No Talking In Court
"No talking! If you're gonna act like that, take it outside the courtroom!" I recently was sitting in a Will County court when I heard the bailiff yelling this at a trial lawyer.
The lawyer was reduced to the status of a scolded 9-year-old. It reminded me of another time when a bailiff ran across the courtroom and said, "Are you chewing gum? No gum chewing in here!" (Because that obviously disrupts the entire legal system.) The red-faced, full-cheeked lawyer blew a bubble and scurried out.
We've all seen it: Bailiffs and clerks telling lawyers to "sssshhhhhh." These days there seems to be only one meaning for that: no talking in court. This year marks the anniversary of a time when it had an entirely different meaning.
Twenty-five years ago the FBI announced that Cook County, the nation's largest court system, had been targeted for investigation for bribery and other serious crimes involving the fixing of cases. It was called Operation Greylord, one of the most serious investigations of our legal time, and yet named after the silly curly wigs worn by British judges.
The investigation was fueled in 1980 when prosecutor Terrence Hake went undercover for the FBI for more than three years, eventually leading to many indictments. The evidence would reveal bailiffs and clerks who wielded far greater power than the current cast of retired drill sergeants. They took money and gave it to judges who let criminals go free.
The first person convicted in the Greylord operation was Deputy Clerk Harold Conn. He was caught on FBI tapes and then found guilty of accepting money that he passed on to Cook County judges as payments for fixing tickets.
Then came a slew of indictments, 92 in all, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, eight policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one state legislator. www.fbi.gov. One of the last cases involved bailiff Lucius Robinson, an alleged bagman for Judge Thomas Maloney.
As part of the case against Maloney, the government introduced evidence of a bribe to fix a murder. Attorney William Swano represented Wilfredo Rosario, who was to go on trial before Judge Maloney for two murders. The prosecutors sought to use a confession made by Rosario. Swano talked with bailiff Robinson, who let on that he could arrange a fix with Judge Maloney. Maloney basically confirmed this, telling Swano that Robinson is "my guy, deal with him." Swano allegedly handed Robinson a white envelope with a portion of the bribe. Judge Maloney suppressed the confession and found Rosario not guilty. U.S. v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 1995).
Why is it worth bringing up again 25 years later? As a reminder, because for some strange reason these things have a habit of repeating.
Go back another 25 years to 1958, and you have burglar Richie Morrison, who conspired with Chicago police officers to loot North Side retail stores. He once got caught, but expected his trial to be fixed because he was "in" with so many policemen. The fix didn't happen and he promptly informed the state's attorney of the corrupt policemen, thus leading to their prosecution in what is known as the Summerdale Scandal. "The scandal was of unprecedented magnitude, even for wicked old Cook County where malfeasance on the part of elected officials was (and by and large still is) just the normal course of doing the business of government." (To Serve and Collect, Richard C. Lindberg, Prager Publishers, 1991.)
Go back another 25 years to the early 1930s and you have Mayor "Ten Percent Tony" Cermak, who made millions controlling everything from organized gambling to the police department.
Mind you, we don't just have a 25-year itch. There have probably been a few thousand incidents in between. Who knows how many, but undoubtedly there are many who know.
That's where the change has come. Today, if a lawyer has information about other lawyers or judges engaging in illegal activity, he must report it or that lawyer may be disciplined. Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.3; 8.4. That wasn't always the case. But things changed in 1988 when attorney James Himmel was suspended for one year for failure to report a fellow attorney's misconduct. In re Himmel, 125 Ill.2d 531, 127 Ill.Dec. 708, 533 N.E.2d 79 (1988).
If you have that knowledge, report it. If you are still among those who think you can get away with fixing cases, consider the telling words of Judge Frank Wilson. He is known as the judge who took $10,000 in 1977 to let reputed murderer Harry Aleman go free. Accounts of what happened after have the judge realizing the gravity of his mistake, asking for more money, and saying to the bagman, "You have ruined my life for $10,000."
That was 1977, a time when I saw Judge Wilson every week at the country club. I caddied for Wilson and eventually played a few rounds with him. We never knew if it was true. Then Operation Greylord came public and the judge retired and moved to Arizona. In 1990, the FBI was coming to question him and he put a gun to his head.
A life ruined for $10,000.
If you're gonna act like that, take it outside the courtroom. dheilmann @clausen.com