Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mississippi Attorney and Firm Charged with Criminal Contempt

A prominent plaintiff's attorney and his firm were charged with criminal contempt under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 401 for conduct in insurance litigation arising from Hurricane Katrina.  U.S. District Court Judge William Acker found that the attorney had violated a preliminary injunction requiring him to return documents obtained from State Farm by two former employees of the insurer.  When the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama declined the court's invitation to pursue the contempt action, Judge Acker appointed three local Birmingham, Alabama attorneys to act as special prosecutors, pursuant to his authority under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(a)(2).  An interesting issue will be whether a jury will decide the issue or a judge.  If tried to the court, then the maximum sentence that can be imposed for a criminal contempt is six months.  If a greater sentence is imposed, then a jury must find the defendant guilty under the Supreme Court's decision in Codispoti v. Pennsylvania, 418 U.S. 506 (1974).  An AP story (here) discusses the criminal contempt proceeding and a copy of the charges is available below (courtesy of the WSJ Law Blog). (ph)

Download us_v_scruggs_contempt_charge_aug_2007.pdf

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