Petition of Crystal

Decision Date04 December 1953
Citation330 Mass. 583,116 N.E.2d 255
PartiesPetition of CRYSTAL.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Raymond T. King, Frederick M. Kingsbury, Springfield, for petitioner.

Abraham I. Smith, Springfield, for Milton L. Kobrosky, conservator.

Before QUA, C. J., and LUMMUS, RONAN and WILLIAMS, JJ.

QUA, Chief Justice.

The petitioner, who represents herself as of Montreal in the Province of Quebec, seeks a writ of habeas corpus directed to the sheriff of our county of Hampden to obtain the release of the petitioner from imprisonment in the jail of that county under a decree of the Probate Court adjudging her in contempt for failure to comply with a previous decree of that court entered in a proceeding in equity brought against her by her mother, Sarah Kobrosky, through the latter's conservator.

The petition in the equity case alleged the wrongful taking by the present petitioner, Mrs. Crystal, of substantial amounts of money, bonds, and other property. Appearances were entered in Mrs. Crystal's behalf by Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Dowd, who are associated in the practice of law. Throughout the hearing Mr. Ehrlich represented Mrs. Crystal. Mr. Dowd from time to time occupied a seat at her counsel table. At the conclusion of the hearing and before any decree was entered a writ of ne exeat was issued pursuant to which Mrs. Crystal was confined at the jail from January 29, 1953, until March 2, 1953.

On March 2, 1953, further proceedings took place in the Probate Court which it will be necessary to describe in some detail as they appear from findings of the single justice of this court and the transcript by the stenographer in the Probate Court, which is incorporated in those findings. Mrs. Crystal was present in the court room. Just how she got there, being still committed on the ne exeat, does not appear from any finding in the record. 1 No order of notice was issued for her appearance. Mr. Dowd was present 'in response to a notice that a final decree in the equity suit was to be entered on that day.' So far as appears he had no knowledge that a contempt proceeding was contemplated. Mr. Ehrlich, who had represented Mrs. Crystal at the hearing of the case, was in Florida. Mrs. Crystal 'had never consulted with Mr. Dowd on the subject prior to that day.' No final decree had as yet been entered in the equity case. The judge began by saying to Mrs. Crystal, 'This is the decree. * * * I want you to listen to this, because you are going to be asked questions regarding it.' He then read a final decree in the equity case by which Mrs. Crystal was ordered to return and deliver to the petitioner in that case certain bonds of the State of Israel having a face value of $40,500, cash to the amount of $47,000, with $2,693 interest, and United States savings bonds to the aggregate face value of $7,775, to pay to the petitioner further sums of $5,228.46 and interest of $235.26 and $1,000 and interest of $46, both for moneys wrongfully withdrawn from banks, to assign to the petitioner all of Mrs. Crystal's right, title and interest in a certain mortgage, and to return to the petitioner a certain coin collection. Other provisions of the decree are not now material. After reading the decree the judge said, 'That is the order of the court, signed by me at this moment.' Mrs. Crystal was then requested to take the stand by counsel for the petitioner in the equity case, and was examined in substance as follows: 'Q. Now, the judge has just read to you the terms of the final decree that he has issued, and I want to ask you at this time, Mrs. Crystal, whether or not you fully understood what the court has read to you. A. I understand. Q. Yes. Now, are there any questions in your mind? A. I am not doing anything without the advice of legal counsel.' When asked again whether there were any questions in her mind about the terms of the decree as read by the court, she replied, 'I won't answer without my legal counsel. I want to see him first. Q. Well, all that I am asking you, Mrs. Crystal, is whether or not you understood what the court has read to you. A. I understood what judge Stapleton read. Q. Yes. So there is no question about that? A. No.' In answer to further questions she testified that she could not comply with the terms of the decree at this time or at any other time. 'Q. Will you comply with the terms? A. I couldn't because I can't.' She testified that she did not have the bonds of the State of Israel. 'Q. If you had them would you be willing to turn them over? A. I don't think I would. My name is on them. Q. You would not? A. No.' She testified that she did not have the United States bonds in her possession; that she did not know whether if she had them she would turn them over according to the order of the court; and that she did not have $47,000 in cash. 'Q. And if you had that amount of money would you turn it over to your mother? A. I wouldn't have money that wasn't mine; no.' As to the money withdrawn from banks, she testified that she did not have that; that her mother gave her one deposit and told her to use the other; that she was no willing to assign her right to the mortgage; that her mother 'was normal before the boys got after her'; and that she had no coin collection and never heard of 'such a collection like that.'

At this point in the proceedings counsel for the original petitioner requested the court to allow him to file a petition that Mrs. Crystal be adjudged in contempt until she complied with the final decree that had just been entered. Mr. Dowd objected on the ground that Mrs. Crystal had not consulted counsel, and that it was 'going too far to have her state here that she understands it all.' The judge said he would give her 'a few moments' to consult with counsel. The transcript then indicates a consulation of approximately ten minutes between Mrs. Crystal and Mr. Dowd, after which there was a brief conference of both attorneys at the bench. Thereupon, in answer to questions by the judge, Mrs. Crystal testified that she did not have 'these things' and did not take them; that she did not have them 'anywhere else,' or in any safe deposit box, and did not deliver them to somebody to keep for her; that they were not in her control where she could get them and deliver them; that she did not take them anywhere, or put them anywhere, or give them to someone else to do something with, or take them from Springfield. The judge then said, 'Well, now, Mrs. Crystal, you are adjudged in contempt for your failure to deliver the property enumerated in the decree. And I will read you the contempt decree.' He thereupon read a decree which must have been previously prepared, wherein Mrs. Crystal was discharged from custody upon the ne exeat and was adjudged in contempt 'because of her failure to comply with and perform the final decree in this case, which final decree was entered on this day,' and wherein, 'because of said contempt and for the purpose of enforcing the decree,' Mrs. Crystal was ordered committed to jail to be confined until she should perform the decree or be discharged by some further order of the court. She was still confined under the contempt decree at the time of the hearing before the single justice of this court on her present petition for habeas corpus.

We are of opinion that as matter of law the Probate Court never acquired jurisdiction to adjudge Mrs. Crystal in contempt.

To begin with, the alleged contempt was not of the type in which the contemner is guilty of some insult or affront to the court or of some interference with the orderly processes of the law, all within the presence and under the perception of the judge, and where summary action is required to preserve the dignity and authority of the court. There is nothing of that kind in this case. No one contends that there is. The testimony of Mrs. Crystal was given in response to questions asked of her. She used no abusive language toward the court. She was adjudged in contempt solely 'because of her failure to comply with and perform the final decree in this case.' The contempt decree states its purpose to be to enforce the final decree in the equity case. It provides for the confinement of Mrs. Crystal until the decree shall be performed. See Commonwealth v. Hudson, 315 Mass. 335, 346-347, 52 N.E.2d 566. The case therefore is entirely different from such cases as Silverton v. Commonwealth, 314 Mass. 52, 49 N.E.2d 439, 154 A.L.R. 1223; Albano v. Commonwealth, 315 Mass. 531, 53 N.E.2d 690, and other cases which came here on writs of error, and where both the contempt and the punishment were criminal in character.

The court did not acquire jurisdiction to commit Mrs. Crystal as for a direct contempt by reason of her failure to perform the decree then and there in the presence of the judge. It would be preposterous to expect that, having just come from jail, she would be prepared to hand over in the court room more than $53,000 in cash, over $48,000 in bonds, and the other property mentioned in performance of a decree which had not even been entered until immediately before she was placed on the stand. It seems to us plain that the court had no jurisdiction to adjudge Mrs. Crystal in contempt for failure to perform the decree until sufficient time had elapsed to enable her to perform it if she was willing and able to do so, and then only after notice and an opportunity to employ counsel of her choice, to prepare her defense either in excuse or in mitigation, and to summon witnesses if necessary. A contempt proceeding to enforce performance of a final decree, although it grows out of the original case and the petition alleging the contempt is filed in that case, is thereafter a separate proceeding to be tried apart from the original case, and the requirements of due process must be met. See New England Novelty Co. Inc. v. Sandberg, 315 Mass. 739, 751, 54 N.E.2d 915. In the case of ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • In re Birchall
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 23 Septiembre 2009
    ...July 21, 2005; the execution against him issued on November 10, 2005; he was found in contempt on May 8, 2007. Cf. Crystal, petitioner, 330 Mass. 583, 116 N.E.2d 255 (1953) (Probate and Family Court had no jurisdiction to jail petitioner for civil contempt for failing to hand over more than......
  • Sodones v. Sodones
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 5 Agosto 1974
    ...499, 508, 92 L.Ed. 682 (1948). See Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517, 536--537, 45 S.Ct. 390, 69 L.Ed. 767 (1925); Crystal, petitioner, 330 Mass. 583, 588--589 (1953); Garabedian v. Commonwealth, 336 Mass. 119, 124--125, 142 N.E.2d 777 (1957). If, as the defendant asserts, the judge did ......
  • McClenny v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 12 Agosto 1963
    ...(See also, In re Chapman, 141 Cal.App.2d 387, 295 P.2d 573; In re Wales, 153 Cal.App.2d 117, 315 P.2d 433; Petition of Crystal, 330 Mass. 583, 116 N.E.2d 255, 258; Cheney v. Richards, 130 Me. 288, 155 A. 642, 644; New England Novelty Co. v. Sandberg, 315 Mass. 739, 54 N.E.2d 915, Decisions ......
  • Colabufalo v. Board of Appeal of City of Newton
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 20 Junio 1957
    ...Luke's Hospital v. Labor Relations Commission, 320 Mass. 467, 469-470, 70 N.E.2d 10. See, as to a decree of court, Petition of Crystal, 330 Mass. 583, 591, 116 N.E.2d 255. The plaintiff, although he appeared before the board of aldermen, was not a formal party who initiated or responded to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT