Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed April 4, 2013
People ex rel. City of Chicago v. Le Mirage, Inc., 2013 IL 113482
Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (1st) 093547.
JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
In 2003, a stampede at a Chicago nightclub killed 21 people and injured 50 others. Security guards had released pepper spray to break up a fight on the dance floor, and a rush to the exit crushed these victims.
The defendants here had operated a restaurant and bar in the building. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter, but were acquitted. The matter, however, did not end there. On the day after the disaster, the City sought to have the defendants held in indirect criminal contempt for willfull violation of orders entered by the circuit court of Cook County concerning building code violations. Those proceedings ended, ultimately, in two-year prison sentences after a jury found these defendants guilty as charged. This finding is the subject of this appeal.
The defendants had sought review in the appellate court of multiple issues concerning the jury’s finding of indirect criminal contempt. However, the appellate court dealt with only one matter, ruling that the circuit court’s original orders were not clear and, therefore, reversing the finding of indirect criminal contempt in 2011. The sentences were vacated. The City appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The premises in question consisted of a first-floor restaurant, a second-floor nightclub, and, around the upper edges of that nightclub, a mezzanine which included “V.I.P.” rooms. This mezzanine was suspended from the ceiling, and the structural support for it had been questioned by City inspectors before the accident. Court orders had been entered prohibiting occupancy of the second floor. Nevertheless, the nightclub continued operating until the accident, and there was also evidence of the continued use of the mezzanine.
The defendants claimed that the circuit court’s orders were unclear, and the appellate court found the orders ambiguous. However, the supreme court disagreed with this and found that the circuit court’s orders were clear in forbidding occupancy of the second floor. Even if the orders could be viewed as forbidding only use of the mezzanine, the defendants had not complied even with this requirement. The supreme court held that the jury could have found the defendants guilty as charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
The appellate court was reversed on this point but, because it had not reached all of the issues raised in the appeal, the cause was remanded there so that it could do so.