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WILLIAM R. BERNHART (07/05/83)

decided: July 5, 1983.

IN RE WILLIAM R. BERNHART, ESQUIRE


No. 80-3-725, Appeal from judgment of sentence on August 15, 1980 in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, Pennsylvania, to No. 138 Miscellaneous Docket, 1980.

COUNSEL

James R. Hevalow, J. Michael Morrissey, Reading, for appellant.

Charles A. Haddad, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Reading, for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Nix, J., filed a dissenting opinion in McDermott, J., joined. Flaherty, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which McDermott, J., joined.

Author: Zappala

[ 501 Pa. Page 429]

OPINION

This is a direct appeal from an Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County.*fn1 On August 15, 1980 the lower court found Appellant guilty of direct criminal contempt and fined him $250.00. The following facts are pertinent to the disposition of this matter.

Sometime on August 13, 1980 Appellant received an Order of Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County to appear at 3:00 p.m. the next day, August 14, in connection with a hearing in a murder case in which Appellant was defense counsel. At the time, Appellant was trying a case before the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County. At approximately 1:45 p.m. on the afternoon of August 14, Appellant had just completed the Berks County trial and was awaiting the return of the jury. Appellant arranged for an associate to be present for the verdict or questions from the jury and informed the Assistant Court Administrator of his necessary departure and was himself informed that while he had cases remaining on the stand-by trial list for that day, none had been assigned to trial at that time. In fact, a view of the list posted on a blackboard outside the courtroom showed that nine cases were listed before those of Appellant on the stand-by list, and there remained 51 other cases on the ready list.

[ 501 Pa. Page 430]

The Assistant Court Administrator did not advise the president judge of Appellant's forced absence until later in the afternoon when new cases were about to be assigned (C.H. 21-22). At that time, Appellant's cases were called and then bypassed for other cases on the list.

Upon Appellant's return to the Berks County Courthouse on August 15, 1980, he was summoned to the courtroom of the President Judge and cited for contempt of court. A hearing was held, and Appellant was found guilty of the charge.

Our legislature has defined the circumstances under which the courts may utilize the summary contempt power. 42 P.C.S.A. ยง 4131 provides:

"The power of the several courts of this Commonwealth to issue attachments and to inflict summary punishments for contempts of court shall ...


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