No contempt of court this time for dropping the F-Bomb. Besides breaking and violating every procedural safeguard known to man, this conviction for contempt of court cannot be supported by the facts.
Even if everything the tattle tale said were true, what she said and the circumstances around how she said it did not make it contempt of court.
People v. Perez, 2014 IL App 120978 (3d) (October).
What Did She Do?
Respondent was in traffic court all morning. In the hallway, a bailiff assigned to a different courtroom heard respondent say, “I waited all fucking morning and now she takes a break and I’m tired of waiting.”
The bailiff thought it was necessary to tattle tail and she told the judge what she heard. The judge then charged here with indirect criminal contempt.
Attorney Wasn’t Sure About The Charge
Her attorney asked for continuance to research the charge, answer the charge, and prepare potential witnesses. You know, basic defense attorney stuff. The judge refused the continuance.
The bailiff testified that she went all the way down the hallway using the F-word. When bailiff told Respondent she could not use those words in the courthouse, Respondent stopped. The words were not directed at court personnel or anyone in particular.
The judge clearly stated that she believed the standard was by a preponderance then proceeded to sentence her to 8 days in jail.
Was it contempt of court for this defendant to cuss in the hallway after she was in court all morning before the judge took a break?
What is Contempt of Court Exactly?
Contempt of court is essentially a crime in and of itself.
See the Contempt of Court In Illinois to learn more about the basics of contempt.
There were two main problems or mistakes in this case.
No Procedural Safeguards Obeyed
First, this defendant was clearly being charged with indirect criminal contempt. Notwithstanding the title of the petition and the fact that the judge called it civil contempt. She was sentenced to 8 days in jail and that is punitive.
Thus, this defendant was entitled to all the procedural and constitutional safeguards afforded any person that is charged with a crime. She received virtually, none of these safeguards.
The petition was titled “Petition for Rule To Show Cause”. That was a mistake since this language applies only in proceedings for indirect civil contempt and impermissibly shifts the burden of proof to respondent. In re Marriage of Betts, 200 Ill. App. 3d 26, 58-59 (1990).
This created a great deal of confusion for the court concerning the proper burden of proof.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Second, there were serious problems with the sufficiency of the evidence in this case.
The appellate court was unable to conclude the evidence proved respondent intended to embarrass the judge, since respondent did not communicate this statement directly to the judge or identify the judge by name while in the hallway.
In addition, the bailiff’s testimony established respondent did not use profanity when referring to the judge as “she.” Instead, respondent complained the respondent was tired of waiting all “f*** morning.”
The appellate court also thought there seems to be an element of truthfulness to respondent’s declaration and verbalized frustration. These remarks about the additional delay resulting from the recess may constitute protected speech under the first amendment. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 272-73 (1964) (“[This Court has held that concern for the dignity and reputation of the courts does not justify the punishment as criminal contempt of criticism of the judge or his decision.”).
Further, she did not disobey any direct or indirect orders of the court and in fact simmered down when the bailiff asked her too. So no court officer was disobeyed.
After considering the multiple ways a respondent may commit indirect criminal contempt, the court conclude the State’s evidence did not establish respondent was guilty of indirect criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This conviction was reversed outright, leaving the judge no opportunity to refile against Respondent.