St. Clair County Associate Judge Ellen Dauber resolved a family dispute over a funeral without listening to one side, according to a suit in U.S. district court.
Maria Bailey of Chicago claims Dauber signed an order after the courthouse closed on May 31, 2013, blocking funeral and burial plans for her mother, Queen Esther Tyus-Edwards.
Bailey claims she had tried to obtain an order against Queen’s husband, former St. Clair County deputy sheriff Thomas Edwards, on that day at 3:15 p.m.
She claims an employee of circuit clerk Kahalah Clay Dixon told her no judges were available.
Bailey, proceeding without a lawyer, seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages from Dauber and Dixon.
“Plaintiff, at a time of deep grieving, was unable to properly grieve and provide her mother a proper and desired homecoming, as the plaintiff was instructed by her mother to fulfill,” Bailey wrote in her complaint on May 30.
“Plaintiff was not able to carry out her mother’s wishes and Queen was buried in a place and location that Queen did not want to be buried,” she wrote.
She sued in federal court at Chicago, but District Judge George Kocoras transferred it to the Southern District on a motion from Dauber.
Queen died on May 28, 2013.
Her children arranged services at King Funeral Home in Belleville and burial at Jefferson Barracks national cemetery.
On the morning of May 31, cemetery director Jeff Barnes called funeral home director Levi King and said he canceled the burial at the request of the husband.
According to Bailey’s complaint, she appeared at the circuit clerk’s office that afternoon at 3:15 p.m., to prohibit Edwards from interfering with the burial.
In her complaint, Bailey wrote that a person told her, “There are no judges present and available now and therefore you cannot file a complaint or go before a judge seeking an injunction today.”
Later that day, Edwards filed a verified petition for a temporary restraining order.
He wrote that since April 26 Queen’s children had not allowed him to see or speak with her and they did not contact him about her passing or where her remains were held.
He stated that on Thursday, May 30, he learned that the funeral would be held Sunday and the burial Monday. He told funeral home director Levi King he wanted the body moved to another funeral home consistent with his wife’s wishes.
Edwards further wrote that King agreed to release the body but later refused because the family had a living will saying he abandoned her.
His petition didn’t identify those he wished to restrain or specify the relief he sought.
But, Dauber wrote by hand the names of King Funeral Home, Vanessa Brown, Maria Bailey and Michael Brown as defendants.
None of them had received notice of the petition or the proceedings.
“Defendants are hereby prohibited from proceeding with the visitation and funeral and burial of Esther Queen Tyus-Edwards on June 2 and June 3,” Dauber wrote.
She wrote that Edwards had a clearly ascertainable right in need of protection.
On June 3, St. Louis lawyer Micah Hall entered an appearance for Edwards and moved to hold the defendants in contempt.
Hall wrote that Edwards and his daughter personally handed a copy to an usher at Smyrna Pentecostal Church in Cahokia, where King serves as pastor.
The daughter witnessed the usher handing the order to King, Hall wrote.
Also on that night, Hall wrote, the daughter faxed the order to the funeral home.
On June 2, a Cahokia policeman entered Smyrna Pentecostal and saw a casket with Queen’s body in it.
Hall wrote that defendants continued with the visitation and funeral although they had been properly served with the order.
On June 6, Hall amended the petition for injunction, writing that Edwards took Queen to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital on April 24, due to complications of cancer. While there, Queen appointed Edwards as attorney in fact for health decisions.
Hall further wrote that Queen's daughter Vanessa Brown got her mother released without knowledge or consent from Edwards.
She wrote that Queen was in possession of family members until her death.
“Due to plaintiff’s age, illness and the historical controversy that he experienced with the family, he was unable to physically retrieve his wife from defendants’ possession nor challenge their actions,” Hall wrote.
Also on June 6, King filed the funeral home’s answer to the complaint, without an attorney.
On June 7, Queen’s children and the funeral home denied that they disobeyed the order.
They wrote that the funeral home brought Queen to Smyrna Pentecostal on June 1, for a private family prayer at 5 p.m.
They wrote that the funeral home didn’t receive constructive notice of the order until after 8 p.m.
They wrote that Queen’s remains were at the church on Sunday, June 2, but that it was repeated throughout the church service that it was not a funeral.
Queen’s children moved to vacate the injunction on the same date.
They wrote that on Dec. 26, 2012, Queen signed two powers of attorney giving her authority to Maria Bailey and Vanessa Brown.
They wrote that on that date, Queen conveyed her funeral wishes to them.
They wrote that on April 26, the day of her release from St. Elizabeth’s, Edwards locked her out of her home and refused to allow her entrance.
They wrote that Vanessa Brown called Edwards and pleaded for him to allow Queen to retrieve her life support systems.
They wrote that when they went to his home, he cursed them and told them to pick up an oxygen tank and “get the hell out of my house.”
They wrote that when they entered with a key the landlord had given them, Edwards filed police reports alleging burglary, trespassing, and theft of oxygen.
On April 28, Queen went to the home to find Edwards had removed his property and abandoned the home.
The landlord told them that Edwards and his daughter returned his keys and said he was no longer responsible for rent.
“The plaintiff cannot hide himself and refuse to communicate with or take calls from Queen and her family and then cry, ‘they did not talk to me,'" they wrote.
Bailey and Michael Brown filed affidavits stating they were not served with the restraining order by the sheriff or a special process server.
At a hearing on June 7, Vanessa Brown testified that she had letters of physicians that were relevant to Queen’s power of attorney wishes.
Dauber declared the letters irrelevant, and ruled that the power of attorney Queen executed at the hospital was valid. She entered a permanent injunction against defendants regarding Queen’s burial.
Dauber ordered release of the remains to Serenity Memorial Chapel at Edwards’s direction.
She struck the funeral home’s answer to the complaint, telling King that a corporation needs an attorney.
Queen’s children filed a counterclaim against Edwards and daughter Philomina Johnson on June 17, arguing that Queen was not competent to execute a power of attorney on April 25.
They wrote that Queen was videotaped and recorded signing a power of attorney on Dec. 26.
They wrote that Community Bank employees witnessed and notarized her signature.
They filed notes of physician Sara McHale, stating that due to chronic dementia it appeared that she “was certainly not capable of determining a POA in the last few days.”
They claimed half of Queen’s property, and asked for an immediate accounting of all money, jewelry, land and property.
Bailey alone moved for reconsideration of Dauber’s order on the same date, challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
She wrote that she was at no time served with a petition or summons, and that the amended petition of June 3 was mailed to her at a Belleville address.
At a hearing on Aug. 21, Dauber denied the contempt motion against the defendants, Bailey withdrew her motion for reconsideration, and the Browns withdrew from the counterclaim.
Bailey moved for change of venue to Cook County on Dec. 4, painting a picture of favoritism.
She identified Edwards’s daughter, Philomina Johnson, as a close friend of circuit clerk Dixon.
She wrote that known and unknown relatives of Edwards were employees of Dixon.
“Given the totality of serious questionable activities and concerns surrounding this cause of action, and given the appearance of impropriety, there is no just reason to maintain this cause of action in St. Clair County, Illinois,” she wrote.
Dauber denied the motion on the day Bailey filed it, and dismissed Bailey’s counterclaim.
Bailey moved for reconsideration on Jan. 2 of this year, alleging “unfair and possibly illegal and unethical treatment from the circuit court of St. Clair County.”
Dauber denied the motion on Feb. 27, and Bailey appealed to the Fifth District appellate court in Mount Vernon the same day.
Fifth District clerk John Flood sent a notice about the appeal record to Hall, who wrote back that Edwards had not retained her to represent him in the appeal.
Bailey then tried again to litigate where she lives, suing Dauber and Dixon in U.S. district court at Chicago on May 30.
District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel, new to the bench, will preside over the case.