(CN) - If the parties agree to it, a successor judge can render a decision based on transcripts of testimony and documentary evidence presented to the predecessor judge, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled.
Heirs of Goldie Carver sued Janet and Cheryl Freeman, claiming the two used undue influence to take money and property from Carver just months before Carver's death.
After the original judge in the case recused himself, and the case was assigned to a new judge, the parties agreed that the new judge could decide the case based on evidence heard by the original judge. Then the second judge retired before reaching a decision in the case. A third judge asked the parties to sign the agreement again and allowed them to submit new arguments.
When the third judge ruled, he found for the plaintiffs on two of the three counts. The defendants appealed, claiming the successor judge's decision was not supported by the facts.
Generally, a successor judge can't make findings without a trail de novo. But the state Supreme Court pointed out that the parties had knowingly, intentionally and voluntarily entered the stipulation, and the defendants "have not demonstrated that their waiver of the due process right to have the matter decided by the judge who heard the evidence and saw the witnesses was invalid."
The state high court reinstated the successor judge's ruling, which an appellate court had reversed.
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