BROOKS v. U.S., No. 94-SP-346

Docket NºNo. 94-SP-346
Citation686 A.2d 214
Case DateDecember 12, 1996
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District
686 A.2d 214
Clyde BROOKS, Sr., Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
No. 94-SP-346.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Argued April 11, 1995.
Decided December 12, 1996.

APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, KAYE K. CHRISTIAN, J.

THIS PAGE CONTAINED HEADNOTES AND HEADNOTES ARE NOT AN OFFICIAL PRODUCT OF THE COURT, THEREFORE THEY ARE NOT DISPLAYED.

M.L. Armstrong, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein and Sandra Levick, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for the appellant.

Pamela S. Satterfield, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Eric H. Holder, Jr., United States Attorney, and John R. Fisher and Thomas J. Tourish, Jr., Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for the appellee.

Before FERREN and RUIZ, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

RUIZ, Associate Judge.


On March 18, 1994, Clyde Brooks obtained his first criminal conviction when a Superior Court judge presiding in landlord-tenantcourt summarily held him in contempt because of his conduct and demeanor in court. Prior to adjudicating Mr. Brooks guilty and sentencing him to ten days in jail, the trial court neither appointed Mr. Brooks a lawyer, advised him of any pending charges, afforded him an opportunity to present a defense, nor permitted him to allocute in mitigation of his sentence. This procedure, we hold, did not comport with this court's interpretation of the District of Columbia Superior Court rules governing contempt proceedings. We also find that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. Accordingly, we reverse the conviction for contempt.

I. THE FACTS

On March 15, 1994, Mr. Brooks and Carol Thomas were ordered to pay the rent on their apartment into a court registry pursuant to their landlord's action for eviction in Home Realty, Inc. v. Carol Thomas and Clyde Brooks, Sr., landlord and tenant matter no. LT-7057-94. The first payment was due just three days later, on March 18, 1994, with monthly payments due on the fifth of each month thereafter. Having inadequate funds, Mr. Brooks and Ms. Thomas sought assistance from the D.C. Law Students in Court program, which directed them to various charities which, in turn, given at least two weeks' notice, might have been able to help the couple make its rent payments.

By March 18, 1994, it was apparent that the couple would need to seek an enlargement of time in which to make the payment into the court registry. Appearing in court without a lawyer, the couple first consulted with Ann Marie Hay, a supervisor at the D.C. Law Students in Court program. Responding to the couple's concern about the payment deadline, Ms. Hay approached the attorney for the landlord, who apparently acknowledged the tenants' request for an enlargement of time but did not consent to it. Thereafter, the matter was called, and following Mr. Brooks's explanation of the couple's current difficulties, the landlord's attorney stated in open court that the landlord opposed any extension of the rent payment deadline.

Mr. Brooks believed, either through his own unfamiliarity with legal proceedings or by the inadvertent indications of Ms. Hay, that the landlord would agree to the enlargement of time. The transcript suggests that as the landlord's attorney was announcing his position, Mr. Brooks undertook some gesticulation which caused the trial judge to interrupt the landlord's attorney for the purpose of reminding Mr. Brooks, "Sir!. . . . You're in a court of law. We're courteous to each other." Mr. Brooks voiced his acquiescence with the court's directive to be courteous, but responded that he "didn't say anything to" the landlord's attorney. Once the landlord's attorney was finished setting out his opposition to the additional time, the trial judge stated that she would hear from Mr. Brooks "very briefly" on the issue.

Mr. Brooks was clearly upset about what he felt had been the landlord's unexpected reversal. Mr. Brooks twice tried to start a response, but was interrupted each time by the judge's admonition to compose himself and to be calm. After promising that he had calmed down, Mr. Brooks explained his understanding that the landlord had consented to an extension. At the invitation of the court, Ms. Hay stated that Mr. Brooks misunderstood the situation and that she had not told him that the landlord's attorney would agree to his motion.1 Mr. Brooks, at this point, believed that the landlord's attorney had "tricked" him into thinking the extension was unopposed, and said as much by exclaiming, "That was a trick!" This led the judge to announce she would pass the case, in order to allow Mr. Brooks "to calm down."

When the case was recalled following the disposition of another matter, Mr. Brooks twice apologized for his agitation, an apology which the judge appeared to accept. The trial judge then granted the couple's request for an enlargement of time, and directed a warning to Mr. Brooks that if he were to return to court "with that kind of attitude,this Court will hold you in contempt and I will throw you into jail." Mr. Brooks was denied any other opportunity to speak in the proceedings, except to thank the court for its ruling.

As he was leaving the courtroom and a new case was being called, the judge overheard Mr. Brooks say that the landlord's management "need[s] to fix some of that shit in that apartment." At this comment, the judge turned from the proceedings she was conducting and announced to Mr. Brooks that "it's clear you don't understand." Mr. Brooks obliquely responded "I understood, Your Honor. You have no say so. That's what I understand." Mr. Brooks was then stopped as he was leaving the courtroom, and a United States Marshal was called. The trial judge, within two minutes, held Mr. Brooks in contempt of court and sentenced him to ten days in jail. The entire contempt proceeding follows:

THE COURT: Mr. Brooks, please state your name.

MR. BROOKS: Clyde Edward Brooks, Sr., Your Honor.

THE COURT: Very well. And, our record will reflect that Ms. Thomas is present. This does not concern Ms. Thomas. The Court had Mr. Brooks before her on two occasions, just about three occasions, this morning. The Court spoke with Mr. Brooks with respect to his conduct in the courtroom. The Court told Mr. Brooks that she would speak to him about the case in a calm manner. The Court warned Mr. Brooks that his demeanor was not proper for these proceeds [sic]. The Court had to call Mr. Brooks back into the courtroom because he used offensive and derogatory language in the courtroom. The Court explained to that Mr. Brooks, that was not appropriate. Mr. Brooks apologized to the Court. The Court made her ruling, in Mr. Brooks' favor, that was opposed by the plaintiff. Mr. Brooks left the courtroom and, again, used derogatory language. Sir, don't say anything! The Court noted that the Court had to call this matter three times. It has certainly prevented the administration of justice. Others have had to sit in this courtroom to wait for their cases to be called. The Court has to take immediate action. And, if she doesn't take immediate action, this calendar will not move. The Court is gonna summarily hold Mr. Brooks in contempt of court. He will be required to serve ten days in jail. You may take him, Marshal.

MR. BROOKS: Oh, man!

[LANDLORD'S ATTORNEY]: Thank you, Your Honor.

MS. THOMAS: So —

THE CLERK: You're free to leave.

MS. THOMAS: Okay.

Four days after the hearing, the trial judge issued an Order of Contempt (appended hereto) in which she set forth the certification of facts upon which she relied to base her finding of contempt of court. Mr. Brooks petitioned both the trial court and this court on an emergency basis for a stay of the judge's order of commitment pending an appeal of his conviction.2 Both requests were denied. Mr. Brooks then filed with this court a new emergency motion for release pending appeal, or in the alternative for rehearing en banc of his motion for a stay. This court denied both motions on the day they were filed.

For reasons that follow, we hold that the decision to employ a summary contempt proceeding under Rule 42(a) was inappropriate under the circumstances of this case and that the contempt conviction is substantively deficient, in that the elements of criminal contempt were not met. We first identify the standard of our review. Second, we address the propriety of employing a summary contempt procedure in this case. Finally, we will turn to the question whether the evidence on the record supports Mr. Brooks's conviction.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary criminal contempt proceedings in which the trial judge was at once prosecutor, fact finder, and sole witness, require this court to undertake de novo review.3 See In re Kraut, 580 A.2d 1305, 1311 (D.C. 1990) (noting that "because of the inherent danger in one person's performing the potentially conflicting roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury," this court needs a clear record "on which to review [a judge]'s performance"); In re Daniels, 118 N.J. 51, 570 A.2d 416, 422, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 951, 111 S.Ct. 371, 112 L.Ed.2d 333 (1990) ("The provision for de novo appellate review of summary contempt convictions is a fail-safe mechanism for assuring that the contempt power is not abused."). This is the standard we apply in evaluating the contempt proceedings against due process requirements.

We must also determine whether the trial court properly proceeded under District of Columbia Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(a), governing summary contempt proceedings, or should have proceeded under Rule 42(b), governing nonsummary contempt proceedings. The government states, without support from this court's precedents, that a trial court's decision that summary procedures were necessary is reviewed only for abuse of discretion. See In re Holloway, 302 U.S.App. D.C. 12, 18, 995 F.2d 1080, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1030, 114 S.Ct. 1537, 128...

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16 practice notes
  • Woods v. State, No. 2D06-4274.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 7, 2007
    ...cases where the matter did not require immediate resolution to maintain control of the courtroom. See, e.g., Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 221 (D.C.Cir.1996) (holding that there is a right to counsel, even in direct criminal contempt cases, unless "the conduct complained of [is] `s......
  • Smith v. Public Def. Serv. for the DC, No. 95-CV-363.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • December 12, 1996
    ...of counsel. That holding reflects, at the least, the position that the standards for ineffective assistance and legal malpractice 686 A.2d 214 are not always essentially equivalent.1 I see no occasion to explore that holding further for purposes of this appeal. As the cases cited by Judge N......
  • Ex parte Gonzales, No. 72,606
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • May 12, 1997
    ...(2nd Cir.1983) (recognizing "contempt is an area of the law in which counsel's advice is often indispensable"); Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 233 (D.C.App.1996) (Ruiz, J., concurring) (due process requires assistance of counsel in contempt proceedings that result in incarceration);......
  • Fields v. US, No. 00-FM-342.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 21, 2002
    ...on the other hand, is a question of law, and we review the trial court's resolution of that question de novo. Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 219 "The elements of criminal contempt are (1) willful disobedience (2) of a court order (3) causing an obstruction of the orderly administrat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Woods v. State, No. 2D06-4274.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 7, 2007
    ...cases where the matter did not require immediate resolution to maintain control of the courtroom. See, e.g., Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 221 (D.C.Cir.1996) (holding that there is a right to counsel, even in direct criminal contempt cases, unless "the conduct complained of [is] `s......
  • Smith v. Public Def. Serv. for the DC, No. 95-CV-363.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • December 12, 1996
    ...of counsel. That holding reflects, at the least, the position that the standards for ineffective assistance and legal malpractice 686 A.2d 214 are not always essentially equivalent.1 I see no occasion to explore that holding further for purposes of this appeal. As the cases cited by Judge N......
  • Ex parte Gonzales, No. 72,606
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • May 12, 1997
    ...(2nd Cir.1983) (recognizing "contempt is an area of the law in which counsel's advice is often indispensable"); Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 233 (D.C.App.1996) (Ruiz, J., concurring) (due process requires assistance of counsel in contempt proceedings that result in incarceration);......
  • Fields v. US, No. 00-FM-342.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • March 21, 2002
    ...on the other hand, is a question of law, and we review the trial court's resolution of that question de novo. Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 219 "The elements of criminal contempt are (1) willful disobedience (2) of a court order (3) causing an obstruction of the orderly administrat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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