10/03/05 — Lawyer jailed: Judge Duke demands order in the court

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Lawyer jailed: Judge Duke demands order in the court

A Greenville lawyer apparently picked the wrong time and place to try to verbally take control of the court from a judge.

As a result, he spent 72 hours in jail and was fined $1,000 for contempt.

Lawyer Roddey Brown III last week was representing a woman whose case was called before Judge Russell Duke Jr. in Pitt County Superior Court. But when that case was called, Brown began by addressing himself to a previous case in which he had not been the attorney of record.

In that earlier case, Judge Duke had refused to assign a tax-paid court-appointed lawyer to represent a defendant up for repeated probation violations following convictions of felony drug and firearms convictions.

The defendant had asked for a tax-paid lawyer, declaring that he had no income and had been unemployed for two years.

Judge Duke observed that the man had managed to come up with a $100,000 bond and was dressed in designer jeans, a LaCoste shirt and apparently new tennis shoes. He refused to give him a lawyer at taxpayers’ expense.

That afternoon, lawyer Brown appeared as attorney for a woman in an unrelated case.

But when that case was called, the lawyer began by referring to the case that morning involving the accused probation violator who had wanted a court-appointed attorney.

Brown said the man’s family wanted him to represent their relative. He asked the man to “step around” and began describing his attire “for the record.”

Judge Duke tried to interrupt: “Mr. Brown... Mr. Brown —”

Mr. Brown ignored the judge and continued his comments.

The judge tried again: “Mr. Brown —”

The court transcript shows that happened repeatedly.

Finally, the judge was able to admonish the attorney that the man’s attire already was a matter of record and that he was “out of order” bringing up a case unrelated to the one then before the court.

The record shows the lawyer continued his insistence, even after the judge instructed him to “sit down” and “be quiet” or be jailed for contempt.

Finally Judge Duke ordered precisely that, telling the sheriff to lock him up for 24 hours and fining him $500.

But as the bailiff was escorting him out of the courtroom, Brown continued making his demands of the court.

Whereupon Judge Duke added 48 more hours in jail and another $500 fine.

Brown served the time but has appealed the contempt order — for the record, apparently.

During his 17 years on the bench, Russell Duke has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense judge. He has no patience with anyone — including attorneys — who are not in court at the appointed hour. And he once jailed a prospective juror for showing up wearing a shirt bearing an obscenity until it was replaced with an acceptable garment.

Published in Editorials on October 3, 2005 10:26 AM