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the meaning of contempt

Speaking tonight to a Florida Criminal Defense attorney, I learned much more about Contempt of Court charges.  It is a very serious matter. Jose Baez could be faced with fines and/or jail, if Judge Perry finds cause for contempt.

Now that the State has filed its motion of contempt, the next step in this process will occur via a ruling motion from the Judge to Mr. Baez that shows cause.  Or, Judge Perry may want to hear from Mr. Baez before filing a ruling.

However, Jose Baez should answer the State’s motion with his own motion to strike before the Judge moves on the State’s request.

When an attorney is held in contempt, they have a right to an attorney and a trial.  Contempt of Court is a criminal proceeding.

The attorney I spoke with told me that Mr. Baez’s’ claim as to not understanding the Court’s directions is in fact, a viable defense against contempt charges. (This surprised me – I asked this question three times, just to be sure I heard it correctly!)

There are two kinds of contempt charges: Indirect and Direct.

Jose Baez is charged with indirect contempt, which means the conduct occurred outside of the courtroom.

Direct contempt means the lawyer insulted the Court, argued with the Judge, or disrupted the proceedings.

With regards to confusion, or a lawyer not understanding.  It was explained to me that confusion can happen on either side of the aisle, but generally lawyers do not wait to clarify issues.  When a case is confusing with so many witnesses, things get overlooked, or deadlines are missed. As pointed out earlier, Mr. Baez’s’ claim of confusion will be his defense if he’s charged.

I asked what kind of punishments generally happen with contempt charges.  He said, “Suspension of the license, jail time, fines, requiring the lawyer to take remedial law classes, or the Bar can intervene and apply sanctions.  It really depends on all the factors at play in the contempt case”, he said.  Indirect contempt is usually filed by the opposing attorney, as in this case, and usually occurs when rules that would benefit the opposing party, are broken – such as in this case, deadlines being missed are a burden on the State of Florida.

Another question I asked,  could Judge Perry remove Baez from the case?  “It is possible, but I’ve never heard of it being done”, he said.   He told me that he has heard of a Judge appointing a supervising attorney – that would be a helpful option in the Casey Anthony case, I told him.  He agreed!

What generally happens when the Court has issue with a lawyer, the Court holds a Nelson Inquiry (Judge Strickland did this), which means the Judge asks the defendant if they would like to continue with his or her attorney and are they satisfied with their representation.  If the client wants to continue with their counsel, the Judge will respect that right.

Nelson Inquiries are usually a result of a client saying they want a new lawyer – the judge will question the lawyer as to what work they have done on the case (motions, depos, discovery, etc.) if the Judge finds that the Defense lawyer is doing his job for the client, he will deny the request for new council.

It was a very interesting discussion!  I’m even more anxious to know what the outcome will be.

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