The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld one, but reversed nine contempt citations Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen had issued against defense attorney Bill James in the manslaughter trial of former Little Rock police officer Josh Hastings.
The Court said Griffen had properly held James in contempt summarily during the trial for bringing up information about the criminal records of witnesses against Hastings, contrary to the judge’s order. But the court said nine contempt citations Griffen added at the conclusion of the trial (which ended in a hung jury) were improper because they had not been issued immediately and thus James was entitled to a reasonable amount of time to raise a defense. No hearing on those citations was held.
The Supreme Court went on to say about the post-trial citations that it believed Griffen was incorrect in holding James in contempt on those counts. While James had attempted to question witnesses about state of mind, the court said James had not questioned about their records, the explicit instruction of the judge’s order.
“James cannot be held in contempt for not following what the court meant to order, but can only be held in contempt for violating the circuit court’s express commands.”
Griffen had originally fined James $2,500 each on the citations, but reduced the penalty to $500.
After two mistrials, the prosecution declined to try again to prosecute Hastings for fatally shooting a man in a car he’d suspected in car burglaries. Hastings said he fired because he felt endangered by the car. Police questioned Hastings’ honesty about events. Hastings was fired and has appealed the firing.