CCP § 177.5 Sanctions of $1,500 Also Vacated.
Pori v. Superior Court, Case No. A135181 (1st Dist., Div. 1 Aug. 8, 2012) (unpublished) is an interesting case where the appellate court vacated contempt and CCP § 177.5 sanctions award against a criminal defense attorney in a peremptory writ proceeding.
Defense attorney apparently overscheduled himself for trials, with a lower court denying a motion for continuance or motion to withdraw as counsel due to conflicting trial schedules. Another judge reviewed the earlier decision, denied a continuance, and also indicated consideration of finding contempt of court/imposing section 177.5 sanctions. (Section 177.5 is a provision allowing judicial officers to impose reasonable monetary sanctions not exceeding $1,500, payable to the court, “for any violation of a lawful court order by a person, done without good cause or substantial justification,” but not applying to advocacy of counsel, with this being done on notice to the putative violator.) However, the second judge did not order defense attorney to trial immediately, but did find attorney in contempt after providing a chance to argue against it, with attorney being sentenced to spent five days in county jail, pay a fine of $1,000, and pay $1,500 in section 177.5 sanctions.
The appellate court issued a peremptory writ restraining enforcement of the awards against attorney. The principal reason was that the contempt order did not meet jurisdictional specificity requirements, especially given no immediate “out to trial” order which was violated. The order denying the motion to continue was not the equivalent of an order to go to trial on a specific date, according to the appellate panel. Because no conclusive order was made to appear for trial, the section 177.5 sanctions fell also, because no predicate violated order had been entered.
This case has a discussion of jurisdictional requirements for contempt orders, as well as an enlightening discussion of direct, indirect, and hybrid contempt.
BLOG UNDERVIEW--Looks like contempt sprang out of William the Conqueror’s introduction of “amercement”--an alternative to imprisonment for crimes such as trespassing in the King’s Forest--in place of the Anglo-Saxon “wite,” which was a fine imposed by the King. According to the old law before the 17th century, a person punished for contempt was imprisoned but discharged on payment of a fine and it was only after the 17th century that a person was punished for contempt by both imprisonment and fine (with both the sentence and fine needing to be satisfied). Contempt was used widely in England in the Tudor eras, because the judges enforced the court’s orders through contempt because the king appointed the judges and was believed to do no wrong. But there is more for you historical buffs . . . .
We thank Ronald Goldfarb, in his article “The History of the Contempt Power, Washington University Law Quarterly (1961) 1, 4 for one of the more notable use of the contempt powers in English regal rule:
“Both in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2,5 and The Lives of the Chief Justices of England, one can read of the escapades of ruddy Prince Hal, later to become Henry V of England, and his notorious brush with the law of contempt. When Hal was the Prince of Wales, one of his servants was arrested for committing a felony. Upon his servant's arraignment at the King's Bench, the Prince appeared in a rage, and demanded that his man be let free. Chief Justice Gascoigne, delicately but firmly ruled that the laws of the realm must be met, and that if the Prince wished his servant to be pardoned he should secure this from the King, his father. The Prince tried physically to take the servant away, whereupon Gascoigne ordered him again to behave. When the Prince raged (and some say he even struck Gascoigne) the judge reminded his prince that he kept the peace of the King to whom even Hal owed allegiance, and suggested that Hal set a good example. When Hal did not heed this advice, he was sentenced for contempt, and committed to the King's Bench prison until the King's pleasure could be known. People speculated whether this would be the end of Gascoigne's career. It developed that the King was pleased, and rejoiced that he had both a judge who dared to minister justice to his son, and a son who obeyed him (if reluctantly).” Nice to see, even then, that contempt had cross-overs to respect for the court and parental-child relationships (albeit the punishment was a little different back then).