A Madison County jury found a 73-year-old Edwardsville attorney not guilty of the battery charge filed against him by a former law partner of 20 years.
Illinois Appellate Prosecutor David Rands described what happened between two local civil defense attorneys on Jan. 3, 2011, as “an argument that became physical.”
The two-day trial that wrapped up Tuesday involved Alphonse J. Pranaitis who had filed a misdemeanor battery complaint against Donald Smith over an altercation that took place at 401 Market Street in Godfrey.
According to defense attorney Ted Baryslke, the incident was “heated.”
“There were cusswords going back and forth,” he said. “It was heated. Mr. Pranaitis said ‘stuff it up your ass,’ and that’s what caused him (Don) to turn around and come back.”
Smith was arrested over the incident by the Alton Police Department.
The case was transferred from the City of Alton to Madison County Circuit Court on April 28, 2011.
The jury delivered a verdict before noon Tuesday, presided over by Associate Judge Donald Flack.
Pranaitis had argued that Smith pushed him with both hands, causing him to fall over his desk, fracturing a rib, according to his complaint.
“The incident had two participants who were in an excited and highly emotional state,” Rands told the jury.
“Mr. Smith threw Mr. Pranaitis to the floor. The defendant claims he acted in self-defense.”
Barylske had another story.
“Don said Mr. Pranaitis hit him first,” Barylske said during closing arguments. “He had a broken tooth.”
“To start with, we have to look at what was left out of the state’s case. You have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Smith actually intended to harm Mr. Pranaitis.”
The complaint listed Stephen J. Massen of Godfrey as a witness for the prosecution.
According to Barylske, Massen had three different stories about the incident: Don pushed Al. Don had Al in a grip, and Don slammed Al to the table.
“He changed his story again,” Barylske said. “He comes up with these different stories. He doesn’t have a good memory.”
“All Don did was try to maintain control over Al.”
In his affirmative defenses, Smith claimed Pranaitis made the first physical contact by striking Smith in the face, and Smith’s conduct was necessary to prevent Pranaitis from using unlawful force against him.
Flack on Monday signed a motion in limine stating that the plaintiff, his witnesses and the defense would refrain from mentioning the nature of the legal practice of the attorneys involved.
Pranaitis is involved in insurance, legal malpractice, medical malpractice and asbestos defense at his Alton firm of Hoagland, Fitzgerald & Pranaitis.
Smith is employed by the Donald L. Smith Law Offices in Edwardsville.
Flack thanked Rands and Barylske for being civil to each other and to the court during trial.
Rands, of Richland County, was appointed to handle the state’s case rather than a local prosecutor.
He said that state’s attorneys work closely with local attorneys, and in a case such as this one, prefer someone from outside to prosecute.
“That’s typically the reason,” Rands said. “It’s done to avoid appearance of impropriety.”
The case is Madison County Case number 11CM100300.