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MATTER ARTHUR HENRY JAMES (01/06/84)

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


filed: January 6, 1984.

IN THE MATTER OF ARTHUR HENRY JAMES, ESQ.; APPEAL OF ARTHUR HENRY JAMES, ESQUIRE

NO. 761 PHILADELPHIA, 1982, Appeal from the judgment of sentence of February 1, 1982, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No. MC 8203-1088.

COUNSEL

Athena Mary Dooley, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Howland W. Abramson, Philadelphia, for appellee.

McEwen, Beck and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Beck

[ 323 Pa. Super. Page 150]

Arthur Henry James, Esq., was found guilty of contempt of court by the Honorable Edwin S. Malmed of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, and fined $500 on February 1, 1980. He appeals from judgment of sentence.

James was representing a client, Eric Baynes, in criminal proceedings. In the course of defending Baynes, James asked for and received several continuances. N.T. 3. On February 1, James told Judge Malmed's law clerk that he would appear in court that afternoon with a brief at 3:30. N.T. 2. He did not appear until approximately 4:55.

[ 323 Pa. Super. Page 151]

James explained that he failed to appear at the specified time because he went to see his client Baynes in the cell room to discuss post-trial motions. N.T. 4. He did not call the court to request a change of time or to offer any excuses for his failure to appear. When he finally appeared, he presented no brief to the court, although he had had a number of months to prepare one. N.T. 10. James was cited for contempt for his failure to appear at the agreed hour. Judge Malmed decided that he would not hold him in further contempt for the failure to submit the brief.

On appeal James argues that 42 Pa.C.S. § 4131(3)*fn1 requires the Commonwealth to prove misconduct which intentionally interferes with the orderly process of the court. He maintains that because his absence resulted from his decision to interview his client, rather than an intent to obstruct the administration of justice, he should not be penalized. He cites Commonwealth v. Washington, 468 Pa. 506, 353 A.2d 806 (1976) in which the Supreme Court reversed a contempt conviction where the attorney failed to appear in court because he had overslept. James maintains that noncompliance, without a showing of intent, is not enough to support a conviction for contempt.*fn2

The law is clear that wrongful intent is a necessary element of criminal contempt. Commonwealth v. Starks,

[ 323 Pa. Super. Page 152312]

Pa. Super. 232, 458 A.2d 600 (1983) (reversing a contempt conviction where the attorney refused to obey the court's order because his physical and mental health prevented compliance). Nevertheless, a subjective intent to obstruct the administration of justice is not a requisite of criminal contempt. Commonwealth v. Falkenhan, 306 Pa. Super. 330, 452 A.2d 750 (1982); Commonwealth v. Owens, 496 Pa. 16, 436 A.2d 129 (1981).

We turn to Medve v. Walakovits, 305 Pa. Super. 75, 451 A.2d 249 (1982), cert. denied 461 U.S. 945, 103 S.Ct. 2123, 77 L.Ed.2d 1303, for an analysis of when the necessary intent is found in criminal contempt under 42 Pa.C.S. § 4131(2).*fn3 In that case this Court reviewed a number of recent contempt appeals and held that the contemnor "can be held, as a matter of law, to have intended the natural consequences of his acts" (305 Pa. Super. at 80, 451 A.2d at 251). In Medve, the attorney was aware of his obligation to appear at a pre-trial settlement at a certain hour and decided to attend to other matters instead. He argued that his tardiness was a result of oversight, rather than an intentional act. We held that his tardiness resulted from a deliberate act which gave rise to a substantial certainty of the forbidden result or a reckless disregard of that result, and that the requisite intent could thereby be proved.

The tardiness of James in the instant case is quite similar. Once James decided to interview his client rather than appear in court, his behavior was such that he acted with a substantial certainty that he would be late or with a reckless disregard of such lateness. We therefore, under the rule of Medve, affirm the lower court.

Judgment of sentence affirmed.


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