Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (IF109-00) (Hon. Reggie B. Walton, Trial Judge)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge
On January 27, 2000, the judge presiding over a hearing on an application for a civil protection order (CPO) summarily held Brian O. Fields, the respondent in the CPO proceeding, in criminal contempt of court for disobeying the judge's repeated orders not to look or stare at one of the petitioners; the judge viewed the staring as potentially intimidating. On appeal, Fields contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his contempt conviction. In the alternative, Fields argues that summary contempt proceedings were not warranted. We reverse.
This case arises out of a domestic dispute involving Fields, his former girlfriend, Tyanna Weedon, and Tyanna Weedon's mother, Felicia D. Weedon. Fields rented a room in the home of Felicia D. Weedon, and he embarked on a romantic relationship with his landlady's daughter. The relationship allegedly became violent.
On January 10, 2000, Tyanna Weedon and Felicia D. Weedon each filed a petition for a civil protection order against Fields. Tyanna Weedon alleged that Fields had physically assaulted her on a number of occasions, that he had threatened to kill her, and that he had confined her in his apartment for days at a time. Felicia D. Weedon alleged that Fields made harassing telephone calls and visits to her residence and had threatened to "fuck her up" and to "beat [her] ass." On January 10, 2000, Judge Wendell P. Gardner issued a temporary protection order (TPO) in each case which prohibited Fields, inter alia, from abusing, threatening, or harassing the petitioners, and from contacting them by telephone, in writing, or in any other manner. Fields was also ordered not to come within 100 feet of either Ms. Weedon's residence or place of employment. A hearing on the petitioners' applications for full-fledged CPOs was set for two weeks later.
On January 24, 2000, the two petitioners and respondent Fields all appeared pro se before Judge Reggie B. Walton. Prior to the commencement of the hearing, Fields approached Tyanna Weedon in a hallway outside the courtroom and began to talk to her and to hold her hand. Fields was arrested by a deputy United States marshal for violating the TPO. *fn1 The deputy marshal informed the court that he had discussed this incident with a representative of the United States Attorney's office and that Fields would be charged with contempt of the TPO.
When the hearing began, the parties identified themselves, and the judge, obviously concerned about the possibility of intimidation, *fn2 immediately addressed the respondent:
THE COURT: Sir, sir. Don't look at them. You're just going to get yourself in more trouble now.
After inquiring whether Fields wished to proceed with a hearing or, instead, to consent to the issuance of the CPOs, the judge interrupted his own inquiry and again directed Fields to "[q]uit looking at" the petitioners. Fields stated that "I'm listening to you, your Honor." Preliminary matters proceeded, but soon the judge again observed Fields staring at Tyanna Weedon:
THE COURT: What do you keep looking at that lady for? How many times [have] I got to tell you not to do that?
The judge recessed the hearing until after lunch, and he ordered the deputy marshal to "step [Fields] back," apparently because Fields was under arrest for violating the TPO.
Following the lunch break, Felicia D. Weedon took the stand. Her testimony had barely commenced when Fields violated the judge's order again by staring at Tyanna Weedon, who was seated in the back of the courtroom. The judge again ordered Fields to stop looking at Tyanna Weedon - the judge's fourth such order:
THE COURT: I don't know if you understand what I've said to you before or not. But you have one more time to have me see you look at that lady again, and I'm holding you in contempt of court. I'm telling you, don't look at her.
Mr. Fields did not reply, and Felicia D. Weedon continued her testimony. A few minutes later, the judge had still another ...