Judge sends Boca lawyer to jail for contempt; 4th DCA lets him go

UPDATE: John Carter’s contempt of court case has been reassigned from Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson to a circuit court judge whose name did not appear in court records early Thursday. Although Circuit Judge James Nutt’s name appears on the order releasing Carter from jail late Wednesday, he is not listed in court documents as the new presiding judge in Carter’s case.

In addition, the DUI case of Carter’s client, Todd Talbott, has been transferred from Bryson to Palm Beach County Judge Sheree Cunningham. Bryson had previously denied Carter’s request to remove herself from the case.

ORIGINAL STORY: On Friday, Boca Raton attorney John Carter walked out of a Palm Beach County courtroom in a huff after telling the judge handling his jailed client’s DUI case that he was appalled by her behavior and calling her “disrespectful to the people of Palm Beach County” before he told her several times he thought “something was wrong” with her.

Five days later, Carter left the same courtroom in handcuffs, flanked by a pair of Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies on his way to jail just moments after County Judge Marni Bryson sentenced him on Wednesday to 30 days in jail on a contempt of court charge.

“You know it’s a bad day for you when your lawyer goes to jail,” Carter’s client, Todd Talbott, told another courtroom deputy on his way out of the courtroom.

Carter was booked into the Palm Beach County jail Wednesday afternoon, but just hours later, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal issued an order sending Carter’s appeal to the jurisdiction of the 15th Circuit Court, which covers Palm Beach County. By 9 p.m., Carter was out of jail after a circuit judge ordered Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies to release him.

During the contempt hearing Wednesday, Bryson said the criminal charge for Carter, 64, came not from the war of words she had with him Friday, but rather from what sparked the dispute — Carter’s claim that he never received a notice that his client was supposed to appear in Bryson’s courtroom for a Nov. 13 hearing and his accusation that someone must have forged his signature a month earlier on the notice for the hearing.

The judge issued a warrant for Talbott’s arrest in November after neither he nor Carter showed up for the scheduled hearing, but authorities didn’t arrest Talbott on the failure to appear charge until last Thursday. The next day, Carter in court told Bryson that any failure of his client to appear was a result of Carter’s mistake, but the lawyer also said he never received notice of the court date. Bryson agreed to reinstate Talbott’s $3,000 bond but refused to indulge Carter’s request that she look into who else could have signed the notice.

“The court isn’t concerned about who could have done this?” Carter asked.

When Bryson responded by saying she wasn’t going to look into the matter further, Carter in the courtroom video Bryson replayed in court Wednesday appeared visibly upset. Bryson at first appeared ready to move on to the next hearing, but then asked Carter if he had anything else he wanted to add.

It was then that Carter asked Bryson several times to tell him what time Friday’s hearing was set and eventually told her he was upset at having to wait until 10:10 a.m. for her to hear his client’s case when the hearing was set for 8:30 a.m. Bryson responded by saying that the case was set in error if it was set that early because deputies don’t usually arrive that early with inmates they bring over from the jail for hearings.

“I think you’re disrespectful to the people of Palm Beach County. I’m appalled,” Carter responded, saying that he had spoken to other attorneys who had the same complaints about her. “Never in my 35 years of practice have I ever experienced anything like this.”

Bryson in the video appeared taken aback but countered that he was the one being disrespectful. She reminded him that voters had elected her twice to a county judge seat, pointed out that she presides over first-degree murder and other felony cases in addition to her work as a county judge and added that both her father and grandfather were lawyers.

Carter scoffed at Bryson’s comments and bristled at her mention of her relatives, saying it was inappropriate to bring up her family on the bench. Bryson said she meant to illustrate that she was well acquainted with the legal profession and longtime attorneys. Carter asked what was wrong with her.

“Mr. Carter, what’s wrong with you? I mean, are you under the influence of something?” Bryson asked.

Bryson at one point during the exchange said she would recuse herself from Talbott’s case, but minutes later in the videotaped confrontation appeared to back away from that.

After the confrontation, Bryson reviewed courtroom video taken at Talbott’s Oct. 16 arraignment at the Delray Beach courthouse, according to court documents. That was the day Carter said someone else must have signed his name with a “scribble” on the notice for the Nov. 13 hearing in Talbott’s case.

Bryson played the video in court Wednesday, and it showed Carter walking to where the clerk’s desk is next to the judge’s bench after a clerk called Talbott’s case up in the Delray Beach courtroom. The desk apparently was outside the camera range, so what happened at the desk was not captured in the recording, but Carter comes back into view 15 to 20 seconds later and he is shown walking away from the clerk’s area with what appears to be several pieces of paper in his hand before he rejoins Talbott at the back of the courtroom.

Court records show that during this same minute, a clerk logged the signed hearing notice into the Palm Beach Clerk of Court online filing system.

Officials with the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s office were unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon, but several attorneys who handle criminal cases at the satellite courthouse in Delray Beach said Wednesday that clerks at arraignments there typically have a list of available subsequent hearing dates and assign the new dates for the next hearing at that time.

“I don’t know what those papers were, but I know, 100 percent, that it was not a notice, and if it was I didn’t know it was,” Carter told Bryson in court Wednesday, speaking in his own defense against the advice of his attorney, Mark Solomon.

Talbott, testifying on his lawyer’s behalf Wednesday, said Carter told him that October morning that another hearing date hadn’t been set and a court clerk would contact both attorney and client later with a new hearing date.

Solomon objected to Wednesday’s hearing, saying he was seeing the video for the first time and needed more time to review it. He also asked Bryson not to order Carter taken to jail immediately Wednesday because Carter was scheduled for glaucoma surgery Thursday.

Bryson flatly denied the request and Solomon’s request for a bond for Carter.

“This is egregious,” she said of the incident.

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