4 The Court summarily denied this motion without addressing the merits of the grounds cited for a brief continuance of the scheduled trial. There is nothing in the record upon which the rationale for this ruling can be determined other than Plaintiffs’ and the Court’s intractable desire to begin the jury trial on February 27, 2023. Plaintiffs cited no prejudice or hardship that would befall them
4 See Merriam-Webster online dictionary at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discretion.
if the jury trial were to be briefly continued. While the decision regarding whether to continue a scheduled trial is within the trial court’s discretion, that discretion must be exercised to promote the interests of justice. The decision to deny Penny’s motion to continue was not the result of a conscientious consideration of the relative hardships or prejudices between the parties. The Court exercised no discretion, which is an abuse of discretion and error that compels granting Defendants a new trial.
- Subpoenas to Witnesses. The issue of Penny’s outstanding subpoenas issued to several trial witnesses in early January, 2023 was scheduled to be resolved at the January 18, 2023 hearing. Those subpoenas directed the recipients to appear for depositions on written questions and directed them to produce certain documents on a specified date. Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Strike Subpoenas and Attachments and simultaneously contacted each of these witnesses to circumvent their compliance and prevent Defendants from obtaining necessary information regarding these witnesses’ anticipated testimony at trial. See letter attached hereto as Exhibit A.
- Penny’s Second Motion to Continue Trial filed February 15, 2023. The court also unfairly treated Penny from the standpoint of her medical condition. The court was presented with some evidence of Penny’s inability to come to court for the jury trial. The court denied a continuance but significantly compounded the problem during a large part of the jury trial. Eventually, the court began to go on the record to say Penny appeared through her attorney, Ms. Sosalla. But before that, on numerous occasions in the presence of the jury, the court noted that Penny “fails to appear.” There is no rule or other requirement that a litigant in a civil case appear at trial in the absence of an order
compelling her to do so. Repeatedly stating that Penny “fails to appear” gave the impression that Penny did not care or at least allowed the jury to speculate why she was not present. The court probably used the failure to appear language a dozen or more times as the parties were reintroduced each time after a break of any kind. This could have been cured to some extent by saying something once and then noting all parties present with and through counsel as previously noted. Even when Penny’s counsel objected once, the court disagreed and said it would (and did) keep commenting that Penny had failed to appear. Penny’s physical impairment caused by a medically diagnoses condition prevented her from attending the trial. Her absence from jury selection prevented her from providing insight into which juror may have a propensity toward bias against her. In addition, her absence prevented her from rebutting certain unanticipated testimony from Plaintiffs’ witnesses which prejudicially impaired the jury’s ability to effectively perform the important “fact finding” function that is the foundation of the jury trial system. See Affidavit of Penny J. Williamson, attached hereto as Exhibit B.
- Subpoena to the Diocese — The jury ruled for Plaintiffs on liability very late on Friday March 10, 2023. Until then, there was no right to get the same jury to consider whether punitive damages should be awarded. This second part of the trial commenced at 9:00 a.m. Monday March 13, 2023. On the intervening Saturday, a subpoena was issued to the Diocese as follows:
TO: Russ Courter, or any knowledgeable financial person from the Diocese conversant with the items and documents set forth below c/o John Robertson its counsel of record by email.
YOU ARE COMMANDED to appear and testify as a witness and authenticate the documents described below on Monday March 13, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. before the
Honorable Judge Curtis Lane at the Knox County Courthouse, 200 S. Cherry Street. Galesburg, IL 61401. And to bring all documents related in any way to the claim being made that day for punitive damages including but not limited to at least any expenditures made in connection with such claim, whether detailed invoices or indicia of payment thereof, and a statement of net worth of the Diocese as of January 1, 2021, January 1, 2022 and now and an account monthly of all revenues received and expenses paid from January 1, 2021 through the present date. A check for appearance and mileage will be tendered on arrival of the witness at court, due to timing issues.
YOUR FAILURE TO APPEAR IN RESPONSE TO THIS SUBPOENA WILL SUBJECT YOU TO PUNISHMENT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT.
- Any witness shall respond to any lawful subpoena of which he or she has actual knowledge, if payment of the fee and mileage has been tendered. Supreme Court Rule 237(a). Here, Defendants acted as quickly as possible to demand, as they were entitled to, evidence of the financial status of the Diocese. This Court properly instructed the jury to consider the financial vulnerability of all plaintiffs. The financial position of the Diocese was therefore relevant. The problem occurred when the Diocese produced neither Father Brokaw nor the subpoenaed Mr. Courter Monday nor any of the subpoenaed financial information. This left the jury with no direct evidence of the financial wherewithal of the Diocese. The Diocese clearly was aware of the subpoena through counsel and that they would receive a check for appearing Monday morning. No motion to quash was filed over the weekend or Monday morning. Notably, Plaintiffs had abandoned their request for punitive damages, only having brought it back into the case once this Court said Defendants were entitled to a jury trial. And discovery had closed before they had an opportunity to do so.
- But, the Court simply said that the subpoena could not be enforced because it had not been served three days before the time when compliance was demanded. The
Court did not cite any rule to support this decision. It conflicted with governing Supreme Court Rule 237(a). There does not appear to be any local rule that could trump an inconsistent Supreme Court Rule on the subject. See Phelan v. Groeteke, 293 Ill. App. 3d 469 (1997) (local rule requiring compliance within two days invalid when Supreme Court Rule allowed three). The court should have enforced rather than effectively quashing the subpoena related to this important issue.
- Defendants’ Offers of Proof Regarding the Diocese Use of Funds — Another error involved the Court denying the offer of proof made by Defendants that sought testimony about the Diocese. One area of inquiry was whether the Diocese had contributed any part of the $346,000 received directly from the POD accounts when Stegall passed to contribute towards or defer expenses related to Stegall’s non-rifle club property. Another subject was whether the Diocese had donated from POD funds or had plans to donate from the alleged other 1.5 million dollars to the charities (NRA, VA or Red Cross) Stegall supposedly told Brittany Miller specifically he wanted to benefit from his estate. Plaintiffs harped constantly on the notion that Defendants would just glom onto the property, suggesting they would sell it, rather than as Tonny testified they would remain stewards of it by caring for the land and donating to several charities as Stegall had requested. Defendants were entitled to try to flip the script and argue that the church not only had not done anything regarding the property and did not share or plan to share Stegall’s largesse with anyone else. The jury never heard a word about what the church would do. This was erroneous and unduly prejudicial.
- The court’s ruling was that the idea of a monument or plaque put up to honor Stegall and what the Diocese did with the $346,000 for him personally was irrelevant. As stated, even this was erroneous. The offer of proof though was not limited in this fashion. Defendants were also talking about using POD funds on and towards Stegall’s farm acreage and whether it would honor his wishes about donating to other charities. These were the particular areas of relevance, yet the court never allowed the jury to consider them.
- Court’s Own Knowledge and Affiliation with Catholic Church — The Court also significantly erred when it brought its own knowledge outside the record into the proceeding. The transcript reveals that the court injected its own knowledge about such matters as follows: “[T]o me that would be counter to what the Roman Church does because we don’t have any idols outside of the Heavenly Father.” On its face, this statement strongly suggested an association between the court and church that had never been disclosed to Defendants that should have been. Defendants would have had a right to move for automatic substitution of judge after Judge Rasmussen left the case. Or perhaps there would have been grounds to request voluntary recusal or to petition to substitute for cause or even supplement one of the other such motions.
- There is case law on potentially biased judges which apply the same test as for a jury. In re Heirich, 10 Ill.2d 357 (1956), is one example. The Supreme Court noted that it did not in fact even hold or intimate that the particular commissioner was infected, consciously or unconsciously, with prejudice or affected by other motivation against the Respondent. The ruling was based upon the classic principle of jurisprudence, that no
man who has a personal interest in the subject matter of decision in a case may sit in judgment on that case. The opinion goes on to note that the same rules would apply to any venireman in a jury trial. See also Bender v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioner of Dolton, 254 Ill.App.3d 488 (1993) (such personal interest requiring disqualification does not have to be a direct pecuniary interest in the outcome of the case; it need not be pecuniary at all; it need only be an interest which can be viewed as having a potentially debilitating effect on impartiality).
- The first canon of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct says: “A JUDGE SHALL UPHOLD AND PROMOTE THE INDEPENDENCE, INTEGRITY, AND IMPARTIALITY OF THE JUDICIARY AND SHALL AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL OF THE JUDGE’S ACTIVITIES.” Comment  explains: “The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s … impartiality … as a judge.” Specific rules say this:
- RULE 2.11: DISQUALIFICATION (A) A judge shall be disqualified in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality* might reasonably be questioned, including, but not limited to, the following circumstances: (1) The judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer or personal knowledge* of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding. … (4), The judge while a judge or a judicial candidate,* has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision, or opinion that commits or appears to commit the judge to reach a particular result or rule in a particular way in the proceeding or controversy. [Emphasis added.]
- COMMENTS  Under this Rule, a judge is disqualified whenever the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, regardless of whether any of the specific provisions of paragraphs (A)(l) through (6) apply.  A judge’s obligation not to hear or decide matters in which disqualification is required applies regardless of whether a motion to disqualify is filed.  A judge should disclose on the record information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might reasonably consider relevant to a possible motion for disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no basis for disqualification. [Emphasis added.]
- While certainly no litigant ever wishes to be in this predicament, these points must be preserved. The Court should have never kept this case from the beginning. Defendants had no idea at the outset that this Court had any affiliation with the Catholic Church. This should have been disclosed as Comment  to Rule 2.11 mandates. It should be beyond obvious from Defendants’ voire dire of jurors on their associations that they would have exercised their right to automatic substitution of judge as soon as Judge Rasmussen exited the case. His directive was to see if Judge Lane and all parties consented. Defendants would not have even had to use a substitution of judge motion since they would not have consented at such a time.
- There is also the issue which again needs to be raised no matter how distasteful it may be doing so. Attached hereto as Exhibit C is a newspaper article containing a statement made by the Judge Lane when he was running for office about his Catholic upbringing. This affiliation with the Catholic Church, whether ongoing or in the
5 Article available at: https://www.cantondailyledger.com/story/news/local/2014/03/09/curtis-lane-ninth-judicial-circuit/38366626007/.
past, should have been disclosed to the parties before Judge Lane took over the assignment of this case. Not doing so violated the rules governing candidates not making statements appearing to rule on way.
- At a minimum, even if there was no such affiliation, the court clearly brought its own knowledge of religion into the equation. A court cannot do so, plain and simple. It has long been the law that a judge cannot bring in matters outside the record through personal knowledge only. Streeter v. Streeter, 43 Ill. 155, 167 (1867). This itself was error.
- Judge Lane first heard any aspect of these proceedings on January 10, 2022. Apparently set at that time were a Motion to Certify for Appeal a certain question Judge Rasmussen had answered; a Petition for Rule Show Cause concerning confusion over date on which Defendants would be deposed; and a status regarding discovery and deposition deadlines and related processes. Judge Lane obviously knew from having read part of the file beforehand, and knowing the Catholic Diocese was a party, that he was entering a highly contested case between parties to include the Catholic Church. There was an initial discussion about whether Judge Rasmussen intended to keep the case; it appeared that he concluded that as long as counsel and Judge Lane agreed that Judge Lane would take the remainder of the case other than the Motion to Certify question. There was no disclosure about any association Judge Lane may have had with the Catholic Church. Defendants themselves were not present for the January 10, 2022 proceedings.
- Defendants did not actually know of the hearing and were entitled to be present for the discussions that took place on January 10, 2022, in various terms. These
included whether to agree to have Judge Lane even take over the case, Judge Rasmussen having stated that Judge Lane and all parties agreed with Judge Lane to do so. Moreover, discussions ensued about whether any written discovery would be conducted and how many depositions were to be taken. Defendants’ then attorney remained mute when the Court asked if any written discovery was still to occur (the Court hearing nothing closed all written discovery immediately) and how many depositions would be taken, with those of Defendants, Dr. Hershkowitz, and Attorney Steve Holland even being discussed. Had Defendants known of these matters, they would have insisted on a broader form and extent of discovery and depositions. That would have also been the time to discuss expert witness disclosures and other matters. Nothing of this sort was ever mentioned.
- In connection overall with the denials of continuance and stay motions, Defendants believe it prudent to return to that hearing transcript. It is obvious from any reading of what occurred on that date was that Judge Lane had, at the very beginning, became completely consumed with getting the case tried, with little discovery, as soon as possible. A number of times the Court referenced that the case was simple and that pretty much any attorney of any kind could try it quickly and appropriately. This course of events began right from the start, with the trial court never wavering from its view to push the case to conclusion, no matter what, at the earliest date.
- That transcript also reflects an astonishing example of the Court jumping to conclusions. Without even being asked, Judge Lane required that the Court Order for the new deposition date for Defendants include language that not only must they physically appear at the date, time, and place set forth, but that if they did not appear that they
would have no right whatsoever to provide testimony on their own behalf at trial. That unsolicited ruling set the stage for what occurred later in the jury trial. When called as an adverse witness by Plaintiffs, the Court threatened Tonny with having all of her testimony stricken if she would not answer questions in the way the Court thought they should be answered. As stated in other recent motions, this was improper. If this was just the wrap up of the die being cast from the beginning, the first day Judge Lane heard anything about the case prejudging what would happen if for any reason, legitimate or otherwise, Defendants failed to appear a second time for deposition. Illinois case law clearly stated that Orders barring or striking testimony are the last resort to be used. Here, the Court, before even hearing the pending Rule to Show Cause and Attorney’s Fee claim, which ultimately did and would include testimony justifying why the first deposition date was missed due to confusion.
- Motions for Substitution. Throughout the pre-trial proceedings, the Court repeatedly demonstrated its lack of impartiality toward Defendants’ interests in this litigation. Two separate Petitions to Substitute Judge for Cause were filed prior to trial.6 These Petitions set forth numerous instances of objectionable conduct directed toward Defendants which called into question the Court’s ability to make rulings based solely on the facts and law. Instead, this conduct created, in the least, an appearance of impropriety demonstrating its prejudice against Defendant. While this conduct was inappropriate at the time, the revelation of the Court’s affiliation with the Catholic Church in the midst of trial sheds new light on the motivation – whether conscious or unconscious
6 See Petitions filed April 27, 2022 and October 31, 2022.
– for the Court to enter rulings favorable to Plaintiffs and adverse to Defendants. Despite Defendants’ attempts to bring this disturbing conduct to the attention of the Court by filing the Petitions to Substitute, the animosity of the Court directed at the Defendants and their counsel continued unabated. The resulting appearance of bias and impropriety casts the judiciary in such a negative light that it is impossible to state that Defendants received a fair trial.
- Jury Room Not Soundproof. Tonny’s post-trial motion addressed the disturbing fact that the juror room was not soundproof. Not only could the jurors have heard what was going on in open court at the times when the Court removed them, there was another problem. The jurors used the same hallway and elevators/stairs as the parties, counsel, witnesses and general public did. There was a time that attorney Robertson was heard in front of a waiting witness or at least the general public casting negative aspersions on Defendants. In short, the jury was susceptible to exposure to information which was neither appropriate nor intended to be provided to them. It is impossible to cure the prejudicial impact these improprieties had on the jury’s verdict other than by granting Defendants a new trial.
- Attorney Fee Bills. The Court erred in admitting the attorney’s fees bills and submitting them to the jury. The exhibits clearly included work assertedly performed for the 22 LA and guardianship cases, a separate insurance coverage case and the probate matter itself. It was up to Plaintiffs to put in an accurate recitation of fees for this case. Even the jury instruction given on punitive damages limited the harm alleged to for just this case, 21 MR 21. Mercado v. Calumet Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n, 196 Ill. App. 3d 483
(1990), reversed a fee award for failure to provide a clear and proper breakdown of recoverable fees. The Court went on to note that if fees are caused to be incurred and litigated over elsewhere, this is reason to reverse as well. Our jury compounded the error by obviously awarding punitive damages exceeding even the amount of fees that included those themselves unrecoverable as stemming from other litigation. Plaintiffs specifically contended they at least should be made whole and have attorney’s fees paid. This is not an abstract or de minimus point. As shown in Tonny’s affidavit, noting Defendants could not make the calculation at trial when large packets of fee bills with hundreds of entries were dumped on them, the fees for other matters amounted to over $110,000 Also, the Court should not have allowed all the billings for the Church and Rifle Club while Stegall was still alive. They did not have standing until he passed. The Court had previously erred in not dismissing those entities for lack of standing then. This error was exacerbated by then allowing billings for this improper period to be submitted to the jury.
- The Court erred in admitting the Plaintiffs’ attorneys fee bills and submitting them to the jury. The exhibits clearly included work assertedly performed for other cases pending between the parties, including the guardianship case and the probate matter. It was up to Plaintiffs to put in an accurate recitation of fees for this case. Even the jury instruction given on punitive damages limited the harm alleged to for just this case, 21 MR 21. Mercado v. Calumet Federal Savings & Loan Ass’n, 196 Ill. App. 3d 483 (1990) reversed a fee award for failure to provide a clear and proper breakdown of recoverable fees. The Court went on to note that if fees are caused to be incurred and litigated over elsewhere, this is reason to reverse as well. The jury compounded the error by obviously
awarding punitive damages exceeding the amount of fees that included those themselves unrecoverable as stemming from other litigation. Plaintiffs specifically contended they at least should be made whole and have attorney’s fees paid. This is not an abstract or de minimus point. As shown in Tonny’s affidavit, attached hereto as Exhibit D, Defendants could not make the calculation at trial when large packets of fee bills with hundreds of entries were dumped on them on the morning of the trial on punitive damages. Also, the Court should not have allowed all the billings for the Church and Rifle Club while Stegall was still alive. They did not have standing until he passed. The Court had previously erred in not dismissing those entities for lack of standing then. This error was exacerbated by then allowing billings for an improper time period to be submitted to the jury. 27. Juror Misconduct — Two jurors (Epkins and Surface) submitted jury questionnaires stating they had not been convicted of a criminal offense. Attached as Exhibit B are documents showing otherwise. Defendants would have used challenges under the statute for cause (see 705 ILCS 305/2 (a) (3) requiring jurors be: “Free from all legal exception, of fair character, of approved integrity, of sound judgment, well informed, and able to understand the English language, whether in spoken or written form or interpreted into sign language.”) 28. Alternatively, if Defendants had accurate information regarding these jurors’ criminal history, then they would have used peremptories on them in the alternative. See Donough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984). It directly addresses lying about a criminal conviction. The Supreme Court held that a new trial would be
required if the movant establishes that the juror actually lied, and that the juror would have been dismissed for cause if they answered truthfully.
- Juror Bias Due to Association with Diocese Healthcare Institutions. A juror’s knowledge of, or association with, a party is a quintessential example of grounds to remove that juror for cause. Defendants repeatedly raised the issue of various juror’s association with the Diocese of Peoria through his or her affiliation with healthcare facilities that fall within the Catholic Healthcare Ministry of the Diocese. See Exhibit E from the Diocese of Peoria website which acknowledges its affiliation with many OSF7 healthcare facilities. The prospective juror’s connection to the Diocese often involved their employment with institutions inseparable from the Diocese, i.e., OSF facilities or Catholic Charities. Defendants should have been allowed to remove such jurors for cause and not be required to use peremptory challenges in their efforts to select a fair and impartial jury.
- Substitution of Judge Motions — In addition to the arguments above made concerning the Court not advising Defendants at the outset that he had an affiliation with the Catholic Church, such that they would not have consented to Judge Lane when Judge Rasmussen indicated he would step aside if Judge Lane and all parties consented, or could have used a substitution of judge as a matter of right, the Court erroneously denied the motions for cause as well. For reasons stated in those motions, either or both substitution motions should have been granted. Especially egregious was the fact that the second one was filed by Penny pro se, and the Court struck it with prejudice, with no right
7 Information available at: https://cdop.org/ministries/catholic-healthcare-ministry/medical-facilities-within-the-catholic-diocese-of-peoria/.
to amend, on technical or procedural grounds, not substance, without allowing Penny to even argue her motion at all. The Court said there was no proper verification but there was an electronic one. Even if it was not in proper form, the appropriate ruling should have been to give leave to cure it within 7 days or in open court right then.
- Additional Court Involvement – A separate case is pending before Judge Rasmussen with Defendants here Plaintiffs there against Messrs. Haynes, Hessler and Blake. It involves the purported will of Stegall of July 6, 2020. A hearing occurred in that matter before Judge Rasmussen on April 12, 2023. Defendants attended. Judge Lane appeared in the courtroom gallery for a significant part of the hearing, even though that case is not assigned to him. In addition, Defendants learned that attorney Robertson was also present although he does not represent a party to that case. And, moreover, Robertson advised Tonny’s counsel that he and Paul Mangieri who represents Haynes in that case met with Judge Lane who advised that he was directing them to get a hearing set in the 21 MR 21 case on any filed motions other than the actual post-trial motions of Defendants. The motions on file then all depended upon the enforceability of the judgment on the jury verdict which was already stayed by Tonny’s having filed a post-trial motion the day after the judgment.
- Sanctions Rulings Defendants were sanctioned erroneously. On one occasion, attorney Mangieri even stated that he only believed Attorney Vizciano should be sanctioned. But the Court ordered sanctions against Defendants, thereby again showing prejudice against them. Defendants incorporate by reference all arguments made by them in written submissions and on the record. Specifically, Tonny had difficulty hearing, as
reflected by the Court numerous times during trial, and this led to her not deciphering the difference between the two banking institutions that generated the dispute.
- CUMULATIVE ERROR. While any one individual error alleged in Defendants’ Post-Trial Motions may not be sufficiently prejudicial to the Defendants, the cumulative effect of these errors denied Defendants’ right to a fair trial. Marriage of Sadovsky, 2019 IL App (3d) 180204 (favorable ruling on husband’s petition to terminate maintenance was reversed and remanded for new trial when trial court exceeded its discretion in excluding expert testimony as discovery sanction and refusing to consider statutory factors in ruling on petition to terminate maintenance). In Sadovsky, the appellate court acknowledged that reversal of a judgment based on evidentiary errors is rare, yet it is appropriate when the errors are substantially prejudicial so as to affect the outcome of the case. Id. at ¶ 24 (“Although a single error may not warrant reversal, several evidentiary errors may require a new trial.”). In the current litigation, the alleged errors far exceed those which lead to a new trial in Sadovsky. These errors fall into the following general categories:
A. Improper limitations on discovery.
B. Judicial bias and abuse of discretion.
C. Juror bias.
D. Prejudicial errors in admission of evidence favorable to Plaintiffs and the exclusion of evidence favorable to Defendants.
E. Prejudicial rulings allowing the amendment of Plaintiffs’ pleadings against Defendants.
F. Prejudicial rulings allowing Defendants to present evidence for assessment of punitive damages.
G. Improper instructions to the jury as a consequence of such prejudicial rulings.
In light of the cumulative effect of the numerous errors and abuses of discretion in the trial court’s rulings throughout this litigation, it cannot be said with any confidence that Defendants received a fair trial. The only remedy is to vacate the verdict and grant Defendants a new trial to be held after proper discovery is conducted by both parties.
- Wrap up.
WHEREFORE, Defendants Tonny and Penny Williamson respectfully request that the Court GRANT them the relief herein requested, vacate the jury verdict and punitive damages awards and set this matter for retrial following
PENNY J. WILLIAMSON, Defendant
Theresa L. Sosalla ARDC: 6220454
SOSALLA LAW, LLC
1800 3rd Avenue, Suite 404
Rock Island, IL 61201
309 -794 794-3212 32123212
FAX: FAX: FAX: FAX: FAX:
309 -788 788-9332 93329332
The real question is now will attorney/former judge Bulkeley retract that article when presented with the facts before him.
We are still waiting on all the trial transcripts. But in case anyone has any doubt that Fred didn’t absolutely love these two elderly Christian women, here is the video evidence:
- Penny and Tonny can always stay with me.
- I want Penny and Tonny to take care of me
- I want my life prolonged for as long as possible
- I don’t want to sue Penny and Tonny
- I don’t have a lawyer (referring to Blake)
- Haynes takes me to places to do things I don’t understand
- Penny and Tonny to take care of my trust (property) forever and ever
Reblogged this on Justice for Everyone Blog.