Two years ago, a Palm Beach County lawyer named John Carter asked County Judge Marni Bryson to disqualify herself due to her history with a particular case. The judge convicted the lawyer of contempt of court and sentenced him to a month in jail. Appellate attorney Donna Solomon and her husband Mark Solomon represented Carter through his appeal. Carter’s legal team is pleased with the verdict, with Donna Solomon stating that the judges “rendered a very well-reasoned decision and we are pleased with the result.”
The History of the Case
On March 23, 2018, Carter entered Bryson’s courtroom. He was representing his client in a DUI case. The lawyer stated that it was not his client’s fault for not appearing in court because his client never received notice of the hearing. Carter and Judge Bryson then got into a verbal dispute over whether he had signed for the hearing notice.
Carter stated that in his 35 years as a lawyer, he had never experienced anything like it. He also stated that the judge was “disrespectful to the people of Palm Beach County” and that he was appalled. At the end of the exchange, the judge stated that she would recuse herself from the case and told Carter to leave, saying that she could not take him “seriously.”
A few days after the exchange, the judge submitted contempt charges against Carter. The grounds for the contempt charges are the alleged misrepresentation that he did not sign for a court document. Carter’s claim that someone else forged his signature set off the verbal dispute. During the contempt hearing, Carter continued to maintain that he never signed the notice to appear.
Carter’s Contempt Hearing
Bryson convicted Carter of contempt of court charge and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. Only hours after Carter entered a Palm Beach County Jail, the Court of Appeal ordered Carter’s appeal to the 15th Circuit Court. That night, a circuit judge ordered Carter’s release and he walked back out of jail.
During the hearing for contempt of court, Bryson submitted a video as evidence. The video showed Carter walking up to the clerk of the court’s desk next to the judicial bench. The desk of the clerk was not within the range of the camera and was thus not captured in the video footage. When Carter comes back into the video frame, he is walking away from the clerk’s desk. The video appears to show him holding several pieces of paper. He then rejoins his client.
According to court records, the clerk logged in a signed hearing notice into the court’s online filing system. Carter stated that he did not know what those papers were. Carter’s client stated that a new hearing date had not been set and that the court clerk would contact both of them when they scheduled a new hearing date.
The Decision of the Circuit Court
Two years after Carter was convicted of contempt of court, three Circuit Judges issued a ruling that Bryson made an error. The case started in county court, so a circuit court handled the appeal. First, the court ruled that she made an error when she failed to recuse herself from Carter’s contempt hearing.
The Circuit Court ruled that Bryson should have recused herself because of the history she had with the case. The Circuit court also agreed that Bryson should not have ordered Carter to complete a mental-health evaluation. Finally, the Circuit court ruled that Bryson was wrong to refuse to set a bond for Carter after she had convicted him.
The Judge Should Have Recused Herself
This circuit court decision will protect lawyers who have been charged with contempt. The level of animosity between the judge and Carter should have been sufficient for Bryson to recuse herself from trying Carter’s contempt charges. Her animosity was enough to give Carter a reasonable fear that he would not receive a fair hearing before Bryson, according to Carter’s attorney Donna Solomon.
County Judge Robert Panse has been assigned to hear Carter’s new contempt hearing, scheduled for July 17th. Carter will be asking the judge to dismiss all of the contempt charges against him.
The Impact of the Circuit Court Ruling
In its ruling, the circuit court wrote, “we cannot overlook that Judge Bryson recused herself from (Carter’s) client’s case not because of a conflict she had with his client, but because of an issue she had with (Carter.) Not only did she make that explicitly clear when she stated her basis for the recusal, but also when she stated that she ‘can’t take (Carter) seriously.’”
This ruling could become extremely helpful for lawyers who are facing contempt charges in the future. Everyone has a right to a fair trial, including lawyers who are facing contempt charges. When a judge displays an animus toward a lawyer based on personal opinion, that judge should not be able to preside over the lawyer’s contempt hearing.
The Value of Hiring an Experienced Lawyer for Your Defense
Attorney Mark Solomon represented Carter during the initial contempt of court charges. For the appellate case, Attorney Donna Greenspan Solomon secured a favorable verdict. Carter’s case showcases the need for experienced appellate lawyers. In this case, a judge who clearly showed animosity toward Carter as a lawyer presided over his contempt hearing, making it difficult, if not impossible, for him to have a fair trial.
If you are facing criminal charges, hiring an experienced trial lawyer is imperative. When an unfavorable verdict occurs at the trial court level, you need an experienced appellate lawyer. Contact Mark Solomon, P.A. today to schedule your consultation with our South Florida criminal defense law firm.