In re Jefferson

NJDC co-authored and signed onto as amicus a brief filed by the Southern Juvenile Defender Center in this case regarding a juvenile defender who was held in contempt for making comments related to her ability to advocate for her client. The brief highlighted the importance of zealous advocacy in juvenile court, and warned that allowing sanctions, like the finding of contempt here, would chill future vigorous advocacy.

This case considered the proper standard for determining whether a lawyer’s comments during trial constitute contempt of court. The juvenile defender’s client was charged with aggravated battery based on a shooting that occurred outside of an acquaintance’s home. During the hearing, a bench trial, the juvenile defender made two comments for which she was ultimately convicted of contempt. The first was, “[T]hat’s a gross interference with the way that I can represent my client, Your Honor,” stated after the trial court ruled that the juvenile defender could not have a police officer testify about statements of the alleged shooter, because they were hearsay. The second was, “I just want the record to reflect with much respect, Your Honor, . . . I just find the Court is biased in its view. You say that you’re not prejudging the case but it seems to me like you’ve made up your mind and any and everything I do to effectively defend my client I’m being rebutted.” The juvenile defender was sentenced to 10 days incarceration for the first statement, and 20 days incarceration for the second, to run consecutively.

The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the contempt order and remanded the case. The Court created a new test for finding attorneys in contempt for statements made during courtroom proceedings in which “doubts should be resolved in favor of vigorous advocacy.”

Court: Georgia Supreme Court
Filed: October 3, 2007 (download .pdf)
Amicus Brief Discusses: Role of Counsel, Zealous Advocacy, Professional Ethics

Decision: February 25, 2008 (download .pdf)