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Lawyer is found in contempt; fined $200

White denies use of profane language, appeals judge’s ruling
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Superior Court Associate Judge Wesley M. Bogdan has found small claims lawyer Michael A. White guilty of contempt of court and fined him $200 for disruptive behavior and use of profane language during a hearing.

White was sanctioned $100 for “contemptuous and profane” response to an unfavorable ruling made in open court last June 3, and another $100 for twice denying having made any such statement, for a total of $200.

White notified the court last Wednesday that he is appealing the ruling and sanction. That prompted Bogdan to stay the payment of the $200 sanction pending White’s appeal.

The judge said if, or any reason, an appeal is not initiated, White is ordered to pay the $200 sanction before the end of 30 days.

If an appeal is filed but is dismissed, White is required to pay the $200 sanction within 24 hours of the dismissal.

Bogdan said White made the contemptuous disagreement with a court ruling during a motion hearing last June 3 in a courtroom at the Marianas Business Plaza.

Bogdan said that, at the June 3 hearing, following his decision not to award Financial & Insurance Services Group Inc.’s request for damages in a small claim against a defendant, White turned away from the bench and said out loud to the public gallery with words to the effect, “I don’t need this s__t.”

Having heard the comment, Bogdan asked White what he had just said: “I’m sorry, you don’t need what?”

The judge said White avoided directly answering the question and responded he does not need anything.

Bogdan said he asked White a second time whether he stated “[I] don’t need to take this s__it, or [I’m] tired of this s__t, or anything along those lines.”

Bogdan said White responded repeatedly “no” to the questions, denying making any such comment and then asserted that he did not recall what he said.

Bogdan informed White that he would order a copy of the hearing’s audio and may hold him in contempt if he confirmed his use of profanity and denials.

Bogdan said the audio recording does confirm White’s use of profanity.

Bogdan then issued last June 12 an order to show cause as to why White should not be punished for contempt of court for his use of profanity in open court on June 3—and for twice denying saying it.

Last July 1, White filed a written response to the show-cause order. A hearing was held last Aug. 5. White appeared at the hearing, but did not wish to make any further statement and rested on the arguments submitted in his filing.

In his ruling last Aug. 16 finding White guilty of contempt of court, Bogdan said he recognizes the legal reputation that White has built for himself in the CNMI and the number of cases that he has successfully handled over the years, but he cannot ignore the fact that White’s demeanor in the courtroom at times rises to an unacceptable level.

The disruptive episodes, he said, are unpredictable as to when they might occur and are intermixed with days in a row wherein White conducts himself appropriately before the court with no negative incidents whatsoever.

Bogdan said he has advised White of this concern several time, and has cautioned him—both verbally and in written opinions—that his undisciplined behavior in the courtroom at times appear out of control and is contemptuous and should stop.

Despite those warnings, Bogdan said, White still has occasional outbursts of offensive behavior showing disrespect and contempt of court and its decisions and orders.

The judge said White again demonstrated such behavior on the date in question.

At the June 3 hearing, Bogdan said, White was unsatisfied with the court’s decision and at first made various disparaging arguments about how the court’s decision was absolutely wrong.

Bogdan said White then used a disrespectful and belligerent tone to challenge his final ruling.

Bogdan said following the concluding announcement of his decision, White made a disrespectful and profane remark about the decision to the open gallery.

The judge said he and the court’s staff heard the remark.

Bogdan said White’s behavior and words interfered with the work and duties of the court to maintain order and effective control of its proceedings.

Bogdan said he was left with no other option than to inform White that an order to show cause as to why he should not be found in contempt of court would be issued following the review of the hearing’s audio recording.

In response to the court’s show-cause order, White argues that “it is quite clear that the court did not hear what [he] said accurately.”

White claims that the disrespectful comment he made was actually “an exhalation of breath, made with [his] teeth clenched or nearly so, expressing [his] frustration at the fact the court denied costs based upon its erroneous view that it had the right to review a judgment which it regarded as legally or factually incorrect.”

Regardless of White’s “inventive” explanation, Bogdan said it is certain as to what White said.

Bogdan said he and the court’s staff unequivocally heard the offensive comment that White made in open court.

Bogdan said he also clearly heard White’s refutations of making any such disrespectful comment, and his subsequent attempts to brush off the entire episode as a simple misunderstanding.

Bogdan said he also reviewed the audio recording, and although the quality of the audio recording is less than ideal, it confirms White’s profane response to an unfavorable ruling, as well as his denials and his refusal to acknowledge his acts of condescension and contempt of court.

White further argues, that, even if he did say the disrespectful word, it was not contemptuous.

White asserts that his disrespectful comment was a single, isolated usage that was not made out loud or addressed directly to the court and “could by no means be characterized as affecting the administration of justice.”

Despite White’s assertion, Bogdan said, an act “which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the trial court in the administration of justice or that which is calculated to lessen the court’s authority or dignity constitutes criminal contempt.”

As White himself admits, Bogdan said, his rejoinder was made in response to what he believed was an erroneous decision by the court and was therefore intended to once again challenge the court’s authority and impugn its dignity.

The judge said White’s comment was directed at the gallery, meant to degrade the spectators’ view of the court and was loud enough for the judge and court staff to hear.

He said the heated discussions between him and counsel as a result of his disrespectful comment directly affected the court’s proceedings by delaying them that day and casting an aggressive and hostile tone within the courtroom.

Bogdan said as the remaining parties and counsels on the docket that afternoon appeared before the court after this incident, repeated apologies had to be given and assurances made that their legal proceedings would not be prejudiced by what they had just witnessed.

In all reality, Bogdan said, White’s behavior prevented the court from effectively and orderly administering the cases before it on June 3.

Further, the judge said, White’s open display of disrespect and lack of contrition cannot be ignored and must be addressed in order to discourage others from exhibiting the same type of behavior in court.

Bogdan said he finds that White’s comment and behavior were calculated to lessen the court’s authority and dignity and are thus contemptuous.

Finally, White claims that he did not lie to the court and that he responded directly to the court’s questions regarding his comment.

Bogdan said this is yet another example of White’s failure to acknowledge his overly emotional responses and disrespectful behavior that obstructs the administration of court proceedings.

Further, Bogdan said, he considers White’s contemptuous behavior, disrespectful comment and subsequent denials a violation of his oath of admission to conduct himself with dignity and civility and show respect toward justices, judges, court staff, clients, fellow professionals, and other persons, and Rules of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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