In our sixth story in our investigative series, ‘Disney grandson at forefront of reform', we reported how one of the attorneys on the case was arrested by the judge.
This week an appeals court has exonerated him.
In November 2010, Joel Sannes found himself at the center of a probate court controversy.
A judge ordered Sannes arrested for contempt of court because Sannes refused to answer a judge's questions.
Sannes claimed that information fell under the attorney-client privilege.
So, a sheriff's deputy handcuffed Sannes and took him to a holding cell.
“I've never been subject to any proceeding like this before. It was highly unusual,” Sannes said.
Judge Peter Swann agreed. In his appeals order, Swann wrote that “the trial court’s actions constituted a clear abuse of discretion…”
This cleared Sannes of all contempt charges and sanctions or fines against him.
The order does not address any actions against the trial judge who ordered the arrest.
Critics worry it may happen again.
The following is a short synopsis and the conclusion taken from Judge Peter Swann’s opinion:
In this guardianship proceeding, an expert witness complained to the court about the burden posed by a subpoena for records. Within days, the court sua sponte set a show-cause hearing concerning possible sanctions. Before the hearing, the court announced its view that the subpoena represented an abuse of the discovery process and had been served as a means of harassing the witness. At the show-cause hearing, the court issued an order of confinement that resulted in a lawyer being handcuffed in open court when he declined to answer questions under oath that would have invaded the attorney-client privilege pursuant to a common interest agreement. Several attorneys subject to the ensuing sanctions order now seek special action relief. We conclude that the trial court’s actions constituted a clear abuse of discretion, and we therefore accept jurisdiction and grant relief.
To be sure, there are times when an attorney may behave in a contumacious manner, flout a court order without cause or so denigrate the integrity of the court that immediate and drastic sanctions, including contempt, may be required. But when, as here, attorneys respectfully assert a legal position with which the court disagrees, the notion that they can properly be handcuffed in the courtroom undercuts the rules of procedure and ethos of the courts of this state. No attorney should fear that the assertion of privilege will result in the deprivation of his or her liberty until the full measure of due process has been afforded. The conduct of the court in this case represented a clear abuse of discretion,and we therefore grant relief and vacate the contempt finding against Sannes and all sanctions entered against the Attorneys.
Attorney at Probate Court Exonerated After Arrest
Read the Ruling in its Entirety
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