October 20, 2011

Law school to host appellate court session

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Fifth District Appellate Court will hold oral arguments in four cases, including a high-profile civil lawsuit from Saline County, next week at the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

“This is a terrific opportunity for our students to observe attorneys and judges, several of whom are alumni, at work in the courtroom,” Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine said.  “We appreciate the court’s willingness to hold oral arguments here each year.”

In addition to a civil lawsuit that stems from an October 2000 fatal crash involving then-Vienna Correctional Center Warden William R. Barham and Jerry Isom, a dietitian at Shawnee Correctional Center, appellate court justices will preside over arguments in criminal cases originating in Jackson County and civil cases originating in Jackson and Madison counties.

Oral arguments begin at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building courtroom.

A copy of the briefs of all four cases is on reserve and available for review in the law school’s law library.  Case summaries are at www.law.siu.edu/news/5th_district.php.

SIUC law students, faculty and staff are invited.  The court sessions are also open to the public, but seating is limited.  Court rules in Illinois do not allow cell phones, electronic recording devices and cameras in the courtroom.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers, and cameras crews who wish to record or broadcast any of the court proceedings via television, radio, photographic or recording equipment, must receive prior permission from the court.  Media representatives must notify John J. Flood, 5th District Appellate Court Clerk, in writing not less than five days days prior to the date the appellate argument is scheduled.   The address is Fifth District Appellate Court, 14th  & Main St., Box 867, Mount Vernon, Ill. 62864-0018.  The notice should contain the title and docket number of the case to be argued, as well as the name, address and telephone number of the media representative making the request, the representative’s employer, and the kind of coverage to be used.

Attorneys for Barham are asking the appeals court to reverse a $1.017 million civil award given to Isom’s family in May 2010 after a two-week jury trial, and to also remand the case for a new trial. Isom’s widow, Lori, represented by attorney John Womick, brought the wrongful death lawsuit against Barham.

Isom died in the crash, which occurred sometime around midnight, Oct. 14, 2000, on Illinois 147 near Simpson.  Found guilty in a criminal bench trial in 2001 of reckless homicide, Barham received a four-year sentence in 2002.  In April 2003, however, the Fifth District Appellate Court unanimously reversed Barham’s conviction on grounds there was insufficient evidence to prove Barham guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The initial civil lawsuit was filed in October 2000, less than two weeks after the crash.

Among the issues under review in this appeal is whether the civil trial court erred in allowing evidence concerning Barham’s consumption of alcoholic beverages that evening, when, according to a brief filed by appellate attorneys Edward Kionka and Randy Patchett, there was no evidence of Barham’s intoxication.  Their brief also states that an attorney for Isom’s widow also stipulated Barham was not intoxicated.

The brief by Barham’s attorneys also states Barham testified that he did not feel well, and gave the keys to a state-owned 2000 Chevrolet Impala he drove to Isom while Barham got in the back seat.  The civil lawsuit contends Barham was driving the car at the time of the crash.  Attorneys for Barham argue the civil trial court erred in allowing lay witness testimony of a medical examiner, state police accident reconstruction officer, and six post-accident emergency responders to testify they believe Isom was in the passenger seat when the crash occurred.

The response brief by Womick states the trial court did not err in allowing witness testimony that they believed Barham was driving, and also that the trial court properly admitted Barham’s medical records.  The brief also claims the trial court properly found that Isom was not within the scope of his employment at the time of the crash, and did not err in admitting evidence concerning evidence of alcohol consumption.

A criminal case from Jackson County stems from a November 2009 aggravated domestic battery conviction of Johnny Ortiz of Carbondale.  Ortiz, now 65, was sentenced in December 2009 to 13 years in prison, and he is seeking to have the conviction reversed and a new trial. Issues in the case include claims of an erroneous jury instruction, whether jurors could consider a lesser charge of domestic battery, and whether the trial court improperly allowed prosecutors to impeach Ortiz with prior battery convictions.  Ortiz is currently at the Centralia Correctional Center, and he has a projected January 2016 parole.

Another Jackson County case concerns a 2005 criminal damage to property misdemeanor case dismissed a few months later by prosecutors.  The defendant, who is indigent, sought to file a petition to expunge his record, but the court “denied a fee and cost waiver request on grounds the fee waiver statute in question is limited to civil cases, and that an expungement proceeding is quasi-criminal and not purely a civil proceeding,” according to a case summary.  Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. in Carbondale is representing the defendant, and Chicago-based Cabrini Green Legal Aid filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the defendant’s behalf.

 The fourth case involves a civil lawsuit out of Madison County and a 2005 wrongful death case involving Rosewood Care Center of Edwardsville.   A jury in December 2007 returned a verdict in favor of Rosewood Care Center and HSM Management Services, Inc. in connection with a lawsuit brought by Vickey Metz, of Edwardsville, the daughter of a woman who died in August 2005, while at the facility. The circuit court subsequently granted a new trial.   Rosewood Care Center and HSM Management Services, Inc. contend that circuit court abused its discretion in granting a new trial, and also should not have allowed exhibits in support of a post-trial motion for a new trial, according to the case summary.

The Fifth Appellate Judicial District is comprised of 37 counties in Illinois and extends from Christian, Montgomery and Shelby counties to Southern Illinois, and from the Metro East to Crawford, Lawrence and Wabash counties.

For more information, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.