It sounds completely unreasonable to be held in contempt of court based on the actions of someone you work for, but that’s exactly the premise of a 2018 Pennsylvania Superior Court case Farrell v. Farrell. It all began when a husband decided to divorce his wife. Both parties eventually decided to retain legal counsel for the remainder of the case.
The subsequent legal action spanned years, and the exhaustive mental fatigue on the part of husband and wife and their attorneys was obvious.
When the wife and her attorney were served with “informal” requests for discovery, the husband and his own attorney were quietly ignored. The husband proceeded to file a number of similar requests, but the response was always the same: silence. Eventually, the husband’s counsel decided to file a motion in court to compel a response. The motion was upheld.
The man’s wife was given a 20-day grace period with which to respond to the previously made discovery requests.
Unfortunately for the wife’s attorney, she was allowed to reply to the discovery requests with her own words and without supervision. Her attorney proceeded to forward those requests, unread and unrevised, to the husband’s attorney. Big mistake. She had openly lambasted her husband while failing to provide the relevant information for some areas of discovery.
The husband’s attorney filed yet another motion in court, this time amending the former motion to include attorney’s fees. His wife’s attorney filed another motion directly thereafter, and before the husband’s motion was heard in court. This strategy was the last straw for the judge who sat at the husband’s hearing.
The wife’s motion was precipitously dismissed, and she was barred from adding any new discovery information to bolster her own, already weakening, case. Her attorney was thus found in contempt of the court. The same court order forced the wife’s attorney to transfer funds to cover the husband’s attorney’s fees. The wife’s attorney angrily bounced the matter to the Superior Court, who dismissed her claim.
While it is extremely unusual for legal counsel to be held in contempt of court for an attorney’s actions, counsel is required to pay attention to a client’s actions when that’s the reason they were hired in the first place. A contempt of court charge can lead to incarceration, steep fines, increased sentencing, etc.
Contempt is usually described as the willful disobedience of the court system, and most of those who face the charge will have been advised by their attorneys as to the effect of their actions. And, of course, those who have attended law school are also aware of courtroom consequences for misconduct.