Trials & Litigation

Lawyer held in contempt after skipping traffic trial for real estate closing, gets 2 days and fine

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An Illinois lawyer who found himself caught in a bind between a client’s downtown Chicago real estate closing in October 2011 and another client’s traffic-court trial scheduled at the same time opted to attend the closing.

That resulted in a contempt citation for Wayne Adams and two trials. The first, in November 2011, resulted in a conviction and a sentence of two days in jail (he actually served less than 24 hours, the Daily Herald reported at the time) and a $5,040.86 fine, to cover court costs in the traffic case. But Adams appealed, winning a ruling that reversed his conviction because the same judge who ordered the contempt prosecution had also decided the contempt case.

On Wednesday, another judge presiding over a new trial in the Rolling Meadows branch of Cook County Circuit Court reached a similar conclusion, holding Adams in contempt and sentencing him to time already served and a $286 fine, reports the Daily Herald.

“What you needed to do was explain the conflict you had,” Judge Martin Agran told Adams. “You made a wrong choice that day.”

As that article and an another Daily Herald article published at the time of the appellate ruling recount, Judge Alfred Levinson ordered Adams prosecuted for indirect contempt after he failed to return from a lunch break to try a traffic ticket case over a client’s left turn.

The trial hadn’t actually begun at that point, but the jury was selected and waiting. Adams, who has been in practice over 30 years, said that he tried to find someone else to cover both the Rolling Meadows trial and the Chicago real estate closing. When neither effort was successful, he told his client he would have to leave and instructed an associate to notify the court, which she did. Another attorney agreed to represent the client at the trial, which the client lost.

“I still don’t feel I showed any contempt. I tried to do the best that I could,” Adams told the newspaper after Wednesday’s ruling.

In addition to ruling that a lawyer is entitled to have a different judge than the one accusing him or her of contempt decide the case, last year’s appellate court decision found that Adams should be fined only for the costs of the contempt proceeding, not the traffic court trial. The court also said that “incarceration, in this context, strikes us as unduly harsh.”

Hat tip: Chicago Tribune

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