Colleagues Back Lawyer Detained in Dispute With Judge

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Several lawyers with the D.C. Public Defender Service wore red armbands to the courthouse yesterday to show support for a colleague who was handcuffed and briefly locked up last week in a flare-up with a judge.

The action was to show solidarity with lawyer Liyah Brown, who spent 45 minutes in a holding cell last Wednesday after drawing the ire of D.C. Superior Court Judge John H. Bayly Jr.

Transcripts show the trouble took place during a protracted back-and-forth at a hearing before the judge. Brown tried to alert Bayly that a client she was representing was "homeless and poor." Bayly said it was unclear that the man was homeless because the defendant had given several addresses. Bayly then tried to set a follow-up hearing as Brown kept speaking and trying to make her point. The judge ordered Brown to remain quiet and take her seat.

When Brown replied that she had to go to her next court hearing, Bayly insisted again that she sit down and warned that she was risking a citation for contempt of court. But Brown kept talking about why she needed to leave.

"Step her back, please. Step her back. Step the woman back, please. She won't listen to what I'm saying. She's disrupting the court," Bayly said, according to the transcript. "Step her back. I'm sorry to have to do this, ma'am, but I don't know what else to do."

Bayly had Brown escorted to the cell outside the courtroom that houses defendants charged with misdemeanors such as drug offenses and assaults.

The incident drew protests from the Public Defender Service, whose officials met with Bayly and Chief Judge Rufus G. King III.

Julia Leighton, general counsel for the public defender's office, said the judge "unlawfully arrested" Brown. Although no contempt charges were filed, Leighton said the agency wants to restore Brown's reputation and get the court to take steps "to ensure no attorney is ever summarily arrested while doing her job."

In a statement, King said officials were investigating. "In an adversarial system such as ours, reasonable people may differ on proper courtroom decorum and the limits of vigorous advocacy. Clearly that happened last week in Judge Bayly's courtroom," King said.

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