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Ex parte Aldridge

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

November 30, 2018

Ex parte Daniel F. Aldridge In re: In the Matter of M.G., minor child

          Madison Juvenile Court, JU-18-406.01

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          PER CURIAM.

         Daniel F. Aldridge petitions this court for the writ of mandamus directing the Madison Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") to, among other things, vacate an order requiring him to appear at a hearing to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Background

         This petition arises from an action that was initiated in the juvenile court involving a grandmother's petition seeking custody of a child. Aldridge's law partner, Jimmy Sandlin, represented the child's mother. A hearing was scheduled to occur on September 10, 2018. According to Aldridge's petition, he learned on the morning of the hearing that his law partner was ill and had been hospitalized. Aldridge asked the juvenile-court judge, Judge Linda Coats, for a continuance. Judge Coats continued the hearing to September 12, 2018.

         On September 11, 2018, according to Aldridge, he presented Judge Coats and opposing counsel with proof of Sandlin's illness and hospitalization and requested a second continuance. Aldridge asserts that Judge Coats indicated that the motion would be considered the following day at the hearing and that, on the day of the hearing, she ignored the motion and commenced the proceedings. According to the answer that Judge Coats has filed in response to Aldridge's mandamus petition, Aldridge appeared at the hearing and requested a general continuance, which she denied.

         What happened next is also described differently by Aldridge and Judge Coats. According to Aldridge, he informed Judge Coats "that he had never handled a juvenile case," that he had met Sandlin's client only two days before at the previous hearing setting, and that he was not qualified or prepared to represent Sandlin's client during the hearing. He says that Judge Coats "ignored" him. Aldridge asserts that he chose to remain in the courtroom with the mother but informed the court that he was not representing her.

         Notwithstanding that declaration, it appears, Aldridge participated in the hearing. He says that he was "very intimidated" by Judge Coats's "demeanor." He contends that Judge Coats frequently interrupted or discontinued his examination of witnesses and that she erroneously sustained opposing counsel's evidentiary objections that, he says, were "blatantly wrong." He asserts that Judge Coats permitted a particular witness to testify as an expert of behalf of the adverse party but not as an expert on behalf of the mother. Judge Coats also reportedly raised her voice, was condescending, and acted "belligerent[ly]." Aldridge says he felt "disrespected."

         Judge Coats, on the other hand, says that Aldridge "was obviously angered by the denial of his request for a general continuance." She contends that Aldridge disrupted and frustrated the hearing "with the intimidating volume of his voice, combative demeanor[, ] and rude gestures to [Judge Coats] and other individuals in the courtroom." After an adverse evidentiary ruling, Judge Coats asserts, Aldridge held up his hand and rubbed the tip of his thumb against the tips of his index and middle fingers to imply, she says, that she had been bribed by the adverse party. Judge Coats says that, at one point and without direction, her bailiff left the courtroom and obtained a pair of handcuffs in anticipation of restraining Aldridge.

         The September 12, 2018, proceedings concluded, and the parties appeared on September 17, 2018, to complete the hearing. The events of that day are also described differently by Aldridge and Judge Coats. According to Aldridge, Judge Coats informed him at the beginning of the proceedings that, if he chose to remain in the courtroom, "he would be doing so as counsel of record for the ... mother." Aldridge says that he left because he did not feel qualified to represent the mother.

         Judge Coats says that Aldridge arrived on September 17, 2018, accompanied by another attorney. She asserts that, "[e]arly in the proceedings," Aldridge, the mother, and the other attorney requested a recess "to consult in the hallway outside the courtroom." She says that Aldridge never returned to participate in the hearing and that he left the other attorney to represent the mother alone. She states: "Aldridge did, however, briefly enter the doorway to the courtroom and state in a threatening and aggressive manner that he was leaving the trial to file a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking an order that the trial be continued, or words to that effect."

         Judge Coats goes on to state:

"At the end of the proceedings on September 17[, 2018], I stated that it was my intent to address Aldridge's contempt on Friday, September 21, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. The proceedings were then adjourned. On September 18, 2018, a written order, consistent with Ala. R. Civ. P., Rule 70A(b), was issued scheduling a hearing for September 21, 2018, a date within seven days of the completion the proceeding out of which the contempt arose. The purpose of the hearing was to allow Aldridge to present evidence or argument regarding excusing or mitigating circumstances and to pronounce sentence in open court, in the presence of Aldridge, the contemnor. Because Aldridge left the proceedings and did not return, immediate punishment was not possible. However, prompt punishment was imperative."

         Aldridge states: "Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, September 18, 2018, six days following [my] alleged contemptuous behavior, [I] was served an Order to Show Cause as to why [I] should not be held in Contempt of Court and to appear for a hearing on September 21, 2018." Aldridge has appended to his petition a copy of the juvenile court's September 18, 2018, order, which provides, in relevant part:

"This matter is set for hearing on Friday, September 21, 2018[, ] ... for ... Aldridge to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt of court for his conduct in the courtroom on September 12, 2018[, ] to wit: repeatedly pointing his finger at the court, repeatedly screaming in the courtroom, mocking the court under his breath for adverse rulings, repeatedly rolling his eyes at the court for adverse rulings, threatening opposing counsel that he would see him outside court, refusing to sit down when asked, and making gestures with his hands that this court was paid off in response to adverse rulings.
"Failure of ... Aldridge to appear in court on said date will result in a bench warrant being issued."

         Aldridge filed his petition for the writ of mandamus in this court on September 20, 2018, asking for the following relief:

"1. An order disqualifying [Judge Coats] from presiding over the contempt proceedings pending against petitioner. Rule 70A(f)[, ] A[la]. R. C[iv]. P.
"2. An order requiring the presiding Judge of Madison County Circuit Court to appoint another judge to preside over the pending contempt proceedings against Petitioner and instructing said Judge to hold a hearing to determine whether the Petitioner committed the contempt charged, and, if so, to impose punishment. Rule 70A(f).
"3. An order dismissing the proceedings and requesting that a Petition for constructive contempt be filed according to Rule 70A(c)[, ] A[la]. R. C[iv]. P."

         In so doing, Aldridge asserts that Judge Coats is disqualified by Rule 70A(f), Ala. R. Civ. P.; that he has been "denied due process required for charges of constructive contempt" under Rule 70A(c), Ala. R. Civ. P.; and that irreparable harm will occur if he is not granted immediate relief. Along with his petition, Aldridge filed a motion in this court requesting a stay, indicating, among other things, that he had requested a stay in the juvenile court and that the juvenile court had indicated that it would not rule on his request before the scheduled hearing. We granted the stay motion and called for an answer.

         Judge Coats answered Aldridge's petition, asserting that this court lacks jurisdiction over his petition, that Aldridge has no clear legal right to the relief requested in his petition, that she had not ruled on a motion filed by Aldridge seeking her recusal from the contempt proceedings, that Aldridge had an adequate remedy by way of appeal, and that Aldridge had failed to properly support his petition. Judge Coats supported her answer with an affidavit. Aldridge filed a motion asking for permission to reply to Judge Coats's answer, asserting, among other things, that her answer ...


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