In an associate judge's chambers out of public view on Tuesday afternoon, an indecent conduct ordinance violation was dismissed against a rural Southern Illinois sheriff who had been accused of performing a sexual act in a car parked outside a Caseyville tavern.
St. Clair County Associate Judge Julie Katz dismissed the charge after hearing arguments in her chambers from Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman's attorney, who asserted the ordinance did not specifically state what constituted indecent conduct.
"The court granted that motion and the case was dismissed," Caseyville village attorney Alvin Paulson told reporters after the hearing.
Then Katz's clerk provided a written order.
Kellerman, 49, of Pinckneyville, and J. Ian Stennett, 32, of Collinsville, were charged with public indecency after Caseyville officer Gerard Spratt found them about 1:15 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2010, in Stennett's 1994 Ford Escort station wagon parked at Killion's Irish Pub, 605 N. Main St., according to the police report. The car was parked beneath a streetlight. Caseyville officer Gerard Spratt wrote in his police report that he spotted the men "engaged in sexual relations."
Stennett, Kellerman's co-defendant, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 90 days of supervision soon after he was charged.
The hearing was in Katz's chambers -- not in the courtroom where the defendant and the press were waiting.
"We do that all the time," Paulson said.
But despite that assertion, Esther Seitz, a lawyer who represents the Illinois Press Association, said the hearing violated the law.
"There is a First Amendment right for the public and press to report on judicial proceedings," Seitz said.
Courts can close proceedings, but must articulate the reasons for the closure, such as juvenile matters or to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial.
Calls to Katz and Chief Judge John Baricevic were not returned immediately. The defense attorney's name was not available.
Kellerman could not be reached after the order was made public.
Paulson, who became the village attorney last year, told reporters after the hearing that many of the village's ordinances need to be rewritten, including the indecent conduct ordinance.
The current ordinance states "it shall be unlawful for any person to commit any indecent or immoral act; or to appear in public places not properly or decently garbed."
Kellerman, a Democrat, was first elected sheriff of Perry County in 1998. He will face re-election in 2014.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at email@example.com or 239-2570.