WOODSTOCK – A group of attorneys pooled their money to pay the $172 fine and court fees stemming from a disabled woman’s traffic
On Nov. 23, Lydia Rosario of Lakemoor appeared in front of Judge Robert A. Wilbrandt Jr. regarding a ticket issued in July for failing to make sure that her 10-year-old daughter was wearing her seat belt.
Rosario said her daughter had dropped something and briefly took her seat belt off to get it when the officer pulled her over at Route 120 and Chapel Hill Road near McHenry.
When Rosario made her court appearance, attorney Wes Pribla observed the proceedings and took issue, ultimately writing a letter to Chief Judge Michael Sullivan and pinning a copy to the bulletin board in the courthouse lawyer’s lounge.
Rosario had been sworn in and testified that her monthly income came from disability payments and that she is the sole supporter of two minor children. She also appeared confused about how what started off as a $25 fine ended up at $172 with court costs.
In his letter, Pribla said that Wilbrandt “launched into a diatribe.”
“Judge Wilbrandt appeared to take relish in demeaning and humiliating this poor woman,” Pribla said. “He displayed an arrogance, insensitivity and mean-spiritedness that brings disrespect to himself, as well as all other Judges who preside in the 22nd Judicial Circuit.”
Pribla said he posted the letter because he felt Wilbrandt treated Rosario with disrespect.
“All human beings, no matter how lowly their status may be considered, are entitled to respect,” Pribla said.
Wilbrandt declined to comment on whether he thought his behavior was appropriate, saying it was an internal matter. But he said that a judgment for fines and fees was entered in Rosario’s case. That means that she would not have to pay immediately, but ultimately would be contacted by a collection agency.
“I think that the ultimate action in this particular case where judgment was entered was appropriate,” he said.
Wilbrandt said that he and others in the court system understand that some people have a difficult time paying their fines and court costs.
“We also allow them to make partial payments of $5, $10, something toward those fines,” he said. “When they don’t make any payment on their fines and costs for a significant period of time, that’s a problem for the court system.”
After seeing the letter Pribla had posted, attorney Steven J. Brody took up a collection to pay the $172.
“A few of us read it and I said, ‘All right, everybody give me 20 bucks and we’ll pay the fine,’ “ Brody said.
Within about 10 minutes, he had collected about $140.
“I just kind of thought this woman shouldn’t be afraid of the legal system and shouldn’t be making that payment out of her disability check,” Brody said.
Brody wasn’t in the courtroom during Rosario’s court appearance and said he wasn’t trying to make any statement against Wilbrandt, but thought that he was doing the right thing.
He couldn’t reach Rosario by phone, so he went to her home.
“I knocked on her door and introduced myself, and she was a bit taken aback,” Brody said. “She asked why we were doing it, and I told her how we felt, that nobody should feel humiliated about getting a traffic ticket.”
Humiliated is how she felt after her court appearance, Rosario said, although she was trying to make arrangements to pay her fines.
“I was just stunned that he would treat me that way,” she said. “I came home and I cried.”
Rosario, who said she has had diabetes her whole life and it has since affected her legs and eyes, said she was shocked at the generosity of the attorneys who pitched in to pay her fine. She called it a blessing and said she used the money instead for food for her family.
“When you’re on disability, every penny counts,” she said.