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2007-UP-557 - State v. Judith Law

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Judith A. Law, Appellant.


Appeal From Orangeburg County
 Diane Schafer Goodstein, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2007-UP-557
Submitted November 1, 2007 – Filed December 14, 2007   


AFFIRMED


Deputy Chief Attorney for Capital Appeals Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

John Benjamin Aplin, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:   Judith A. Law appeals the probation court’s order holding her in contempt.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

On September 15, 2005, Law was brought before the court for a probation revocation hearing.  Law admitted she had violated the terms of her probation.  The probation court issued a written order that found Law had violated the conditions of her probation, revoked Law’s probation, and re-instated her suspended five year sentence.  Following sentencing, a probation agent presented a Form 9 (revocation order) to Law for her signature.  Law signed the revocation order “Kiss My Ass” and instructed the probation agent to give the revocation order to the judge.  The probation agent complied with Law’s instruction, and the judge scheduled a contempt hearing for later that day.    

Following the hearing, the judge prepared a written order which stated that Law had signed the revocation order “Kiss My Ass” and requested the revocation order be taken to the judge and that her request had been fulfilled.  The judge’s order also stated that Law had been held in contempt for her conduct.   Law appeals the probation court’s order holding her in contempt.          

STANDARD OF REVIEW

All courts have inherent power to punish for contempt. Curlee v. Howle, 277 S.C. 377, 382, 287 S.E.2d 915, 918 (1982).  This power is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings and the due administration of justice.  Id.  The “determination of contempt ordinarily resides in the sound discretion of the trial judge.”  State v. Bevilacqua, 316 S.C. 122, 129, 447 S.E.2d 213, 217 (Ct. App. 1994).  An appellate court “should reverse a decision regarding contempt only if it is without evidentiary support or the trial judge has abused his discretion.”  Durlach v. Durlach, 359 S.C. 64, 70, 596 S.E.2d 908, 912 (2004) (internal quotation and citation omitted).  “An abuse of discretion occurs either when the court is controlled by some error of law or where the order, based upon findings of fact, lacks evidentiary support.”  Townsend v. Townsend, 356 S.C. 70, 73, 587 S.E.2d 118, 119 (Ct. App. 2003).

LAW/ANALYSIS

Law argues the probation court erred by holding her “in contempt, and imposing a ninety day additional sentence, where the record fails to disclose the nature of the alleged contemptuous conduct, and whether it allegedly occurred in the presence of the court or outside the presence of the court.”  We disagree.

Clearly, the alleged contemptuous conduct was signing the revocation order “Kiss My Ass” and instructing that the revocation order, signed in that manner, be given to the judge.  The revocation order is included in the record and is signed “Kiss My Ass”.  During the contempt hearing, the judge stated the probation agent brought the revocation order back to her.  Accordingly, the record clearly shows Law’s contemptuous conduct.

We now turn to Law’s argument that the record fails to disclose whether the contemptuous conduct occurred in the presence of the court or outside the presence of the court.  “South Carolina courts have always taken a liberal and expansive view of the ‘presence’ and ‘court’ requirements. This State’s courts have held the ‘presence of the court’ extends beyond the mere physical presence of the judge or the courtroom to encompass all elements of the system.” State v. Kennerly, 337 S.C. 617, 620, 524 S.E.2d 837, 838 (1999). 

No matter where Law signed the revocation order, her conduct was in the presence of the judge when she requested the revocation order be given to the judge and the judge reviewed the revocation order after receiving it.  Given the record before us, it was clearly within the probation court’s discretion to hold Law in contempt of court.

CONCLUSION

For the reason stated above, the order of the trial court is

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, SHORT, and WILLIAMS JJ., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.