Thursday, August 04, 2005

Utterly In Contempt of COurt

In a story sure to tickle Bruce and Jay G, an Illinois woman was jailed for contempt of court for refusing the court's order to turn over a handgun to her ex-husband. She had attempted to tell the court that her husband was a convicted felon and could not own a gun, but the judge wouldn't listen. When, in court, the woman's father suggested to the judge that the woman instead hand the gun over to her (the judge), she order both the woman and her father arrested.

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

...Beth Ritchie said she did not know of her husband's felony convictions until she opened a letter in 2003 from the Illinois State Police declining Tim Ritchie's request for a Firearm Owner's Identification Card. In a divorce court order splitting possessions, Tim Ritchie was awarded the pistol, a 9 mm automatic. He said the weapon was a gift from his father.

Beth Ritchie said that, without her husband's knowledge, she had asked her father, Richard Swift, of Grafton, to take the pistol out of the couple's house in 2003. "I was worried about Tim having the gun there, that it was illegal and could get us both in trouble," she said.

Beth Ritchie said she had mailed certified letters a month before Thursday's hearing to three court officials - Associate Judge Nelson Metz, State's Attorney Bill Mudge and Circuit Clerk Matt Melucci - informing them of the legal dilemma over the pistol. She said she followed the letters up with calls but never heard back from the officials. ....

So, during a status hearing in which she was asked why the gun had not been returned....

...Beth Ritchie said that she explained the situation to [Judge Ellar] Duff but that the judge refused to listen.

"She said she didn't care about other circumstances, that I had better return the gun to Tim immediately," Ritchie said.

At that point, Beth Ritchie's father approached the bench, after getting permission from the judge.
"I could see the letter Beth had written, outlining the whole matter, right there on the bench in front of her (Duff)," said Swift, 59.

Swift said he asked whether the pistol could be given to Duff to transfer, "so that we wouldn't be the ones breaking the law."

"At that point, Judge Duff just snapped and ordered my daughter and me arrested for contempt of court," Swift said. Swift said Duff quickly recanted the order against him. Beth Ritchie was shackled and taken away. ...

Now I suppose most readers have discerned by this point that Judge Duff is not the star of the Illinois judiciary. But it's fun to witness extraordinary displays of idiocy, so let's listen in:

Duff said Friday that she had ordered Ritchie arrested because she had been disrespectful.

"This was a disgruntled person who flat out refused, blatantly and disrespectfully in open court, to comply with a court order," Duff said.

When asked whether Duff knew that complying with the order would constitute a crime, the judge said she did not know that Tim Ritchie was a convicted felon.

"That did not come out in open court. If they said it did, they are liars," Duff said.

When asked whether a court reporter had been present at the hearing, so that a transcript could determine whether Ritchie and her father were, indeed, liars, Duff said, "I never said they were liars. You're twisting my words."

There is an old saying: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

H/T: Overlawyered

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