Appeals Court Reinstates Conviction and Sentence of Chicago Boss

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Cir. reversed a district court ruling in a Teamster’s union violence case. Defendant Michael J. Gochis is an ex-steward for Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago. On Jan. 22, 1998, he was charged with three counts of threatening and using violence against another union member, a Class A misdemeanor. Pursuant to the local court rules, of his case was randomly assigned to a magistrate judge. On Jan. 29, 1998, Gochis appeared without counsel and was arraigned. U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Thomas Rosemond, Jr., advised Gochis to retain an attorney but the judge did not explain to the defendant about his right to a trial, judgment and sentencing by a district judge as required by the Fed. Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Gochis later retained an attorney and on Feb. 12, he and his attorney signed and filed a consent form entitled “consent to proceed before U.S. Magistrate in a misdemeanor case.” By signing the form, Gochis waived his right to a trial before a district judge. A jury trial was held before Rosemond and Gochis was found guilty on three counts. Rosemond sentenced him to concurrent prison terms of six months each, followed by six months of work release, and restitution.

In appealing his conviction and sentence to the district court, Gochis and his attorney never sought to withdraw his written consent to Rosemond’s authority and they never challenged Rosemond’s failure to admonish him of his right to be tried by by district judge until the district judge in his case, U.S. Dist. Judge Robert W. Gettleman (N.D. Ill., Clinton), raised the issue on his own. Gettleman vacated the judgment and ordered a new trial reasoning that because Rosemond failed to explain to Gochis his right to be tried by a district judge, the written consent was invalid and Rosemond lacked the authority to preside over the trial.

On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the government argued that Gettleman should not have automatically vacated a three-week trial and jury verdict simply because Rosemond did not explain to Gochis what he and his attorney already knew. The government contended that Gettleman should not have imposed a per se reversible error rule on Rosemond’s failure to literally comply with every letter of the federal rules, without considering whether the magistrate judge’s error was harmless.

Circuit Judge Daniel A. Manion (Reagan), writing for the Seventh Cir., agreed and reversed Gettleman, saying that there was no indication that Gochis suffered any prejudice. Manion said that the omission by the magistrate judge should not “automatically eradicate what appears to be a complete and proper trial process to which the parties unequivocally consented.” Manion said Rosemond’s failure to strictly comply with the federal rules did not require the automatic reversal of the conviction because the error was harmless. The court remanded the matter for reinstatement of Rosemond’s final order. Circuits Judges John L. Coffey (Reagan) and Diane P. Wood (Clinton) joined the opinion. [Chi. Daily L. Bull. 8/28/01]