Words maybe an Attorneys tool of choice, but sometimes too many words are too much when it is best to answer just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Attorney Hermesmeyer, an Assistant Public Defender, learned the hard way when US District Court Judge John McBryde, repeatedly asked for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to the Judge’s question. When the Hermesmeyer continued to evade a response to the question, he was fined $500. The US 5th Circuit upheld the fine, but did state that the Judge may have contributed to the problem. Here excerpts of the transcript that got Attorney Hemsmeyer fined $500.
THE COURT: Okay. Let’s see. There were some—there were two objections filed, and I believe both of them were related to the possibility of a sentence above the top of the advisory guideline range. Did I read those correctly, Mr. Hermesmeyer?
MR. HERMESMEYER: Your Honor, I think they have more to do with legality of whether such a sentence would be permissible or appropriate.
THE COURT: I’m sorry, I was wondering if I’m correct in thinking that both of the objections have to do with the possibility of a sentence above the top of the advisory guideline range. What is the answer to that?
MR. HERMESMEYER: Your Honor, just what I said.
THE COURT: I’m not sure I understand how that answered my question. I’ve asked the question again. Would you please answer the question either yes or no.
MR. HERMESMEYER: Your Honor, I would stand on what I previously said. Thank you.
THE COURT: Mr. Hermesmeyer, you get very close to being held in contempt of court. Would you answer my question?
MR. HERMESMEYER: I have no further response, your Honor.
THE COURT: Okay. Mr. Hermesmeyer, I’ve ordered you to answer my question, and you’ve refused to answer it. I consider that you’re in civil contempt of court, and also you’re in violation of one of the local rules that requires attorneys to appropriately conduct themselves and to respond and answer orders of the Court. I’m going to give you another opportunity to answer my question. And if you would like, if you decline to answer my question, I’ll give you an opportunity at this time to respond to my suggestion that you will be held in civil contempt of court and held in violation of the local rule concerning the conduct of attorneys, if you refuse to answer my question. You may proceed.
[Pause in proceedings.]
THE COURT: Okay. Apparently you’re not going to respond. I’m ordering that you are in violation of the local rule. Let me get the exact number of it.
MR. HERMESMEYER: Your Honor, at this point I would move to withdraw from the representation of [the defendant] given the indications that the Court has made. [He] needs an attorney that’s not under the threat of civil contempt or whatever sort of contempt that the Court is indicating at this point.
THE COURT: I deny that motion. Rule of Criminal Procedure LCR 57.8(b) says: A presiding judge, after giving an opportunity to show cause to the contrary, may take any appropriate disciplinary action against a member of the bar for conduct unbecoming a member of the bar and failure to comply with any order of the Court.
I consider that you have violated that rule in both respects. I’ll give you an opportunity—I’ve given you an opportunity to show cause why you shouldn’t be disciplined for that and you’ve declined to respond, so I’m ordering that you pay a $500 fine, and that it be paid by 2:00 today, and be paid to the office of the clerk of court here in Fort Worth.