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Lawyers Gets a Break on Contempt, Judge, Not So Much

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

To every lawyer who has been busted by a judge for missing court, this one's for you.

Brent English literally got busted when he didn't show up for an order to show cause. He was already in trouble because he had missed the last hearing.

In Clapper v. Clark Development. Judge John Adams ordered marshals to arrest the lawyer and bring him to court. In the end, however, it didn't work out so well for the judge.

'Reasonable Doubt'

English, a Cleveland attorney, wasn't expecting a police escort to his hearing. But it was no surprise when the judge fined him $500 for contempt.

Adams released the lawyer, who then went to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court vacated the order, concluding that the judge used the wrong standard for contempt.

Adams should have used the "reasonable doubt" standard, the appeals panel said, because it was a criminal contempt. The Sixth Circuit didn't cut English much slack, however, because he was not exactly innocent.

The appeals court sent the case back for rehearing before a different judge. It got better or worse, depending on whether you are a judge or an attorney.

Better or Worse

English had little excuse for missing the last hearing, the appellate court said, noting that he had been held in contempt before. On the other hand, the trial judge also had a history with the Sixth Circuit.

The ABA Journal reported that Adams was "an embattled judge" who had been reprimanded himself. The Sixth Circuit Judicial Council had ordered him to undergo a mental health exam, and a U.S. Judicial Conference committee upheld the order.

Adams responded with a lawsuit, which is pending. That's not contempt, but not a good thing either -- no doubt about it.

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