EX PARTE Daniel F. ALDRIDGE (In re In the Matter of M.G., minor child).
Denied January 11, 2019.
Juvenile Court, JU-18-406.01
F. Aldridge, petitioner, pro se.
Jeffery Rich , Huntsville, for respondent Judge Linda F.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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."
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."
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."
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."
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 ...