Court: Cell-Phone User Should Not Have Been Held in Contempt

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A Florida appellate court has ruled that a judge went too far when he held Michelle McRoy in contempt after her cell phone rang in court.  In the 2009 incident, Judge Anthony Johnson not only found McRoy in contempt, he also confiscated the phone.  "Cell phone is forfeited and to be destroyed by the Orange County Sheriff's Office," read the order.  Johnson stopped short of destroying it himself, although he did throw it into a trash can.

Reversing, the Fifth District Court of Appeal noted that "contempt" is "an act tending to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or to lessen the court's authority or dignity. . . . [It] does not exist just because a judge feels aggrieved or vexed."  A one-time and apparently accidental ring (even if it was an musical ringtone – tune undisclosed) did not qualify, although the court agreed that McRoy's conduct had probably been "annoying."

McRoy said she was happy with the ruling (she probably did not mean the part about her being "annoying"), and said she had been told she might even get her phone back.  Apparently, court personnel retrieved the phone from the trash can after the judge flung it there, so it was never destroyed as the judge had ordered.

It wasn't clear whether or not those court personnel told the judge at the time that they had basically "hindered or obstructed the court in the administration of justice" by defying his order and retrieving the offender's forfeited property.  I would guess not.

Link: Orlando Sentinel