Even defense lawyers need a good defense lawyer sometimes…

February 16, 2024

Even Defense Lawyers Need a Good Defense Lawyer Sometimes…

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in Rocque v. State, 312 So. 3d 498 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021) dealt with an appeal from the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County (Judge Jill K. Levy). The trial judge, in issuing a contempt order against a lawyer who was defending a client in a DUI case, took the lawyer into custody before holding the required contempt hearing and entering a judgement on the alleged direct criminal contempt.

The accused lawyer hired a lawyer who objected to the trial judge placing the lawyer in handcuffs before any contempt finding was made. The court found the offered defense of the lawyer’s conduct unsatisfactory, and found him in direct criminal contempt. The lawyer’s attorney objected that the lawyer had not received a full hearing, and that there was no evidence to support the judge’s finding of contempt. The court imposed sentence and removed the handcuffs.

The trial judge subsequently disqualified herself.

Even the state agreed that the trial judge went over the top and erred in taking the lawyer into custody before any contempt hearing. The Fourth District agreed on that issue. In discussing the case, the appellate court explained that a trial judge should avoid comments or conduct showing a bias or predisposition to hold the accused contemnor in contempt. By ordering the bailiff to “cuff” the lawyer and take him into custody, “without apparent cause,” the court gives a reasonable person the impression that it “pre-judged” the outcome without first considering mitigation or a “showing of cause” as to why the alleged contemnor should not be held in contempt for the alleged disruptive behavior. The court followed McNamee v. State, 915 So. 2d 276 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) and reserved.

A criminal defense lawyer must vigorously defend his clients, and perhaps the lawyer who was held in contempt in the Rocque case and placed in handcuffs by unlawful court order may look at his citation for contempt as a badge of honor after the state and the court of appeal agreed that the Judge went overboard. So, moral of the story, even defense lawyers need a good defense lawyer sometimes.

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