The Volokh Conspiracy

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Cohen (of Cohen v. California) comes back to the courthouse, complains about the long wait


Well, kind of. From State v. Perez (Ill. App. Ct. Oct. 1, 2014):

Respondent, Valerie Perez, was in traffic court waiting to appear on a speeding ticket. When the court took a recess, respondent exited the courtroom and was overheard by a bailiff saying, "I waited all fucking morning and now she takes a break." After the bailiff relayed the comment to the court, the trial judge returned to the bench and instructed the State to prepare and file a petition for contempt…. After finding respondent guilty of indirect criminal contempt, the court sentenced respondent to serve eight days in custody.

The appellate court reversed the conviction:

In this case, the trial judge found "the words that were used were very disrespectful to what I try to do here each and every day." … Based on the judge's remark, it appears the court found respondent intended to embarrass the judge or bring her method of the administration of the law into disrepute.

Viewing respondent's words in the light most favorable to the State, we are unable to conclude the evidence proved respondent intended to embarrass the judge, since respondent did not communicate this statement directly to the judge or identify the judge by name while in the hallway. In addition, the bailiff's testimony established respondent did not use profanity when referring to the judge as "she." Instead, respondent complained the respondent was tired of waiting all "f * * * morning." [Expurgation in original. -EV] Since the bailiff testified respondent entered the hallway after the court recessed, at 11:30 a.m., there seems to be an element of truthfulness to respondent's declaration and verbalized frustration. These remarks about the additional delay resulting from the recess may constitute protected speech under the first amendment. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 272-73 (1964) ("[T]his Court has held that concern for the dignity and reputation of the courts does not justify the punishment as criminal contempt of criticism of the judge or his decision.")….

Consequently, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State after considering the multiple ways a respondent may commit indirect criminal contempt, we conclude the State's evidence did not establish respondent was guilty of indirect criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.

For those who don't get the (very slight) joke in the blog title, see Cohen v. California (1971).