Way back in April, 2007, public defender Sherri Jefferson was convicted of contempt and sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment. That led to her resigning from her position as a public defender and appealing the trial court’s imposition of the sentence.
Now, the Georgia Supreme Court has issued their decision In re: Sherri Jefferson [pdf], reversing the conviction for contempt. In doing so, they enunciated a new standard for evaluating whether contempt proceedings were appropriate and the standard to use in deciding whether to hold someone in contempt.
the judge found two of the eight statements in question to have been contemptuous on the basis that the statements impugned, disparaged, and attacked the impartiality of the court and thereby undermined its authority, respect, and dignity.
Enunciating the new standard, the Court held that:
An attorney may be held in contempt for statements made during courtroom proceedings only after the court has found (1) that the attorney’s statements and attendant conduct either actually interfered with or posed an imminent threat of interfering with the administration of justice and (2) that the attorney knew or should have known that the statements and attendant conduct exceeded the outermost bounds of permissible advocacy.
and gave some guidelines:
(1) the extent to which the attorney was put on notice prior to the contempt citation that a continuation of the offending statements would constitute contempt; (2) the likely impact of the offending statements on the deliberations of the fact-finder, which calculus incorporates both the nature and timing of the offending conduct and whether the fact-finder is a judge or jury; (3) whether the offending statements occurred as an isolated incident or constituted a pattern of behavior; (4) the significance of the particular issue in question to the case as a whole and the relative gravity of the case; and (5) the extent, if any, to which the trial court provoked the offending statements with its own improper statements.
Now it returns for reconsideration. I’m not so sure she should be found guilty of contempt under this standard.