Subpoena In Plot-To-Kill-Former-Wife Case Gets Full Appellate Review Despite No Opposing Brief

Carolyn Mahoney sued her former husband, Billy J. Cox, and his lawyer, Marc Gummerson, for plotting to kill her. Cox was in jail, so Mahoney served the Illinois Department of Corrections with a subpoena to find out information about the plot. The DOC asked the trial court to quash the subpoena because the documents Mahoney wanted contained the name of a confidential informant. The DOC argued the informant’s safety could be at risk if his identity were disclosed.

Trial court refused quash the subpoena, and instead compelled the DOC to produce the records. The DOC then asked for an immediate appeal of whether the informant’s identity was privileged under an Illinois statute.

The appeal was allowed, and a question about whether the statute made the informant’s identity confidential was certified. The DOC filed its brief, but neither Mahoney, Cox, nor Gummerson responded. So the issue was how the appellate court should treat an appeal that no one opposed.

The Second District Illinois Appellate Court acknowledged the usual methodology when an opposing brief is not filed: the court considers the merits of the appeal “if the issues and record are susceptible to easy decision, but that a court otherwise decide the case in favor of the appellant [party appealing] if the appellant establishes a prima facie [on its face; at first blush] case for reversal.”

But the appellate court ruled that the typical method would not work in this case because the court had to decide a certified question of law. Here’s how the court explained it:

“[I]n an appeal that considers certified questions … ruling in favor of the appellant who establishes a prima facie case would entail not ordering a case-specific outcome but, rather, articulating a legal proposition that may or may not be correct… [T]he failure to file an appellee’s brief does not establish or corroborate the answer to a certified question. A certified question is a question of law that is not susceptible to either a default or a prima facie showing of error. Therefore, we address certified questions on their merits, regardless of their simplicity. Our review is de novo [no trial court discretion] because we are presented solely with questions of law.”

Read the whole opinion, Mahoney v. Gummerson, 2012 IL App (2d) 120391 (11/20/12), by clicking here.