Judges recall most memorable contempt
News-Gazette reporter Mary Schenk asked area judges to tell us their most memorable contempt — or almost contempt — of court stories:
Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis
After Difanis sentenced a man before a large crowd of spectators, a woman in the gallery called him a name that cannot be printed in a voice loud enough for him and several others to hear.
Being "color challenged," the judge was unable to identify the woman by the clothing she was wearing for his court security officer. "So I said, 'Get the one who called me a ' and they're all raising their hand."
Moultrie County Judge Dan Flannell
"I had a bad one where a defendant at sentencing threatened to kill me and my family when he got out of prison, claiming to know where my wife worked and my kids went to school. I gave him six months consecutive to his eight years and he was returned to Moultrie and did the contempt sentence once he was paroled out of DOC."
Early in his career, Flannell had a frequent flyer whose crimes were usually fueled by alcohol. The 60-something-year-old man was in court for slapping his equally intoxicated 80-something-year-old mother.
Although the jailers typically didn't bring drunk defendants before a judge, Flannell was going on vacation the next morning so they brought the defendant in for a bail hearing so he wouldn't be jailed all weekend.
"Robert was ... basically passed out standing he was so intoxicated. From time to time he grunted responses to some of my questions concerning whether he understood the charges. I was unclear if he was answering or simply grunting or burping. During the entire proceeding, Robert had been hanging his head down and had never looked up at me on the bench."
Flannell ultimately set bail at $5,000, whereupon the defendant "awoke, looked up and yelled: Five-f. thousand dollars! Where in the hell do you think I'm gonna' come up with five f-ing thousand dollars?"
The bailiff clapped a hand over the defendant's mouth with such force it nearly knocked the man to the floor.
"My immediate reaction was to bust out laughing and when Cecil nearly knocked him to the floor, I couldn't help myself I was laughing so hard. I was as big a disruption to the courtroom as was Robert at that point. I started to explain to Robert that he was in direct criminal contempt and was intending to give him a couple of days in jail but couldn't get through the admonishment due to my continuing laughter. I gave up, vacated the contempt finding, and remanded him to the sheriff."
Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus
Because a defendant was already facing a long prison term, Klaus declined to hold this man in contempt.
The setting was a probable cause hearing for a new crime the defendant allegedly committed while free in the community waiting for his prison sentence to begin. He was seated in the jury box.
"He's muttering at the police officer the entire time, keeping up a steady patter. I finally say, 'Mr. Young, not another word.' Within five seconds I realize Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber's eyes are really, really big. He's got both of his middle fingers extended. He did not violate the court order. He had not said another word."
Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd
"I had only been a judge a few years and was doing arraignment on video in the old courthouse. It was a hate crime so I set a high bond. He started dropping F-bombs and I found him in contempt. I think I gave him 30 or 60 days. The officers started to pull him out of view and he broke free and did a flying leap across the screen making obscene gestures and releasing a Gatling gun of pejoratives. I couldn't keep up with 30 days for every swear word so I just gave him the max."
On his third letter of apology to Ladd, in which he acknowledged the effect of his behavior on others in the courtroom, Ladd vacated the sentence.
Champaign County Judge Mike Jones
"The only time I can recall holding someone in contempt for behavior in the courtroom was a guy in child support who had his pants below his (buttocks), mooning the rest of the courtroom. The place was packed with baby daddies watching. I made a little speech about acknowledging generational differences in opinions as to what was cool but that this was definitely not the place to strive to be cool. It was 10 o'clock in the morning. I held him in direct criminal contempt and set sentencing for 4:30. When 4:30 rolled around, he had obtained a belt and had his pants jacked up like Urkel so I sprang him."
Jones was hearing an order of protection involving a mother in her 60s and a daughter in her 40s fighting over a parakeet.
"The daughter didn't object to the order of protection. The hearing was about disposition of the property in dispute. In my Solomon-like wisdom, I decided to give Tweety Bird to a third-party daughter, whereupon mom came unglued in the courtroom and rushed the bench screaming at me. My court security officer intercepted her before she could get at me. She left the courtroom strapped to a gurney and I deftly dodged the contempt issue when she was taken to Mercy Hospital for psychiatric evaluation."
Champaign County Judge Jeff Ford
"I had a small claims case with an attorney from Chicago who was representing his nephew, who had defaulted. He argued and the other side argued. He still wanted to talk. I told him he was done after I had ruled. He was getting in my face."
"I said, 'I don't want to held you in contempt.' He keeps yelling as my court security officer is taking him out. I kept saying, 'Sir, we're done.' He gets to the door and says, 'I'm going to appeal.' I say 'That's your right.' He waves his fist in the air and says 'Damn straight, it's my right.' I held him in direct contempt. I gave him 20 hours of public service for a Chicago charity. He appealed and I was affirmed."
In traffic court, Ford had released a man on his own recognizance for driving under revocation.
"When he sits down, I hear, 'Have a nice f- day.' I'm thinking did I hear that right? Instead of holding him in contempt, I denied recognizance."