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U.S. Supreme Court

Cert Petition Seeks to Overturn Sanction for Pro Se Litigant’s ‘Imperative Use of the F-Bomb’

Posted Dec 10, 2012 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A U.S. Supreme Court cert petition filed by the federal public defender in South Carolina seeks to overturn a contempt conviction for a pro se litigant who used the F-word when a federal judge dismissed one of his multiple suits against prison officials.

The cert petition (PDF) asks whether Robert Peoples’ “imperative use of the F-bomb" in a comment to a court clerk constituted contempt, according to the National Law Journal (reg. req.).

Judge Cameron McGowan Currie had dismissed Peoples’ case because he 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.”

The Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Peoples’ conviction in October. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said Peoples’ comment was an attempt to win the judge's removal. "Thus, Peoples did more than merely utter profane words; he profanely threatened judicial authority,” Motz wrote.

Public Defender Parks Small said Peoples’ comment "simply does not rise to an imminent threat to the administration of justice.” He also said the 4th Circuit “seems to give no credit to Mr. Peoples’ emotive expression in the context of freedom of expression.”

“The circumstances of the defendant’s case show clearly that he was being emotive and used the word in the imperative to either end the judge’s association with the cases or to terminate the cases completely,” the cert petition argues. “Such utterances, being related to the legitimacy of a legal position, do not without more rise to the level of personal or contemptuous disrespect for the court.”

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