Blankenburg v. Commonwealth

Decision Date03 July 1930
Citation272 Mass. 25,172 N.E. 209
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Report from Supreme Judicial Court, Suffolk County.

Ida M. Blankenburg was adjudged guilty of contempt, and she petitions for writ of error. On report of a single justice, after denial of request for rulings and order affirming judgment.

Judgment affirmed.

J. J. Cummings, of Boston, for plaintiff in error.

R. A. Cutter, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Commonwealth.


This is a petition for a writ of error to reverse a judgment of contempt entered against the petitioner in a probate court. The case was here in 260 Mass. 369, 157 N. E. 693. It then was decided that in this commonwealth probate courts have jurisdiction to punish for criminal contempt, that writ of error lies in appropriate cases to re-examine a judgment for criminal contempt entered by such court, that such re-examination extends to errors of law and to such errors as to extraneous facts, if any, as were not involved in the hearing on the merits of the judgment to be re-examined, that a rehearing cannot be had upon the merits of the findings of fact made by the trial judge, that the evidence heard by the trial judge is no part of the record, and that power to enter judgment for contempt on the ground of perjury was not cut down or affected by G. L. c. 268, § 4. Those principles must be regarded as settled. After rescript in accordance with that decision the case came on for hearing upon the substitute petition, the amended assignment of errors, the record of its proceedings returned by the probate court, the writ of scire facias, and the plea in effect in nullo est eratum of the defendant in error. No evidence was offered. The single justice denied the requests for rulings presented by the plaintiff in error, entered an order affirming the judgment, and then reported the questions of law thus raised. These questions are confined to those appearing upon the face of the record as returned and described in the assignment of errors.

The judgment sought to be reversed is based on a finding that the plaintiff in error was guilty of contempt committed in the presence of the court through wilful and intentional perjury, subornation of perjury, deliberate attempt to deceive the court, delaying the proceedings of the court, and obstruction of justice. It arose in this way: The will of Lotta M. Crabtree was offered for probate. The plaintiff in error, asserting that she was a daughter of the decedent, entered her appearance in opposition to the allowance of the will. Those named as executors moved to have her appearance stricken out on the ground that she was not an heir at law or next of kin of the decedent. The issue thus raised was whether the plaintiff in error was a child of the decedent. At the close of the twenty-second day of hearings on this motion the trial judge, impelled as he said by a sense of duty as a public servant, read aloud in the presence of the plaintiff in error a statement wherein it was set forth that the claim of the plaintiff in error to kinship with the decedent was fraudulent, and some other matters respecting which the plaintiff in error had committed perjury and attempted to obstruct and degrade the administration of justice. The plaintiff in error was at once arrested in open court. She also was required to appear to show cause why she should not be adjudged in contempt and to furnish bond for her appearance. The Attorney General as the chief prosecuting officer of the commonwealth was requested to appear at the same time and place to assist in the preparation of specifications and in presenting evidence. The plaintiff in error was released after having given security for her appearance. Specifications in considerable detail were filed by the Attorney General. After a hearing upon those specifications, an order was entered wherein was recited at length findings of fact of perjury, subornation of perjury and acts in obstruction of justice, and the arrest of the plaintiff in error in open court because of the acts thus committed by her in the presence of the trial judge, notice to her of hearing on specifications of contempt, and the adjudication of guilty and sentence to jail for six months unless sooner released by the court. The recital as to the notice and hearing is that after her arrest specifications were filed of which the plaintiff in error had due notice, and that she appeared and offered herself as a witness in her own behalf voluntarily and was examined by her own counsel and cross-examined by an Assistant Attorney General, and that she was fully heard in her defence by herself and by counsel. Thereafter the adjudication was made. The findings of fact recited in the order in substance are that (1) the plaintiff in error did delay the proceedings of the court, obstruct justice, and commit acts against the dignity and authority of the court in that she wilfully asserted that she was the daughter of said Lotta M. Crabtree, which was a false and fraudulent claim of kinship, and that in support of the claim she knowingly testified falsely and untruthfully and caused false testimony of another to be given; (2) she testified that she had traveled in company with said Crabtree at specified times and places, where as it appeared upon unquestioned, incontrovertible and contemporaneous documentary evidence consisting of court records and writings of the decedent that said testimony was false and that said Crabtree was not at the places as the times stated; (3) she testified with great particularity as to intimate and personal and private relationships with said Crabtree through a period of about twenty-four years; and (4) when shown an unquestioned, autographed photograph of said Crabtree she could not tell whose likeness it was and did not identify other genuine photographs of said Crabtree, but made it clearly manifest that she had no intimate and personal companionship with said Crabtree; (5) her testimony as to intimate acquaintance and close association with said Crabtree was obviously a sham and pretense of events that never took place and a manifest effort by means of persistent perjury to baffle the inquiry then being made by the court; (6) she caused false testimony in her behalf to be offered in her presence to the effect that a certain entry on a flyleaf of a Bible was in the handwriting of said Crabtree and she testified that prior to learning of said Bible entry in March, 1925, she did not know or suspect any such relationship between herself and said Crabtree; and in order to make said Bible entry admissible as evidence, she brought from Iowa and offered a witness in her behalf to testify wilfully and corruptly in substance that said Bible entry was in the handwriting of said Crabtree and thereafter, when the falsity thereof was ascertained, she permitted her counsel, in her presence and the presence of the court, to disclaim that the writing upon the Bible flyleaf was the handwriting of said Crabtree as testified, and it was manifest from her actions and demeanor in the presence of the court that she well knew that the testimony so caused by her to be given was false; (7) the plaintiff in error was a woman of mature years, intelligent, alert and adroit, and that in testifying as aforesaid she committed persistent and wilful perjury and was actuated by a corrupt purpose; (8) and the court did order the plaintiff in error, because of such acts committed as aforesaid in the presence of the court, ‘of which the court took judicial notice and had judicial knowledge, to show cause why she should not be adjudged in contempt of court.’

These findings of facts must be accepted as true. They import a finding of all incidental and inducing facts and the drawing of all permissible inferences necessary to the conclusion reached. Vinal v. Nahant, 232 Mass. 412, 419, 122 N. E. 295;Royle v. Worcester Buick Co., 243 Mass. 143, 137 N. E. 531;New Bedford Cotton Waste Co. v. Andres Co., 258 Mass. 13, 17, 154 N. E. 263. And it must be presumed that all these findings were made beyond a reasonable doubt in the mind of the trial judge. Root v. MacDonald, 260 Mass. 344, 366, 367, 157 N. E. 684, 54 A. L. R. 1422.

An underlying contention of the plaintiff in error is that these facts as found by the court do not constitute contempt of court. Concerning argument in support of that contention when the case was here before, it was said that that question was not then reported for our determination and that it was not necessary to say more than that in our opinion it could not be ruled as matter of law on the facts found, either that there was no contempt or that there was error in the proceedings. 260 Mass. at pages 375, 376, 157 N. E. 693. That question is now presented for decision. Perjury as a ground for contempt of court has not been hitherto much discussed in our decisions.

The province of the courts in cases brought before them is to ascertain the truth, to vindicate rights, to redress wrongs and to do justice according to established principles of law. Those who are interested in perverting rights and escaping the consequences of evil conduct, have an interest to obstruct the course of justice in the courts. Ingenious efforts have not been wanting for obstructing the courts by numerous means. An obvious one is to attempt to influence the decision by false testimony. Perjury as contempt of court has been considered by courts of other jurisdictions. Respecting that general subject it was said in Ex parte Hudgings, 249 U. S. 378, at pages 382, 383, 39 S. Ct. 337, 339, 63 L. Ed. 656, 11 A. L. R. 333: ‘Because perjury is a crime defined by law and one committing it may be tried and punished does not necessarily establish that when committed in the presence of a court it may not, when exceptional conditions so justify, be the subject-matter of a punishment for contempt. For an application of...

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  • Berlandi v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 15, 1943
    ...determine the rights of parties according to law.’ Blankenburg v. Commonwealth, 260 Mass. 369, 373, 157 N.E. 693, 695;Id., 272 Mass. 25, 29, 32, 172 N.E. 209, 73 A.L.R. 808. See also Globe Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth, 188 Mass. 449, 450, 74 N.E. 682,3 Ann.Cas. 761. And it was said in Tele......
  • Com. v. Crowe
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    ...character of the testimony.' " Commonwealth v. Michel, 367 Mass. 454, 462, 327 N.E.2d 720 (1975), quoting from Blankenburg v. Commonwealth, 272 Mass. 25, 34, 172 N.E. 209 (1930), cert. denied, 283 U.S. 819, 51 S.Ct. 344, 75 L.Ed. 1435 There is nothing in the record to support the allegation......
  • Furtado v. Furtado
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    • March 14, 1980
    ...of alimony or support "has never been regarded as partaking of criminal features" (see Blankenburg v. Commonwealth, 260 Mass. 369, 373, 157 N.E. 693, 696 (1927), Id., 272 Mass. 25, 172 N.E. 209 (1930), cert. denied, 283 U.S. 819, 51 S.Ct. 344, 75 L.Ed. 1435 (1931)), or supposed to be "crimi......
  • Katz v. Com.
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    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • December 4, 1979
    ...Cir. 1968). Perjury may be punished as contempt when it obstructs the court in the performance of its duty. Blankenburg v. Commonwealth, 272 Mass. 25, 31-34, 172 N.E. 209 (1930). The contempt power is not cut down or affected by G.L. c. 268, § 4. Blankenburg v. Commonwealth, 260 Mass. 369, ......
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