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decided: October 5, 1978.


No. 358 January Term, 1976, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence for Contempt of Court of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Criminal Section, of Philadelphia County, entered during trial of Indictments Nos. 1382-1385, January Sessions, 1976


Defender Assn. of Phila., Benjamin Lerner, Defender, Jonathan Miller, Asst. Public Defender, John W. Packel, Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Deputy Dist. Atty. for Law, Glen Gitomer, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Larsen, J., joins in this opinion and files a concurring opinion. O'Brien, J., concurs in the result. Manderino, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Roberts, J., joins. Nix, J., dissents, believing that the comments did not amount to contumacious conduct.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 482 Pa. Page 81]


Appellant Martin Stanshine, a lawyer, was adjudicated in contempt of court and sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred dollars. Because this case involves a direct criminal contempt in a court of common pleas, a direct appeal was brought here.*fn1

Appellant represented George Stevenson, a defendant in a criminal case. The record discloses that the trial judge in this case frequently addressed the members of the jury panel as "good jurors" during his voir dire instructions. Part of these instructions dealt with the jurors' duty to follow the law as determined by the court, and in an apparent effort to stress the point, the trial judge stated: "I am the law. I am the law. There is no other law save me." After all the evidence was in and the parties had rested, appellant gave his closing address to the jury. He began his summation with the following:

"Thank you, Your Honor.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here is the way it works from here on. First the good guys get to speak to you, that's me. Then the district attorney gets to speak to you later. There will be nothing after that today.

" Tomorrow morning, good jurors, the Law will talk with you, and we will end up with enough of the facts to make it look like Mr. Stevenson is guilty."

"Now, first I want to point out some of the law before we get into the facts."

(Emphasis supplied.)

At the completion of appellant's summation, the trial judge excused the jury and had the court reporter read back the

[ 482 Pa. Page 82]

    remarks quoted above. Appellant was thereupon found in contempt.


The power to impose summary punishment for contempt, while inherent in all courts, see, e. g., Levine Contempt Case, 372 Pa. 612, 618, 95 A.2d 222, cert. denied, 346 U.S. 858, 74 S.Ct. 72, 98 L.Ed. 371 (1953); Snyder's Case, 301 Pa. 276, 152 A. 33 (1936); ABA Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Standards Relating to the Function of the Trial Judge § 7.1 (Approved Draft, 1972), is limited in this Commonwealth by the Act of June 16, 1836, P.L. 784, § 23, 17 P.S. § 2041 (1962).*fn2 That statute provides:

"The power of the several courts of this Commonwealth to . . . inflict summary punishments for contempts of court shall be restricted to the following cases, to-wit:

"I. To the official misconduct of the officers of such courts respectively;

"II. To disobedience or neglect by officers, parties, jurors or witnesses of or to the lawful process of the court;

"III. To the misbehavior of any person in the presence of the court, thereby obstructing the administration of justice."

Appellant's contention that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction must be evaluated in light of this statute.

Appellant first argues that he could not be convicted under subsection I of the Act of 1836, supra. We disagree. Although it has been suggested that subsection I does not include misconduct by attorneys, see Commonwealth v. Garrison, 478 Pa. 356, 386 A.2d 971, 977 (1978) (plurality opinion); In re Johnson, 467 Pa. 552, 556, 359 A.2d 739 (1976), we think that such a construction of the statute ignores well settled principles recognized by both the legislature and this Court. "Persons admitted to the bar of the courts of this

[ 482 Pa. Page 83]

Commonwealth and to practice law pursuant to general rules . . . thereby hold the office of attorney at law." Judicial Code § 2521, 42 Pa.C.S. § 2521. Upon admission to the bar, each lawyer swears to "discharge the duties of my office with fidelity, as well to the court as to the client." Id. § 2522, 42 Pa.C.S. § 2522.*fn3 Our cases also recognize an attorney's position as an officer of the court. E. g., In re Shigon, 462 Pa. 1, 10-11, 329 A.2d 235 (1974); In re Schofield, 362 Pa. 201, 204 & n. 1, 66 A.2d 675, 677 & n. 1 (1949); Scouten's Appeal, 186 Pa. 270, 279, 40 A. 481 (1897). See also Pa.R.D.E. 103. We know of nothing indicating a legislative intent that the term "officers of such courts" in subsection I of the Act of 1836 is to be read ...

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