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Lawyer – Jailed – Contempt – Springfield, Mo

Lawyer jailed for behavior in court
LAURA BAUER, The Kansas City Star
PUBLICATION: Kansas City Star, The (MO)

SECTION: NEWS

DATE: August 2, 2008

EDITION: 1

Page: B1
When Kansas City lawyer Carlos D. Romious represented a man accused of fraud in southwest Missouri earlier this summer, he became the talk of the county courthouse.

Lawyers told one another to peek into Judge Thomas Mountjoy’s courtroom to see Romious in action, remembered Dee Wampler, a criminal defense lawyer in Springfield.

“We thought it was an attorney trying to be cute or someone who was a wordsmith, and maybe we could learn something from him,” Wampler said Friday. “We did learn something. We learned that if we say rude and insinuating things to the judge, he’s going to come down on us.”

Indeed, that’s what Mountjoy — a former prosecutor known for his calm on the bench — did. Last week, the judge held Romious in contempt of court and threw him in the county jail with a sentence of 120 days.

In a three-page judgment, Mountjoy described Romious’ behavior as loud and rude and said that on one occasion Romious called the proceedings “a joke” and in another asked the judge, “Are you a pedophile?”

Stories of lawyers behaving badly have spilled from courtrooms across the nation and make funny fodder for television courtroom dramas. Take the North Carolina lawyer fined earlier this year for reading a Maxim magazine in the courtroom, or the Florida lawyer in trouble after calling a judge an “evil, unfair witch” a couple of years ago on Halloween.

Other lawyers have been reprimanded for constantly showing up late. But a judge locking up a lawyer is not so common, lawyers say.

How about for 120 days?

“Never heard of anything that long,” said John Picerno, a Kansas City criminal defense lawyer. “When you think of the people we present who don’t get any time — they can sell drugs and get probation — it’s a huge sentence.”

But, Picerno said, maybe not so outrageous.

“If he really said those things, he was way over the line,” Picerno said. “Personally degrading the judge — that’s something you cannot do.”

Romious, a lawyer in private practice, is in the Greene County Jail. He could not be reached because employees do not relay phone messages to inmates, a dispatcher said Friday.

In his judgment of Romious’ courtroom behavior, Mountjoy cited 13 examples in various appearances between April 24 and June 18. Romious traveled to Springfield and the Greene County courthouse to represent Alton Vaughn of St. Charles in a jury trial for allegedly defrauding eight people from December 2003 to May 2005.

All but one example detailed by Mountjoy occurred during hearings for pretrial motions in mid-June.

Among the examples: Romious accused the court of “corrupting and stinking up the case” and “corrupting this system.” He also accused the court of “being anything but impartial … and anything but competent” and said, “You going to sit up there with the audacity and the smugness of your holiness.”

The judge wrote that Romious’ behavior was “willfully and intentionally committed, contemptuous, insolent and directly tended to interrupt the proceedings of this Court and the respect due to its authority.” Mountjoy declined to talk about the case Friday.

Missouri Supreme Court records show no disciplinary actions against Romious. The disciplinary counsel investigates allegations of lawyer misconduct if a complaint is filed or the office hears about a possible case, said Sam Phillips, deputy chief disciplinary counsel.

As for Romious, he’s been in jail since July 24 and, according to a dispatcher Friday, will stay there until 4:45 p.m. Nov. 20.