The much anticipated oral argument at the 3rd DCA occurred today in Alex Michaels contempt case. We watched the live video feed, and were much amused by Judge Schwartz almost stroking out and holding a litigant in contempt in a mortgage foreclosure case heard before Alex's case came before the court.
But then it was time for Alex's case and the panel in courtroom left and Judge Wells (who was on the prior panel) led Judges Lagoa and Shepherd into the courtroom.
Ken Speiller (counsel for Alex Michaels) was barely finished introducing himself when Judge Lagoa interrupted him and began a series of questions that must have made Alex and his lawyer thrilled.
Lagoa started off by noting that Judge Miranda's contempt order found two separate and distinct actions by Alex Michaels contemptuous: first- by making what Judge Miranda characterized as a "violent gesture" and second, by muttering a Romanian curse word under his breath.
Lagoa noted that nine witnesses testified at the contempt hearing. None testified that the gesture- Alex holding his hand out as if to say "stop" while Von Zamft was interrupting him- was a threatening gesture. Lagoa noted that Von Zamft's co-cousnel testified that when Von Zamft approached the podium it was his fist that was clenched. Before the first few minutes were over it was clear that one of the two counts of contempt against Alex Michaels had not withstood judicial scrutiny.
Then came the bombshell: Judge Lagoa chastised Judge Miranda for holding Alex in contempt on a Friday, sentencing him to two days jail, and not allowing him to post an appeals bond. Her displeasure with Judge Miranda's actions was very clear. Lagoa followed that up with several comments about Von Zamft, noting the clenched fist and Von Zamft's repeated statements that he was going to seek to have Alex Michaels Baker Acted. It became very clear to us that Judge Lagoa was of the opinion the wrong lawyer was standing before the 3rd DCA.
Judge Shepherd was willing to concede the now infamous "threatening gesture" count, but he was clearly troubled by the possible curse word. Judge Wells was just troubled. She opined several times that the entire hearing was out of control and she was greatly displeased by the behavior of both attorneys.
Rumpole says: The panel clearly had trouble with proof of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt. To us, the normal appellate court's desire to defer to the trial judge was eradicated by what they perceived as the judge's completely improper sentence of two days jail without providing the lawyer the ability to appeal. Judges Shepherd and Wells are not thrilled with this case and the actions of both lawyers. However, Judge Lagoa's apparent strong belief that nothing in the record supports the finding of contempt against Alex Michaels appears to us to be sufficient to carry the day.
Oscar Madison: I can't take it anymore, Felix, I'm cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you're not here, the things I know you're gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can't stand little notes on my pillow. "We're all out of cornflakes. F.U." Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!
We're trying to post the video of the oral argument, but it might take us some time, so check back.
See You In Court.