Arguments over whether a judge should drop a public indecency charge against a southern Illinois sheriff should not have happened away from the press and the public, St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic said.
"It has been discussed (with the judge) and it won't happen again," Baricevic said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Associate Judge Julie Katz held a hearing in her chambers with Caseyville Village Attorney Alvin Paulson and Patricia Gross, the attorney for Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman, who was accused of engaging in sexual activity with a man in a vehicle parked outside a Caseyville tavern.
Kellerman, a Democrat, will face re-election in 2014. He did not return calls for comment.
Katz's court clerk was told by a Belleville News-Democrat reporter that the media was there to hear the Kellerman case, but the arguments about whether the village ordinance was "unconstitutionally vague" were held in Katz's chambers.
Katz heard the arguments, then dismissed the case. Her clerk provided a written order of the dismissal.
After the hearing, Paulson told reporters that the clerk told Katz the media was present, but the hearing was already under way.
Kellerman, 49, of Pinckneyville, and J. Ian Stennett, 32, of Collinsville, were charged with public indecency, an ordinance violation, after Caseyville officer Gerard Spratt saw the two men "engaged in sexual activity" at 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 a police report. The car was parked beneath a streetlight and in front of the "Welcome to Caseyville" sign.
Stennett pleaded no contest to the charge and was placed on supervision. He paid $100 in fines and court costs.
Hearing traffic and ordinance violation cases in judges' chambers isn't unusual, Baricevic said, and would have been fine. But Katz should have called reporters and interested members of the public into the chambers, Baricevic said.
"It may be done as a matter of business in that courtroom. If it was just a regular case, I guess the thinking would be 'no harm, no foul,'" said Esther Seitz, a lawyer for the Illinois Press Association. "But this time, there were reporters there who wanted to hear the arguments."
Seitz questioned the reason for holding the hearing in chambers if the reporters and the public were going to be called back to hear the arguments.
"If you are saying that you would be OK with having everyone in there to hear it, why not just hold it in the courtroom?" Seitz asked.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2570.