It is never a good idea to argue with a trial judge. It is also not a good idea to interrupt the judge or ignore judge’s requests and warnings.
In a recent unpublished case, WA court of appeals upheld trial judge’s decision to sanction Ms. Bynum for misbehavior in court.
Ms. Bynum and Mr. Wooley were divorced. They had a post decree matter scheduled for August 2009 hearing. Among other things, Ms. Wooley asked for an order of protection against Ms. Bynum. During the first hearing, Ms. Bynum disrupted the hearing several times. The judge warned her:
“If there’s any more outbursts, such as slapping your hands on the … on the bench in front of you, or having any kind of verbal outbursts, trying to interrupt, then … in fact, Madam Clerk, I think it might be a good idea to go ahead and call for sheriff … just because it is a very volatile situation for everyone and I want to have the ability to immediately react if anybody decides to get out of hand. And I am talking to you right now, Ms. Bynum. And I want to make sure you keep yourself completely under control.” See Court Opinion
For the remainder of that hearing, Ms. Bynum behaved herself.
The hearing resumed several weeks later, when Ms. Bynum again interrupted the proceedings by commenting on something that was told by a witness or attorney. The court asked her to refrain from comments until she is on the witness stand. However, it did not stop Ms. Bynum, who again interrupted the proceedings and again was warned by the judge.
After a lunch break, when the hearing resumed, Ms. Bynum continued her behavior. She interrupted Mr. Wooley’s testimony by laughing out loud. The judge again asked her to stop. Unfortunately, Ms. Bynum did not. When she interrupted Mr. Wooley’s testimony for the second time, the judge held her in contempt and had her removed from the courtroom. She was ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt and she was not allowed to participate in further proceedings.
Because Ms. Bynum was not allowed in the courtroom, she could not testify on the issue of protection order against her. As a result, the court imposed a lifetime protection order against Ms. Bynum as to Mr. and Ms. Wooley. Ms. Bynum appealed.
After review of the materials presented and court transcripts, the court of appeals upheld trial judge’s decision and sanctions stating that the trial judge had discretion to punish for contempt persons who are engaged in “intentional, disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to impair the authority, or to interrupt due course of a trial or other judicial proceedings.” See Court Opinion
On the issue of Ms. Bynum’s testimony, the court of appeals also upheld trial judge’s decision. They stated that a right to testify could be waived by repeated, disruptive conduct by a defendant.
“We conclude, as the trial judge did, that Ms. Bynum knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived her right to testify by conducting herself inappropriately and by refusing to comply with warnings from the court. The judge’s refusal to return Ms. Bynum to the courtroom to explain her behavior was within Judge Baker’s discretionary authority.” See Court Opinion