Understanding the Essence of Court Contempt
In October of 2012, I had a criminal trial in a County in Texas. Back then, my only exposure to contempt was My Cousin Vinny. I didn't fully understand the Texas rules of contempt, until I was dealing with it for myself.
Let me give you a little background. The October trial was a heated trial against the County's District Attorneys Office. During this trial, the Assistant District Attorney's called me an " elf", asked if I thought I was smarter than everyone else, and even went as far as telling the judge that they couldn't wait to see me on the streets. To their credit, I am a fairly small guy, I am smarter than they are, and I would most definitely run if I saw them on the streets. Keep in mind, all this occurred after our client received a Not Guilty, the two sweetest words a criminal defense attorney can hear.
In Bexar County, the District Attorney provides trophies to those who obtain guilty verdicts. So, we figured it wouldn't be a big deal to have our own trophies. After we received our trophies for our Not Guilty verdict, I posted them on Facebook. The post read, "This is what you get when you get when you destroy the District Attorney's Office, even when the case is handed to them."
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Defining Contempt of Court
Thinking back on it, maybe it wasn't the best idea, but I thought it was harmless considering the name-calling. A few days pass and I get "THE" call. The Judge that presided over the case wants to see me IMMEDIATELY. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the first meeting on time, but I called to inform him. I call back later on to set up a meeting, but the Judge isn't available. After a day or so, I receive a call while in Court. Apparently, the Judge is looking for me and wants to see me IMMEDIATELY! I apologize to the court coordinator because court is in progress. I also inform her that I will be down immediately. A few minutes pass and the court receives another call. The court coordinator is on the phone again, and she insists that the Judge needs to see me "NOW" or "ELSE". I apologize again but I regrettably can't leave my client in the middle of a court proceeding. A few minutes go by and this time I am told that if I do not get down to chambers now, I will be brought in with a writ of attachment. This is where things get REAL.
Courts distinguish between direct contempt and indirect contempt. Direct contempt is an act that occurs in the presence of the court and is intended to embarrass or engender disrespect for the court. Shouting in the courtroom or refusing to answer questions for a judge or attorney under oath is a direct contempt. Indirect contempt occurs outsid the presence of the court, but its intention is also to belittle, mock, obstruct, interrupt, or degrade the court and its proceedings. Attempting to bribe a District Attorney is an example of an indirect contempt. Publishing any material that results in a contempt charge is an indirect contempt.
The essence of contempt of court is that the misconduct impairs the fair and efficient administration of justice. Contempt statutes generally require that the actions present a clear and present danger that threatens the administration of justice.
Now back to the story. By the time I arrive to see the Judge, I am told it is too late and deputies are on their way to pick me up. Never dealing with this situation before, I admit I was freaking out. But, I got it together and went about my business. Later that afternoon I stopped by the chambers and he agreed to see me.
During this meeting, the Judge yells and threatens me. The Judge states that I am no longer allowed to "post shit" on Facebook about him or the District Attorney. He states that, "I am no longer welcome in his Court" and that I was no longer allowed to practice in his Court.