Lawyer Jailed for Contempt Is Freed After 14 Years

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Pennsylvania lawyer H. Beatty Chadwick either could not or really did not want to hand over the $2.5 million his ex-wife was awarded after their divorce, and he was prepared to go to jail for contempt rather than do so.

That was 14 years ago.

Chadwick has consistently claimed that he could not and cannot pay because he lost the money in "bad investments."  But the judge that jailed him did not believe that, and neither did the judge who let him go last week.  Judge Joseph Cronin said he agreed with previous rulings that Chadwick had the ability to comply with the order to pay but had "willfully refused to do so."  He released Chadwick, though, because he found that continued imprisonment would be legal only if there was some likelihood that ultimately he would comply with the order; otherwise, the confinement would be merely punitive instead of coercive.  Apparently 14 years of incarcerated non-compliance – believed to be the longest sentence served for contempt of court in U.S. history – is enough to support a finding that future compliance is unlikely.

Albert Momjian, the ex-wife's lawyer, was not happy with the ruling.  "Here's a guy who thumbed his nose at a court order for 14 years," he was quoted as saying.  "There should be some kind of sanctions for doing that."  Good point – the guy should serve some jail time, or something.  Momjian said he still thought Chadwick had the money to pay, pointing out that if he was broke, "how does he pay all these lawyers?"  (The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Chadwick's attorney has been working pro bono for the past six years, though Momjian's question might be relevant to the first eight.)

Others were not sure what to think, like John Reilly, the prison superintendent who has hosted Chadwick since 1995.  Reilly noted that Chadwick had done more time than many murderers do, and found it hard to imagine that anyone "in his right mind" would defy a court for that long if he was actually able to comply.  He also noted that Chadwick had been a "model inmate," apparently so much so that he became good friends with guards and administrators, many of whom, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, were "crying and hugging" Chadwick as he departed.  (On the other hand, the Daily News also said that Chadwick, at least in his life before prison, had "reportedly [been] a control freak who would ration his spouse's toilet-paper usage and designate specific times for sex."  So there's that.  Prison probably cures a man of control-freak habits, though.)  Ultimately, Reilly wasn't sure what to think.  "To me, he's an enigma," he said.  "I can't get a read on the guy."

Chadwick, now 73, said he wasn't yet sure what he would do with the rest of his life, but that it would probably include trying to get his law license reinstated.  I'd guess it will probably not include paying his ex-wife $2.5 million, but time will tell.

Link: ABA Journal
Link: Philadelphia Inquirer
Link: Philadelphia Daily News
Link: AP via New York Times