A criminal defense lawyer who hoped to change his client’s mind about a jury trial was not in contempt for his delay in notifying the court about the jury demand, the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled Tuesday.
On behalf of a drug defendant client, lawyer James G. Cartier moved to revoke a previous jury waiver the day before trial, and Suffolk Circuit Judge Carl E. Eason Jr. imposed a $150 sanction for “misbehavior” amounting to contempt.
Cartier explained he was hoping to change his client’s mind about taking his case to a jury. The client remained “adamant” that he wanted a jury trial when Cartier met with him on Jan 4, 2012, two days before the scheduled trial. Cartier promptly called the prosecutor to advise him about the jury demand and moved to revoke the jury waiver the next day.
When the lawyers appeared in Eason’s court on Jan. 6, the judge agreed to provide a jury trial at a later date, but he granted the prosecutor’s motion for $150 in sanctions to cover the overtime pay of the police officer called to court on his day off.
On appeal, Cartier said he never meant any contempt of the court. “He never intended to be contemptuous in any way of this court,” said Suffolk public defender James L. Grandfield, who argued Cartier’s case before the Court of Appeals. “He was trying to do his best for the client,” Grandfield added.
The Court of Appeals panel agreed. Eason was “plainly wrong” in finding Cartier in contempt, wrote Judge Glen A. Huff for the panel in an unpublished opinion.
Cartier’s notice may have been untimely, but “the evidence in the record does not establish that appellant intended to be contemptuous or to interrupt or obstruct the administration of justice,” Huff wrote.
Cartier said he was relieved by the decision, and the relief may be shared by other defense lawyers. “It was really interesting how much support I had,” Cartier said.