No. 1383 Philadelphia, 1981, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Civil Division, at No. 80-C-1431
Richard P. Abraham, Philadelphia, for appellant.
William G. Ross, Bethlehem, for appellee.
Howland W. Abramson, Philadelphia, for participating party.
Spaeth, Brosky and Beck, JJ.
[ 305 Pa. Super. Page 76]
This is an appeal from an order holding an attorney in contempt of court. The event which precipitated the contempt order was counsel's late appearance at a pre-trial settlement conference. A novel issue of law is presented here: whether the element of intent necessary for a finding of contempt can be met by proof of recklessness. The trial court, in the person of Judge Mellenberg, did not address the case in precisely these terms. Nonetheless, we affirm the contempt order.
Appellant contends that his tardiness was the product of an oversight, rather than an intentional act; and that, therefore, he cannot be properly held in contempt. In particular, he states that he "lost track of time." Such inadvertence is not, he argues, the equivalent of intent. Were these the only relevant facts in the case, we would agree. However, there are other elements in the chain of events which complicate the case for appellant.
[ 305 Pa. Super. Page 77]
Richard Orloski, plaintiff's counsel in Medve v. Walakovits, was scheduled to appear at 10:15 a. m. for a pre-trial settlement conference with Judge Mellenberg. According to Orloski's own sworn statement, he was in the front entrance of the courthouse "between 10:00 a. m. and 10:05 a. m." He relates that immediately after this he met another attorney in the corridor and that they decided to go up to the fourth floor to strike another case from the trial list. When they arrived, neither the Court Administrator nor his deputy were present. "The secretary in the Court Administrator's office indicated that we would have to wait for the Administrator or his Deputy, which we did." (Statement in absence of transcript, Orloski, p. 4.)
After the administrator returned and he completed his business, Orloski went down four flights of stairs to get his papers for the pre-trial conference. At this point, he discovered that the time was about 10:25.
Mr. Orloski states that he then ran up five flights of stairs to the floor where the conference was to be held. Having arrived on the fifth floor, he saw counsel for the defendant, Walakovits, in conversation in the hallway, assumed that the conferences were running late and sat down to read a newspaper. When opposing counsel started to leave, at "about 10:35 a. m.," Orloski asked and found out that the pre-trial conference in his case had been called in his absence and that the case was stricken. Orloski then proceeded to the conference room where he tendered his apologies and explanation to the court.
A $50 fine, payable to opposing counsel, was imposed on appellant as a summary punishment for contempt of court. The power of a court to take such an action is limited to certain circumstances. In relevant part, they are: "(2) Disobedience or neglect by officers, ...