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submitted: April 10, 1989.


Appeal from the Order entered April 3, 1984, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal, No. 83-01-257-259, 82-10-1381-1383. No. M.C. 84-04-0100. Appeal from the Order entered May 29, 1984, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, No. CP NO 83-01-257-259 & 82-10-1381-1383. No. MC NO 84-05-2778.


Gaele M. Barthold, Deputy Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for Christie, appellant (at 914 and 1471) and Rendell appellant (at 914).

Charles W. Johns, Strafford, for Ribner, participating party.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Olszewski and Watkins, JJ.

Author: Olszewski

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 81]

This is an appeal from two orders of contempt of court entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County during the joint trial of Raymond Martorano and Albert Daidone.

In 1984, appellant, Barbara Christie, an assistant district attorney, prosecuted a highly publicized case involving Raymond Martorano and Albert Daidone. The defendants had been charged with ordering the death of roofers' union leader, John McCullough. The case, which lasted six months, was tried before the Honorable Paul Ribner. Ultimately, Martorano and Daidone were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy.

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 82]

During the proceedings, Christie was twice held in contempt of court. The first contempt citation occurred on April 3, 1984, during argument on pre-trial motions. This citation was based upon Christie's overall courtroom conduct and largely on her actions from the previous day. In imposing this citation, Judge Ribner stated the following:

I recessed court yesterday because I wanted to make sure that I had access to a complete transcript of what transpired on Friday afternoon and yesterday, April 2, 1984, before I would act in this matter.

I have reviewed those transcripts in detail, and they confirm what I believed I heard yesterday. Unfortunately, we had to recess the proceedings yesterday to take care of these matters.

There have been a number of instances throughout these proceedings wherein the conduct [of] the Assistant District Attorney reflected contempt for this Court. And it culminated in the outburst of yesterday.

Those remarks, in the opinion of this Court, were totally outrageous, totally false and were obviously made in connection with pending rulings regarding the witness who had been on the stand Friday afternoon and the answer to the Court's order of March 27, 1984, directing the prosecutor to set forth the names of the alleged co-conspirators in this case.

The comments following the outburst of yesterday by the Assistant District Attorney were undignified and discourteous to the Court. They were refusals to abide by the Court's proper admonition not to discuss the subject matter of the witness' testimony while the witness was under cross-examination on Friday afternoon and a refusal to abide by the order of March 27th. And there were a number of other comments, which are contained in the record, concerning the bias of the Court.

I will also observe for the record that the Assistant District Attorney on a number of occasions, and especially yesterday, exhibited a manifestation of total hostility and disdain for this Court.

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 83]

This kind of conduct led to a disruption of the proceedings and obstructed the proper administration of justice. This was official misconduct of an attorney, an officer of this court. This Court cannot function if held in disrepute, if degraded, demeaned by any counsel in the case, which happened in this case. There was also the risk of pressure being applied to the Court to enter rulings favorable to the Commonwealth by counsel's unfair, totally unfair and false accusations of bias, favoritism and so on.

The actions of the Assistant District Attorney have prevented this Court from maintaining a dignified administration over the proceedings, which is required in any criminal proceeding. The Court cannot function if the Court is not able to maintain a dignified, impartial air, without any disruptive influences . . . .

In this morning's newspapers appear several articles which, again, indicate how there has been a total obstruction of justice in this case by the acts of the Commonwealth.

On page 14 of today's Daily News . . . here is an article containing comments which would make it appear to anyone reading this newspaper that this Court has been delaying these proceedings and that the Court has applied a double standard in favor of the defendants. Those are the words set forth in the article.

Those allegations are totally outrageous, totally false. These proceedings were lengthened by the insistence of the prosecutor on putting in numerous tape recordings, originals and duplicates, which this Court listened to, with courtesy, in an attempt to make proper rulings. There was also a period of a week or a week and a half when the prosecutor did not feel well, and the Court did not pressure her in any way into continuing with the case.

I think that the record will reveal that the case has moved along as expeditiously as possible.

This Court finds Ms. Christie in contempt of court and imposes a fine of five hundred dollars . . . . This action

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 84]

    will not in any way prevent these proceedings or the trial from being conducted in a totally fair and impartial manner by this Court . . . .

N.T. 4/3/84, 2-5.

Accordingly, Christie was found to be in contempt of court, for which she was ordered by pay a five-hundred-dollar fine. Counsel for Christie then requested Judge Ribner to stay his order pending appeal. Following the denial of this request, counsel filed an immediate appeal to our Court along with a petition for supersedeas. Said petition was granted pending disposition of the appeal.

Subsequently, on May 29, 1984, Christie was again found to be in contempt of court. This citation was directly prompted by her negative reaction to a ruling on the inadmissibility of certain evidence. Specifically, Christie openly challenged Judge Ribner's ruling by stating, "I don't believe this . . .". In Judge Ribner's 206-page opinion, he held that this citation represented the culmination of Christie's persistent and blatant disregard of his authority. Further, he stated that Christie openly and harmfully displayed contempt and hostility towards him, effectively and unnecessarily dragged out the trial, and repeatedly threatened the just nature of the trial by knowingly misstating facts and by repeatedly introducing prejudicial and inflammatory evidence. Judge Ribner stated that he was forced to contend with this behavior during a trial in which the jurors remained sequestered for six months. As a result of this isolation, many of the jurors became emotionally strained and eventually exhibited signs of unrest which included temper tantrums and escape attempts. Accordingly, Judge Ribner was faced with the task of expediting the trial at a reasonable pace without compromising its constitutional integrity. In effect, Judge Ribner held that Christie continuously undermined his laborious attempts to maintain a smooth and fair trial.

Pursuant to the issuance of this citation, counsel for Christie asked Judge Ribner to stay the order pending appeal. Judge Ribner refused, and Christie filed a second

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 85]

    appeal and petition for supersedeas with our Court. Said petition was granted. In response, Judge Ribner petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to quash our Court's directive. Due to Judge Ribner's lack of standing, however, his petition was dismissed.

On December 29, 1988, Judge Ribner filed his opinion. Following, in accordance with this Court's orders, Christie filed an appellate brief.*fn1 On appeal, Christie contends that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support her two summary convictions for direct criminal contempt; (2) the trial court erred in its application of subsection (1) of 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 4132 to the instant convictions; (3) due process was violated when the trial court failed to allow counsel to defend ...

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