F-Bomb’s Collateral Damage

Mike Scarcella, Law, September 10, 2012

It’s not uncommon for a litigant to want to curse at a federal judge. From time to time, apparently, the impulse just can’t be contained.

Meet Robert Peoples. After a South Carolina federal district judge abruptly dismissed his pro se lawsuit last year, Peoples told a clerk that the judge should “get the f—- off all my cases.”

The judge, Cameron McGowan Currie, wasn’t on the bench at the time of the outburst. Nevertheless, the next day, she initiated a criminal contempt case against Peoples, a crime that landed him behind bars for four months.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Peoples didn’t go away quietly. He’s appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in a case that explores how far a judge can go in curbing expression in a courtroom. A hearing in the case is set for September 21.

Parks Small, the top federal public defender in Columbia, S.C., is representing Peoples. As Small sees it, Peoples’ language didn’t reach the threshold of a criminal contempt charge, whose elements include misbehavior and the obstruction of the administration of justice. {snip}

Parks Small

“[H]e did not call Judge Currie these slang terms,” Small said. “Mr. Peoples merely expressed his unhappiness about Judge Currie’s decisions on his civil cases in terms, while offensive to some, that do not rise to the level justifying a contempt conviction.”

A team of assistant U.S. attorneys are backing Currie. They describe Peoples’ conduct as “improper, rude and uncivil.” The government lawyers argue that Peoples’ remarks were far from any spontaneous outburst. Peoples, prosecutors said, stormed out of court and returned a few minutes later to offer his thoughts on what just went down.

“His statements, made after warnings by the court, were so unnecessary and insulting to judicial authority as to constitute contempt,” prosecutors said in court papers. {snip}

Earlier in 2011, Peoples had pending cases in Currie’s courtroom about excessive-force allegations rooted in his time behind bars. In court papers, Currie described Peoples as habitually late for hearings. The judge at one point said she would throw out a suit if Peoples continued to fail to make it to court on time.

On the morning of April 12, 2011, Peoples showed up late, again. Currie dismissed Peoples’ case with prejudice, ending the trial before it began. {snip}

Nobody disagrees that Peoples wanted Currie to take herself off other pending cases. But there’s a dispute over a different phrase that featured the same four-letter obscenity. Prosecutors contend Peoples also declared that Currie should “straighten the f—- up.” Small, however, said Peoples could have used the phrase “straight the f—- up.” The difference matters, Small said.

Basing his analysis on an urban-slang dictionary, Small said “straight up” would have been used to emphasize the truthfulness of Peoples’ earlier statement. Small acknowledged “straighten up”—in essence, to “behave”—could impart a threat.

Chief Judge Robert Conrad Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina presided over Peoples’ contempt trial last September. (Peoples was an hour late for court that day, too, citing car trouble.) The evidence in the case: a garbled 57-second audio clip. The judge concluded that Peoples said “straighten the f—- up.” Conrad said Peoples’ foul remarks and behavior did, indeed, interfere with the business of the court. The courtroom deputy who Peoples addressed abandoned the work she was doing to deal with him, the judge noted. The verdict: guilty of contempt.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: See here for Mr. Peoples’ mug shot and arrest history.]

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  • The man needs a watch.  Guess he’s running on CPT.

  • This_Name_Doesnt_Exist

    It won’t be long before it’s fine on TV, but it’ll get time added to your sentence in a courtroom.

    There’s a deeper, more ominous message in this article than the corsening of the culture.  It’s that contempt for government is becoming criminal in and of itself.

  • “[H]e did not call Judge Currie these slang terms,” Small said. “Mr. Peoples merely expressed his unhappiness about Judge Currie’s decisions on his civil cases in terms, while offensive to some, that do not rise to the level justifying a contempt conviction.”

    Now we’re prosecuting people for what they say outside our presence?

    Judge Currie was way out of line.

    • 1Forced_Registration

       At least he didn’t get his contempt order in the state of Missouri. In Missouri there is no appeal for contempt of court, and we have the extra kicker added that “No judge may remove the contempt order of another” written into our law. 

      I’ve seen this abused mightily by judges in the family court… I haven’t had cause to be in the criminal courts, or the other civil courts, but if the people wearing the black robes behave as badly, and use contempt as capriciously as the family court judges do — maybe its time we reigned in judicial power, and immunity a bit more.

      • Sloppo

        They frequently find reasons to reign in the freedoms of private citizens, but reigning in their own power and/or making themselves a little bit accountable … that’s just not the kind of reigning that interests them.

  • Defiant White

    a)  What’s happening to him is wrong, but

    b)  The guy sounds like a foul-mouthed pain in the a**.   A little time in jail might do him good.

    • AND it will give some law-abiding person 4 months worth of not being victimized by this undertow Peoples, who should have been repatriated to Liberia 200 years ago.

  • Sloppo

    The “F” word is gaining acceptance in IB (Idiot Box) programming these days, so this judge needs to get with it!  Her standards are “a little better suited for the last century” if I can borrow a phrase from or highly esteemed teleprompter-reader-in-chief.  If the government thinks our children should be able to listen to that word when they watch IB, why should a judge’s ears be so easily offended?

  • SLCain

    This is just another case of some black-robed dictator arbitrarily exercising his power,  not authority – power.   Judges are becoming far to powerful in this country.  As another poster mentioned, the message that governments are sending out is that criticism of the government itself is unlawful.

  • Kurt Plummer

    Meet the real Robert Peoples-

    http://southcarolina.mugshotsdatabase.com/129843/robert-peoples-mug-shot/

    I live in an SA shelter where there are verbal fights, yelling and abuse leading to ejections at least twice a week.  Usually by blacks.  The only way our white manager can get across to a loudmouthed black that the matter is decided is to instantaneously go to the F-bomb and yell it louder than the black can manage to bellow in return.

    First talk-back = a day made into a week or a week into 30 days (he has little patiences with pot in our smoking yard).  Second = threat of a called cop.  If the cops actually come, you are out of the facility for essentially life.  Which can be serious as the days get short and the nights get cold as it is now illegal to ‘camp’ anywhere in the city.

    The line of reasoning is inevitably a version of ‘my roof, my rules’ with the “What don’t you understand about my not giving a(n) expletitive about your point of view?!”

    While decent enough given his job title, this man is about six foot four and built like a brahma bull with attitude to match, right down to the shaved head and lowered neck over hunched shoulders when he’s displeased.  Of course there is the lawsuit angle of things so he doesn’t throw his literal weight around like he could but rather lets the threat of cops do the trick (they are out slightly less often than the paramedics are for drunk and drugged issues but I would still say at least once a month).

    The maximum threat of submission to cuffs and humiliation as they are led out right in front of us is the only thing which will get many of the frequent offenders (and there are whites among these as well, especially among the habitually besotted) out the door.

    As a means of active intimidation, it keeps the amount of ‘complaints’ and threatening behavior to a minimum.  Especially towards the night crew and so called ‘volunteers’ who are not made of the same stuff (i.e. his will is what protects the staff).

    I would suggest that a similar method may be being applied here.  The Judge hears that the plaintiff has indulged in behavior that would have got him an instant contempt charge if she had been in the room and ‘acting to defend her court’, took him out with an extension of her royal presence to assume the the demesne` as much as person.

    As others have commented, the dangerous dividing line comes when a woman doesn’t want to engage in a yelling match with someone physically superior to her and uses her power to dump the plaintiff, his other court cases and all assorted sundry into the non-event file.  ‘Clearing the docket’ for what she considers to be a more useful application of her time.

    And yes it is wrong, because she is not a lord of all she surveys and that courtroom belongs to us, though I have little sympathy for the Mr. Peoples.

    I know women in power who use bent-rule procedurals, routinely, just to get the best of a situation on the sly -because it’s a personal victory-. as payback or convenience.  I also know blacks who cannot be shut up any other way and will engage in dogs-barking contests just to prove they are ‘in the game’ with you, to their friends (they refuse to lose and so long as they fight back, their friends are entertained which is the same as street cred, to them…).

    What we may not realize is that the barbarism our society risks a descent to is one where there is no respect left for -either- side and the vile brings out the evil in all our institutions.  Thus we must prevent the progression of the disease that is multi-cult inclusivism advancing to a point where there is no way out.  We must separate and live apart.  So that we may hold our own to our own standards of conduct, without prejudice aforethought.

    Our race.  Our rules.

  • NM156

    What’s with the Mexican DUI arrestees showing up to court drunk? While in court for traffic offenses, I overheard a public attorney complaining to a lawyer that his Mexican DUI clients had a habit of showing up slurry and stumbling.