Man Denied Legal Fees for Nixed Contempt Charge

     (CN) – The 4th Circuit denied legal costs to a businessman charged with contempt of court for allegedly threatening jurors during a grand-jury proceeding. He had been incorrectly recorded as saying, “I have legal paperwork on all of you. You need to go get legal counsel.”

     Although the government may have been negligent in charging Kermit Bunn, the Virginia-based court ruled, the alleged threat had been backed up by testimony from the court reporter and the jury foreman.
     Bunn, who runs Bunn Construction of Ohio, was called before a grand jury to authenticate business records in 1998. He at first refused to take the oath. The court reporter recorded him as saying, “I have legal paperwork on all of you. You need to go get legal counsel.”
     The court charged him with contempt for allegedly threatening the grand jury. A $5,000 bond was placed against him, and because he couldn’t pay, he was handcuffed and led away in front of the jurors.
     Bunn later moved for discovery for a tape recording of the court proceeding. When the government reviewed the tape, it found that Bunn had actually said, “I have legal paperwork all of you need to go get legal counsel.”
     The government subsequently dismissed the contempt charge, deeming the statement too vague to prove a threat.
     Bunn filed for legal fees in 1999. He claimed the contempt charge was vexatious, frivolous and in bad faith under the Hyde Amendment.
     The federal appeals court in Richmond upheld the federal judge’s denial of Bunn’s motion for legal costs.
     The 4th Circuit said the government had a reasonable basis to charge Bunn with contempt, based on testimony by the court reporter and jury foreman.
     Although the testimony was faulty, this did not indicate a “broad-ranging conspiracy” by the court, Judge Karen Williams wrote.
     Although the government probably should have investigated more before bringing charges against Bunn, the court ruled, its actions reflect no “ill-intent … rather than simple negligence or lack of judgment.”

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