Judge scolds Reed Smith partner for 'theatrics and profanity' but says criminal contempt doesn't apply
Reed Smith partner A. Scott Bolden (right) and Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a former business partner of former President Donald Trump, in Washington, D.C., in June 2019. Photo by Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press.
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Reed Smith partner can’t be punished by criminal contempt for violations of local court rules, even though his “theatrics and profanity" are "contrary to the traditions of civility and collegiality" of the court.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett of the District of Maryland ruled in the case of Reed Smith partner A. Scott Bolden, who was accused of local rule violations in his defense of former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Bennett was considering a criminal referral following findings by U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby of the District of Maryland.
The criminal contempt statute “requires disobedience above and beyond a rote violation of the local rules—however distasteful—before criminal liability may attach,” wrote Bennett in the Feb. 21 opinion.
Part of Bolden’s misconduct stemmed from his statements at a press conference after Griggsby granted a government motion to continue Mosby’s trial, according to Bennett’s opinion. Mosby is accused of lying to make a hardship withdrawal from her retirement account and making false statements on mortgage applications to buy two homes in Florida.
During a September 2022 press conference, Bennett said, Bolden “exposited at length on the latest developments in the case, expressing outrage that the trial had been continued, characterizing the hearing as ‘bulls- - -,’ and suggesting that the prosecution of Ms. Mosby was motivated by racial animus.”
Griggsby found that Bolden’s profanity and extrajudicial statements violated local court rules. She also found that Bolden violated court rules by disclosing confidential jury questionnaire responses, along with associated juror numbers, in a court filing. And she found that he violated court rules by filing a court document without the signature of a Maryland lawyer. Bolden was appearing pro hac vice in the case.
Bennett said local rule violations are not punishable under the U.S. Code section giving courts criminal contempt power for “disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree or command.” The word “rule” in the statute at the time that it was drafted referred to a judge’s ruling, rather than a standing court rule, Bennett said.
If the statute permitted criminal contempt for violations of local court rules, it would “in theory, license this court to impose criminal contempt upon any attorney who omits a fax number from the bottom of a court document … , submits a filing using a 1.25-inch margin … or supplies only three copies of an arrest warrant,” Bennett said.
Rule violations may still trigger sanctions for civil contempt, however, Bennett said. And Bolden could be subject to disciplinary action by the court’s disciplinary committee.
Bolden and other Reed Smith lawyers withdrew from Mosby’s case after Griggsby ordered Bolden to show cause why he shouldn’t be sanctioned for criminal contempt.
The Baltimore Sun covered Bolden’s hearing before Bennett on Tuesday. Even though Bennett found that criminal contempt wasn’t warranted or permissible under the law, he gave Bolden a scolding, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“You’re better than this,” Bennett said. “A person of your experience should never find himself in this position.”
The Baltimore Sun said Bolden has “apologized repeatedly” for his press conference outburst. In court Tuesday, Bolden “sounded as if he was holding back tears when addressing Bennett,” according to the coverage. Bolden said he felt as if he was standing on the “precipice” of his career, and he wished that he could take back his actions.
Bolden’s lawyer, Arnold Weiner, commented to the Baltimore Sun after the hearing Tuesday.
“We think the judge made an absolutely correct ruling as a matter of law,” Weiner said.
Weiner added that Bolden is a man of “high integrity,” and he would continue practicing law “honorably” in the future.