Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 23, 2006
LAW: Of Dancing Angels and Heads of Pins
Now, I likes me a good technical argument as much as the next lawyer, but this strikes me as going a bit far. A federal statute says the court can punish as contempt "[m]isbehavior of any person in its presence or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice." A plaintiff (the husband of an ex-con, I should note, suing over a beating at the hands of a fellow inmate) attempted to tamper with a witness, during jury deliberations, in the courthouse cafeteria. The Second Circuit, in its opinion in United States v. Rangolan, reverses her contempt conviction:
Rangolan's misbehavior occurred not in court, but in a cafeteria ten floors below the court room. Unlike jury rooms, witness rooms, or immediately adjacent hallways, the cafeteria is not a place "set apart" for official court business, or for the use of jurors or other trial participants. The juror was not on official business but was simply having breakfast. Moreover, Rangolan's misbehavior took place at 9:15 a.m., before the court was in session. ...
I really fail to see why it is so difficult to conclude that the contempt statute covers jury tampering on federal property, in a cafeteria no juror would ferquent but for the fact that they were at the courthouse on court business. After all, while a determined litigant could visit a juror's home, that takes hard work; approaching the jurors when they are within the courthouse walls is a temptation to the unscrupulous litigant precisely because the inside of the courthouse is "so near" - and the ease of reaching jurors on the grounds of the court itself, when they have appeared on court business, is precisely what makes such tampering uniquely likely "to obstruct the administration of justice."