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Atlanta�A trial judge wrongly jailed a lawyer on criminal contempt charges for failure to appear, the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled. In an opinion for a unanimous panel, Judge M. Yvette Miller wrote that Judge Sidney L. Nation Sr. couldn’t hold Benjamin A. Davis Jr. in contempt for failure to appear because the judge hadn’t told him when to be ready for trial. In re Davis, No. A03A2547 (Ga. Ct. App. Jan. 26, 2004). “We decline to adopt a holding that would allow attorneys to be held in direct criminal contempt for failing to appear when a trial court does not fulfill its duty to give proper notice to the attorney by mail, in person or by properly placing the attorney ‘on-call’ in connection with the trial calendar,” Miller wrote for the panel, which also included Chief Judge J.D. Smith and Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. Judges on notice? Davis, of the Davis Law Firm in Atlanta, said the decision not only vindicates his version of events, it also should put judges on notice that their criminal contempt powers are not unlimited. “It dispels any notion that the judge had any power to put me in jail under the guise of contempt,” he said. Davis has also filed a $21 million suit against Nation and Rockdale County, Ga., in federal court. Davis said he suffered “personal degradation and humiliation” when Nation had him jailed and then notified a reporter from the Rockdale Citizen of Davis’ arrest. In his complaint, Davis also claims that WSB-TV in Atlanta broadcast a story about his stint in jail. Though he does not name WSB or the Citizen in his suit, Davis accuses Nation and Rockdale County of unlawful arrest, and Nation of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Davis v. Nation, No. 03CV1765 (N.D. Ga. filed June 25, 2003). That case, which is still in the pretrial stages, is on appeal before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. According to pleadings from Davis’ suit, and trial and appeals court records, Davis didn’t show up for the beginning of his client Yolanda K. Vasconcelos’ trial on the morning of June 23, 2003. Bench warrant issued After spending more than four hours trying to contact Davis, Nation issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Davis headed for the judge’s chambers at 2:30 p.m., and a deputy promptly arrested him and tossed him in jail for the night. Each side accused the other of refusing to communicate about the trial. Davis claimed he never received notice of the trial date. Nation noted in his contempt order that Davis never informed the court of a calendar conflict. The appeals court sided with Davis and his version of events, even after weighing the evidence “in the light most favorable to the prosecution.” Judges, Miller wrote, must ensure that counsel have had sufficient notice to appear for trial before they can begin holding lawyers in contempt for failing to show up.

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