Legal Ethics

Appeals Court OKs Summary Contempt Ruling re Lawyer Sentenced to 90 Days for In-Court Diatribe


The Massachusetts Appeals Court has upheld a judge’s summary contempt ruling concerning a lawyer who was sentenced to 90 days after diatribing at length in court when jury selection didn’t go his way.

The outburst by Barry Wilson during his client’s Suffolk Superior Court murder trial was “atrocious. It’s the worst that I’ve ever seen in the twenty-two years of presiding over trial,” the judge told the attorney two weeks later, as he imposed the sentence, which was stayed pending appeal.

In an opinion today that is linked to the court’s website, the appeals court provides a transcript and shot down Wilson’s objections that his conduct didn’t rise to the level of behavior that can be sanctioned in a summary contempt finding, didn’t disrupt the courtroom and shouldn’t have been sanctioned without a warning.

Likewise, the court found no merit to Wilson’s argument that his representation of his client was chilled because the judge deferred the lawyer’s punishment until after the trial was completed. It noted that the lawyer’s diatribe may have been strategic rather than simply an angry outburst, undertaken in an effort to sway the jury selection process.

“Wilson’s lengthy tirade interrupted the proceedings. Seven times the judge tried to have Wilson stop, but those efforts were uniformly rejected,” the court wrote. “Even when the judge asked Wilson, ‘Mr. Wilson, is there some reason that I should not hold you in contempt?’ Wilson persisted in his outburst. It was not until the judge made a finding of contempt, ruled that he would defer sentencing until after the trial, and removed himself from the courtroom for a five minute recess, that order was finally restored.”

Hat tip: Associated Press.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Orders Lawyer to Jail for ‘Atrocious’ Behavior During Jury Selection”.

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