February 25, 2008
Vigorous Advocacy Or Contempt?
A Georgia attorney represented a minor in a series of delinquency proceedings. She "repeatedly challenged the trial court's rulings upholding the prosecutor's hearsay objections to questions [she] posed regarding the contents of statements the alleged shooter [not the client] made to police." After the final hearing, she was cited for eight instances of alleged contempt "including inappropriate facial expressions, disrespectful tone of voice, and improper statements." The trial judge recused himself and another judge sustained two instances of contempt. Astoundingly, the attorney was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the contempt and remanded the case. The court holds that contempt requires two elements. First, the conduct "either actually interfered with or posed an imminent threat of interfering with the administration of justice." Second, "the attorney knew or should have known that the statements and attendant conduct exceeded the outermost bounds of permissible advocacy." The court sets out a series of non-exhaustive factors to apply but notes that "doubts should be resolved in favor of vigorous advocacy." Judges "must be on guard against confusing offenses to their sensibilities with obstruction to the administration of justice."
30 days in jail? (Mike Frisch)
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