"Curbed zeal" is how defense lawyer Kenneth Michael Robinson described his courtroom performance during a recent five-week narcotics conspiracy trial before U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green. Green, who brought criminal contempt of court charges against Robinson, had a different opinion.
Robinson "consistently spoke to the court meaning Green in a loud, raucous and discourteous manner, punctuated by exaggerated facial contortions . . . " sometimes while the jury was in the courtroom, Green said in court papers.
The defense lawyer repeatedy shook his finger at prosecutor Charles J. Harkins Jr., interrupted him and repeatedly refused to resume his seat after making an objection, Green said in her list of circumstances that she says support the contempt of court charge. At one point, when Green asked Robinson why he wouldn't sit down, Robinson said, "I didn't have a chance to straighten my britches," according to court papers.
Green said that Robinson refused to comply with direct orders from the court during the trial. She cited this piece of trial transcript in her list of charges:
The Court: Counsel to the bench.
Mr. Robinson: I don't want to come to the bench.
The Court: You will.
Mr. Robinson: I don't want to.
The Court: I would want you to come to the bench, sir.
Green said in her written charges that when Robinson got to the bench, he repeatedly addressed her in "a derogatory and disrespectful manner." Green cited the following exchange that occurred after prosecutor Harkins asked that the attorneys come to the bench after Robinson had demanded access to a document.
The Court: Apparently there is a reason to approach the bench. Mr. Robinson, will you kindly sir?
Mr. Robinson: I am tired of coming up here to the bench for his Harkins' frivolous points.
The Court: I asked counsel to come up to the bench.
Mr. Robinson: He asked to come up, and you granted the motions, and we will spend another day, or eight hours of it, anyway, running back and forth to the bench. Everyday I come in here I try to have a nice, peaceful day, and I am tired of coming up to the bench, I am already irritated at ten after 10:00.
The Court: Mr. Robinson, you are pointing at Mr. Harkins with your finger.
Mr. Robinson: I certainly am.
Green also alleged in court papers that Robinson deliberately delayed the trial and at one point advised his co-counsel to "filibuster" the proceedings while he made an appearance in another courtroom on an unrelated case. Finally, Green alleged, during his closing argument, Robinson looked directly at her while telling the jury that the prison sentences that Green had imposed before the trial on two key prosecution witnesses were "ridiculous" and an "embarrassment."
At a court hearing last week, during which Green read the charges to Robinson, the defense lawyer said that "mitigating circumstances" may have affected his behavior during the trial, including personal problems and his relationship with the defendants in the case.
"I do apologize, and regardless of where this ends up . . . I offer this public apology," Robinson told Green during that hearing.
Green's list of charges against Robinson were filed with the court as an order to show cause why Robinson should not be held in criminal contempt for his conduct. The case, which must be heard by another judge since the alleged contempt involves Green, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery So far, however, it is unclear whether Flannery will hear the case since Flannery hired Robinson to be an assistant prosecutor several years ago when Flannery was the U.S. attorney.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon C. Rhea will represent the court's interest in the case. So far, Robinson plans to act as his own lawyer. The government is expected to ask the court that the case be brought as a misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.
A tentative date for a hearing is set for Nov. 12. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the D.C. bar said yesterday that if Robinson were held in contempt he could be discplined by the bar, but such a finding would be unlikely to threaten his right to practice law in the District.