Appeal from Judgment of sentence October 16, 1985, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal No. MC 85-10-2675.
Steven A. Morley, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Elizabeth J. Chambers, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Com., appellee.
Rowley, McEwen and Olszewski, JJ.
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This is an appeal from a judgment of sentence for direct criminal contempt.*fn1 Appellant argues that his conduct at trial did not warrant such a finding, claiming instead that his words and actions were simply a by-product of zealous advocacy. Because we find no abuse of discretion, we affirm the lower court's ruling.
Appellant, a pro se defendant, was held in contempt on three separate occasions during the second day of his trial regarding allegations of robbery and simple assault. The first contempt citation resulted from appellant's conduct in refusing to wear civilian clothing, provided by the court, over his prison garb. The remaining citations resulted from appellant's refusal to follow the court's directions and for
[ 354 Pa. Super. Page 456]
being argumentative during the interrogation of witnesses.*fn2 The trial judge concluded that the three instances produced unnecessary delays which significantly disrupted the proceedings, thereby obstructing the administration of justice in violation of 42 Pa.C.S.A. Sec. 4131(2) and (3).
We find it is essential to the integrity and independence of judicial tribunals that they have the power to enforce their own judgment as to what conduct is compatible with the proper and orderly course of their procedure, Mack Appeal, 386 Pa. 251, 126 A.2d 679 (1956), cert. denied 352 U.S. 1002, 77 S.Ct. 559, 1 L.Ed.2d 547 (1957), and each court thus becomes the exclusive judge of contempts committed against its process. Accordingly, in considering an appeal from a contempt order, we place great reliance on the discretion of the trial judge. In re Grand Jury, April Term 1977, Wayne County, 251 Pa. Super. 43, 379 A.2d 323 (1977).
In the present case, appellant claims that his conduct was a result of zealous advocacy exercised during the course of trial. We have no doubt that enthusiasm is indeed expected of an attorney in representing his client (or, in this case, himself) and that singular remarks, later regrettable, are often a by-product of our adversarial judicial process. For that reason, single lapses in proper courtroom decorum, without more, have been held excusable and do not give rise to findings of contempt. See Matter of Campolongo, 495 Pa. 627, 435 A.2d 581 (1981) (single rhetorical question to judge); Commonwealth v. Rubright, 489 Pa. 356, 414 A.2d 106 (1980) (single impertinent question to judge).
Alternatively, we also recognize that an attorney is obligated to conduct himself within certain bounds, established by the court for the purpose of insuring a fair adjudication of the issues presented. When conduct exceeds those prescribed bounds, findings of contempt are justified. See Commonwealth v. Snyder, 443 ...