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At Donna Solomon Appeals, we are pleased to report that we have won in our appeal of a 2018 contempt of court case. Our client, John Carter, is a Palm Beach County lawyer. In 2018, County Judge Marni Bryson sentenced him to 30 days in jail after convicting him of contempt of court. This case presented a miscarriage of justice. The same judge who entered into a heated verbal dispute with Mr. Carter convicted him of contempt of court and sentenced him.
The legal team at Donna Solomon Appeals is pleased with the well-reasoned decision. We believe that this decision will help protect the rights of lawyers who have been charged with contempt. Lawyers, just like every other citizen, have a right to a fair trial, especially when the possibility of jail time is on the table.
The Appellate Court’s Ruling
Attorney Donna Solomon worked with her husband, criminal defense attorney Mark Solomon, to secure justice on behalf of Mr. Carter. Donna Solomon appealed Judge Bryson’s decision to the Circuit court, as the original case took place in county court.
On July 1, three Circuit court judges, Rosemarie Scher, Scott Suskauer, and Cheryl Caracuzzo, issued the ruling in favor of Mr. Carter. Specifically, the judges agreed that County Judge Bryson was in error when she did not recuse herself from Mr. Carter’s contempt hearing.
The court record showed that a high level of animosity took place between Mr. Carter and Judge Bryson when Carter initially appeared to represent his client. The Circuit court also ruled that Judge Bryson should not have ordered Mr. Carter to undergo an evaluation for his mental health and that she should not have refused to set a bond for him.
Ultimately, the Circuit court panel determined that Judge Bryson’s issues with Mr. Carter as a person were enough to necessitate her recusal. The fact that she stated that she could not take Mr. Carter seriously showed that she was not able to oversee his contempt hearing in an unbiased manner.
The Background of the Case
In March 2018, Mr. Carter entered the courtroom of Judge Bryson to represent his client in a DUI case. Mr. Carter was attempting to convince the court to reinstate his client’s bond. His client had missed an appearance in court. Mr. Carter told the court that he never received notice for his client’s hearing. Judge Byron said that Mr. Carter had signed the notice to appear.
Mr. Carter contended and continues to assert that he did not sign the notice of appearance. He told the judge that the signature on the notice was not his signature. Next, Judge Bryson and Mr. Carter engaged in a back-and-forth verbal dispute. Mr. Carter, who has been practicing law for over 35 years, noted that the verbal altercation was unlike anything he had ever seen.
Carter told Judge Bryson that she was “disrespectful to the people of Palm Beach County” and that he was “appalled” by her behavior. He also brought up that he had heard other employees share similar complaints about Judge Bryson. Upon hearing this, Judge Bryson stated that she would recuse herself from the DUI case and leave the courtroom. Before she left, Bryson said, “I’m recusing myself from his case because I just can’t -- I can’t take you (Carter) seriously.”
Contempt Charges Against Mr. Carter
Soon after the courtroom incident involving the hearing notice, Judge Bryson issued contempt charges against Mr. Carter. The grounds for the contempt charges were based on Mr. Carter’s statement that he did not sign the court document. Judge Bryson presided over Mr. Carter’s contempt hearing. At the hearing, Judge Bryson played a video of Mr. Carter walking up to the clerk’s desk.
When Mr. Carter walked back to his client, he had a handful of papers in his hand. The video did not provide conclusive proof that the defendant was walking back with the notice of the hearing. The court clerk did log a signed hearing notice into the online filing system for the Palm Beach Clerk of Court. Still, Mr. Carter maintains that he did not sign the notice and that the court should investigate who signed the contract. Bryson convicted Mr. Carter of contempt of court and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.
The Impact of the Judge’s Ruling
We hope that the Circuit Court’s ruling will help attorneys receive fair hearings for contempt. The panel of judges ruled that, in most cases, trial court judges may only preside over contempt cases “when the contempt charge does not involve disrespect to or criticism of that particular judge.”
When judges make it explicitly clear that they are biased against an attorney, they should not overhear that attorney’s case. Mr. Carter has a new hearing scheduled with a different judge, County Judge Robert Panse. Mr. Carter plans to request that Judge Panse dismiss all of the contempt charges against him.
The Importance of Hiring a Skilled Appellate Court Judge
The circuit court’s ruling demonstrates the importance of hiring an experienced lawyer to represent you in appellate courts. The appellate process is significantly different from the trial court process. Appeals cases require a lawyer with excellent research and writing skills with an eye for detail. Your appellate lawyer needs to have the skills to make compelling, written legal arguments.
Contact Our Law Firm Today
Attorney Donna Greenspan Solomon is an accomplished appellate attorney. She is one of few lawyers in Florida to have secured certifications in Appellate Practice and Business Litigation. Donna has a record of success in appellate cases within the areas of real estate, insurance coverage, personal injury, and employment law. If you need a skilled appellate lawyer, we can help. Ms. Solomon has been “evaluated for Professionalism and tested for expertise. Contact her law office today to schedule your initial consultation.