Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
All courts have the inherent power to punish contempt; such power is essential to the maintenance of their authority and the administration of judicial powers. The court defines criminal contempt of court as conduct which is calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court in its administration of justice or derogate from its authority or dignity, thereby bringing the administration of law into disrepute. A finding of criminal contempt is punitive in nature and is intended to vindicate the dignity and authority of the court. However, the exercise of such power is a delicate one, and care is needed to avoid arbitrary or oppressive conclusions.
During a traffic proceeding in Du Page County, appellant attorney, David Sotomayor, substituted an individual other than defendant at counsel's table, without the court's permission or knowledge. The trial judge found that such conduct constituted direct criminal contempt, and fined Sotomayor $ 500. The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the finding of direct criminal contempt, but reduced the fine to $ 100. On appeal, Sotomayor argued that the lower appellate court improperly eliminated from the offense of direct criminal contempt the element of intent to embarrass, hinder, derogate or obstruct the trial court and that requiring him to disclose to the court or opposing counsel his trial strategy would have been conflict with his responsibilities under the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Was Sotomayor properly found in direct criminal contempt of court?
The court rejected Sotomayor’s contentions and affirmed, holding that Sotomayor’s conduct revealed that he intended to mislead not only the state and its witness, but also the trial court itself. The court also held that giving prior notice to the trial court and obtaining its permission to place a substitute at counsel's table would not have violated Sotomayor’s ethical obligations to his client.