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In re Chambers

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

September 6, 2019

IN RE: TENIKA CHAMBERS

          Criminal Appeals From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas CASE NOS. M-1800624 M-1800625

         Judgments Appealed from are: Reversed and Cause Remanded in C-180334; Appeal Dismissed in C-180333

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Philip R. Cummings, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Sarah E. Nelson, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          WINKLER, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Tenika Chambers appeals the trial court's judgments finding her in direct criminal contempt of court. In the first order, trial court number M-180625 and appeal number C-180334, the court found Chambers in contempt and imposed a three-day sentence. The contemptuous conduct included Chambers's belligerence towards courtroom staff, occurring after her cellphone had been taken from her for violating a courtroom rule banning cell phones. In the second order, trial court number M-180624 and appeal number C-180333, the court found after announcing and imposing the three-day sentence in M-180625 that Chambers was once again disruptive while being escorted from the courtroom by deputies. The court imposed a ten-day consecutive term for that conduct. The court used summary contempt procedures in both cases, which is characterized by a lack of written notice of the charges, absence of an adversary hearing upon the issues, and no opportunity to be represented by counsel.

         {¶2} On appeal, Chambers represents that she has served both sentences, but contends her appeals are not moot. Raising two assignments of error, she argues that the trial court erred by summarily finding her in direct contempt, instead of employing the established procedures required in indirect contempt proceedings, in those instances where the judge did not personally witness the allegedly contemptuous conduct. Alternatively, she argues the trial court's finding of direct contempt was an abuse of discretion because the record does not demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that her conduct constituted direct contempt.

         {¶3} We conclude Chambers's appeal in the case numbered M-180624 is not moot, and that the contempt finding must be reversed because, as alleged in the first assignment of error, the court failed to afford to Chambers due-process protections, as set forth in R.C. 2705.03, which were required because the court lacked personal knowledge of the alleged acts that rendered her actions contemptuous. Chambers's appeal from the contempt finding in the case numbered M-180625 is moot, because the circumstances, including Chambers's failure to seek a stay of her sentence after the appointment of counsel, demonstrate that Chambers voluntarily served her sentence and failed to preserve her right to appeal that contempt finding.

         Background Facts and Procedure

         {¶4} During a criminal proceeding involving Chambers's son before a trial judge of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Chambers's cell phone was confiscated because she violated an established and well-announced courtroom rule banning cell phones. She returned to the courtroom later in the day, when the judge was attending a meeting in his chambers, and allegedly had an altercation with the courtroom bailiff that resulted in the summoning of the sheriffs deputies. Chambers reportedly left the area around the courtroom for a brief period, but returned with her sister and used her sister's phone to take photographs of the area outside the courtroom. Deputies confiscated the sister's phone, and Chambers and her sister were told to return to the courtroom the next morning to retrieve the phones.

         {¶5} The trial judge subsequently learned from courtroom staff of the events that had occurred in his absence the prior afternoon, and when Chambers and her sister appeared during the morning session the following day to retrieve their phones, the judge told them he was holding a "direct contempt hearing." He then asked his courtroom bailiff and a sheriffs deputy to place on the record the facts of the allegedly contemptuous conduct occurring the previous day after he had retired to his chambers. Neither the bailiff nor the deputy was sworn in.

         {¶6} When the bailiff and deputy concluded their recitation of the previous day's events, the judge determined that he would not find Chambers's sister in contempt, but found Chambers in "direct contempt" because of her belligerence towards the bailiff in the courtroom and her "screaming and yelling out in the hallway." The court then asked Chambers if she wanted to say anything. In reply, she requested an attorney and told the court the allegations were false. The court told her she was not entitled to an attorney "at that point," and then found Chambers in contempt for the additional reason that she had failed to turn over her phone the previous day despite three notifications of the courtroom ban. The judge acknowledged that he had not found her in contempt the previous day when he had personally observed her violate the cell phone rule, but instead had "cut her a break." He then sentenced Chambers to three days in jail for all of her contemptuous behavior the previous day, including the behavior he had not personally observed.

         {¶7} After the three-day sentence was imposed, deputies took custody of Chambers. When Chambers and the deputies were in the hallway outside of the courtroom, the judge, according to the judgment entry, "witnessed and heard screaming and yelling" that "caused a disruption" in the courtroom and the hallway outside. The judge had the deputies bring Chambers back into the courtroom, and admonished her for the screaming and yelling. Chambers replied that she was telling family members to call "Channel 12 News, to call everybody." The judge held her in contempt for a second time and imposed a ten-day sentence, to be served consecutively to the three-day sentence previously imposed in M-180625.

         {¶8} Chambers was then taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center to serve her aggregate 13-day sentence. On the sixth day of incarceration, a public defender filed a motion to mitigate the remainder of her sentence. The judge held a hearing on the motion the next day and denied it. Eleven days later, Chambers filed these appeals. In two assignments of error, she challenges the merits of the contempt findings, not the sentences imposed by the court.

         Mootness

         {¶9} Ordinarily, an appellate court lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of a moot appeal. See Cleveland Hts. v. Lewis, 29 Ohio St.3d 389');">129 Ohio St.3d 389, 2011-Ohio-2673, 953 N.E.2d 278, ¶ 18, citing State v. Berndt, 29 Ohio St.3d 3, 4, 504 N.E.2d 712 (1987). The general rule on the mootness of criminal appeals provides that "[w]here a defendant, convicted of a criminal offense, has voluntarily paid the fine or completed the sentence for that offense, an appeal is moot when no evidence is offered from which an inference can be drawn that the defendant will suffer some collateral disability or loss of civil rights from such judgment or conviction." State v. Wilson, 41 Ohio St.2d 236, 325 N.E.2d 236 (1975), syllabus. This general rule does not apply to felony convictions, which result in collateral disabilities as a matter of law. State v. Golston, 71 Ohio St.3d 224, 643 N.E.2d 109 (1994), syllabus.

         {¶10} Contempt proceedings are not entirely civil nor criminal, but "sui generis in the law." City of Cincinnati v. Cincinnati Dist. Council 51,35 Ohio St.2d 197, 201, 299 N.E.2d 686 (1973). Here, however, the character of the contempt was clearly criminal; the court applied the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard when ...


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