Melanie May

An Indian River circuit judge who lost his temper and threw a juvenile behind bars for five days has been reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

The juvenile, identified in court papers as A.W., appeared before Circuit Judge Robert Hawley for a pre-commitment physical examination.

He previously had been adjudicated a delinquent for carrying a firearm and making a false report. He was to be committed to a moderate-risk program and was in court to be processed for the physical.

When called before the bench, Hawley asked, “Why were you late this morning?”

The juvenile responded, “I wasn’t late. I’ve been here.”

Hawley then said, “Any reason why I shouldn’t hold you in contempt of court for the way you’re acting? Any reason? All right, I’ll hold you in direct contempt of court. Five days in the detention center for acting disrespectful to the court.”

Fourth District Judge Melanie May wrote the opinion, with concurrence from Judges W. Matthew Stevenson and Jonathan Gerber.

May cited state rules for juvenile procedure, highlighting in bold that a guilty judgment for contempt “shall include a recital of those facts upon which the adjudication of guilt is based.”

She lectured Hawley on the requirement that the defendant be allowed to present evidence of mitigating circumstances, and “the judgment shall be signed by the court and entered of record.”

There was no contempt judgment entered.

“Contempt does not exist just because a judge feels aggrieved or vexed,” May said, quoting case law. “There may have been other contemptuous, nonverbal actions on the part of the child, but the record does not reflect them.”

The juvenile’s appeal was handled by Palm Beach County Assistant Public Defender Nan E. Foley, who said, “The opinion upholds a juvenile’s right to due process of law.”

The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Melanie Dale Surber in West Palm Beach.