In re Spix, 011521 GACA, A20A1903

Docket NºA20A1903
Opinion JudgeMcFadden, Chief Judge.
Party NameIN RE SPIX.
AttorneyAppellant Ms. Jami Michele Kohn Appellant Mr. Mark Van Spix
Judge PanelMCFADDEN, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and HODGES, J. Doyle, P. J., and Hodges, J., concur.
Case DateJanuary 15, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Georgia

IN RE SPIX.

No. A20A1903

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

January 15, 2021

Superior Court Clerk of Bibb County No. 2019CV070909 Mr. Jeffery O'Neal Monroe, Judge Appealed Order: April 10, 2020

Appellant Ms. Jami Michele Kohn

Appellant Mr. Mark Van Spix

MCFADDEN, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and HODGES, J.

McFadden, Chief Judge.

This appeal challenges an order of contempt entered against an attorney. Because the trial court's summary contempt proceeding violated due process, we vacate the contempt order and remand the case for further proceedings.

1. Facts and procedural posture.

On January 24, 2020, attorney Mark Spix appeared in the Bibb County Superior Court for a hearing regarding a possible settlement in a case in which he represented various defendants. After hearing arguments of counsel regarding the settlement, the judge announced that he also wanted to discuss the lack of professionalism in an exchange of emails between the attorneys. At the conclusion of that discussion, the judge announced that he was holding Spix in contempt and fining him $300. The judge subsequently entered a written order holding Spix in contempt and imposing a $300 fine for disregarding the court's commands by "sending emails to opposing counsel that are unprofessional and lack civility." Spix appeals from that order.

2. Summary contempt proceeding.

Spix contends that the trial court's summary contempt proceeding violated due process. We agree. The procedures that a trial court must follow to hold a person in contempt depend upon whether the acts alleged to constitute the contempt are committed in the court's presence (direct contempt) or are committed out of the court's presence (indirect contempt). If the contempt is direct, a trial court has the power, after affording the contemnor an opportunity to speak in his or her own behalf, to announce punishment summarily and without further notice or hearing. This summary power is authorized where contumacious conduct threatens a court's immediate ability to conduct its proceedings, such as where a witness refuses to testify, or a party disrupts the court. Direct contempts in the presence of the court traditionally have been subject to summary adjudication, to maintain order in the courtroom and the integrity of the trial process in the face of an actual obstruction of justice. In direct contempt proceedings, in light of the court's substantial interest in rapidly coercing compliance and restoring order,...

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