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4th Circuit Upholds Contempt Conviction for Litigant’s Courtroom F-Bomb

Posted Oct 24, 2012 10:37 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has upheld a contempt conviction for a former inmate who used the F-word in court after a judge dismissed one of his multiple pro se lawsuits against prison officials.

The Richmond-Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the contempt conviction for Robert Peoples in a decision (PDF) issued on Tuesday, report the National Law Journal and How Appealing. Peoples was sentenced to four months in jail for his four-letter reaction to a decision by Judge Cameron McGowan Currie to dismiss one of his cases.

Currie had tossed the case because Peoples was late for trial proceedings despite repeated warnings. When the judge was in the jury room, Peoples addressed a court clerk and said, “Tell Judge Currie get the f--- off all my cases.”

Peoples’ lawyer, federal public defender Parks Small, had argued that the contempt charge wasn’t warranted for “one four-letter word, in one phrase, in one incident, out of the presence of the judge," according to the NLJ report. The 4th Circuit disagreed in an opinion by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.

Peoples “targeted a judge, using profane language directed at the judge so that she would remove herself from his cases," Motz wrote. "Thus, Peoples did more than merely utter profane words; he profanely threatened judicial authority."

The court did rule for Peoples, however, on a second contempt conviction stemming from his late arrival to the contempt hearing. Peoples did not get adequate notice and an opportunity to prepare a defense, the court said.

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