Varvaris v. State, 57139

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation512 So.2d 886
Docket NumberNo. 57139,57139
PartiesSteve VARVARIS, Sr. v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date02 September 1987

Page 886

512 So.2d 886
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 57139.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Sept. 2, 1987.
Petition for Rehearing Denied Sept. 16, 1987.

Alvin M. Binder, Lisa B. Milner, Binder, Milner & Milner, Jackson, for appellant.

Edwin Lloyd Pittman, Atty. Gen. by Charles W. Maris, Jr., Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.


PRATHER, Justice, for the Court:

A conviction of direct criminal contempt of court is the subject matter of this appeal. In the County Court of Hinds County, Mississippi Steve Varvaris, Sr., appellant here, was found to be in direct criminal contempt of court by the county court

Page 887

judge. Varvaris was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $100. On appeal Varvaris asserts the following errors:

(1) Appellant was denied due process of law when the trial court judge sat as judge in the contempt hearing; subsequently acted as a witness to the contempt; and used his own testimony as the sole basis for his ruling.

(2) The trial court erred in ruling that the appellant was guilty of contempt of court beyond a reasonable doubt;


On the morning of January 16, 1986, Varvaris testified as a witness in county court in a habeas corpus hearing for his son. Upon his dismissal from the witness stand, Varvaris began talking in a loud voice. Despite objections from the Assistant District Attorney Mike Wallace and instructions from his own attorney, Varvaris continued talking. County Judge James D. Bell saw Varvaris look at Wallace and heard Varvaris say "If you keep messing with my boy, I'm gonna blow your goddam brains out, m----r f----r." Judge Bell then charged Varvaris with criminal contempt of court.

Several hours later Varvaris, with his attorney and the assistant district attorney, was brought before Judge Bell at which time Judge Bell stated,

You're here under my order and at my direction for the charge of direct criminal contempt of court for a statement you made in an outburst at a hearing this morning. I had wanted to give you an opportunity if you choose to take that opportunity, to explain your statement.

Varvaris claimed he did not threaten the assistant district attorney but had merely repeated the former threats made by police to his son. Mrs. Varvaris and a Mr. Harding appeared as witnesses and corroborated Varvaris's story.

Relying on his own recollection of events that occurred in his presence, Judge Bell recited for the record those events and adjudged Varvaris in direct criminal contempt of court. Varvaris was sentenced to serve 30 days in the Hinds County Jail and to pay a $100 fine. Varvaris now appeals.


The distinction between civil contempt from direct or indirect criminal contempt was discussed in Pugliese v. Pugliese, 347 So.2d 422 (Fla.1977), as follows:

"If the purpose of the proceedings is to coerce action or non-action by a party, the order of contempt is characterized as civil. This type contempt proceeding is ordinarily instituted by one of the parties to the litigation who seeks to coerce another party to perform or cease performing an act. The order of contempt is entered by the court for the private benefit of the offended party. Such orders, although imposing a jail sentence, classically provide for termination of the contemnor's sentence upon purging himself of the contempt. The sentence is usually indefinite and not for a fixed term. Consequently, it is said that the contemnor 'carries the key to his cell in his own pocket.' [citations omitted]

"On the other hand, a criminal contempt proceeding is maintained solely and simply to vindicate the authority of the court or to punish otherwise for conduct offensive to the public in violation of an order of the court. Ex Parte Earman, 85 Fla. 297, 95 So. 755 (1923); ..."


"Where the act constituting the contempt is committed in the immediate presence of the court, this contempt is defined as direct. Where an act is committed out of the presence of the court, the proceeding to punish is for indirect (sometimes called constructive) contempt. * * *"

(347 So.2d at pages 424 and 425.)

Mississippi caselaw has also addressed these...

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34 cases
  • Mississippi Judicial Performance Com'n v. Walker, 90-CC-0026
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 27, 1990
    ...Walker correctly states that a judge has the authority, indeed, the duty, to address direct attacks on the court. See Varvaris v. State, 512 So.2d 886 (Miss.1987); Cook v. State, 483 So.2d 371 (Miss.1986). However, a prerequisite to the response requires that the direct attack be made "agai......
  • Wyssbrod v. Wittjen, No. 1999-CA-00549-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 8, 2001
    ...contemnor the procedural protections of notice and a fair hearing. Lawson v. State, 573 So.2d 684, 686 (Miss. 1990); Varvaris v. State, 512 So.2d 886, 887 (Miss.1987); Jordan v. State, 216 Miss. 542, 62 So.2d 886 ¶ 30. Courts are divided as to whether an attorney's absence is best character......
  • Culpepper v. State, 56903
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • December 2, 1987
    ...Cook v. State, 483 So.2d 371, 374 (Miss.1986). Criminal contempt proceedings vindicate the authority of the court. Varvaris v. State, 512 So.2d 886, 887 These proceedings against Culpepper are for constructive, as distinct from direct, criminal contempt. See Hentz v. State, 496 So.2d 668, 6......
  • Moore v. Moore, 07-CA-59286
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 28, 1990
    ...of an order of the court. [citations omitted]. Jones v. Hargrove, 516 So.2d 1354, 1357 (Miss.1987); see also, Varvaris v. State, 512 So.2d 886, 887 (Miss.1987). Accord Gadson v. Gadson, 434 So.2d 1345, 1349 (Miss.1983) (Robertson, Hawkins, and Prather, J., specially concurring) (those proce......
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