Macon lawyer fined, found guilty of 3 counts of contempt
‘I’m assertive, but I’m not stupid,’ Brinson says
A Macon lawyer was found guilty of three counts of contempt Thursday and ordered to pay a $750 fine.
If the fine isn’t paid within a week, she faces four days in jail.
Appearing in Bibb County Superior Court, Veronica Brinson denied the 10 contempt allegations filed against her.
During her testimony, Brinson said she takes her career seriously and wouldn’t intentionally defy a judge’s order.
“That’s just not me,” she said. “I’m assertive, but I’m not stupid.”
Tripp Self, the Macon Judicial Circuit’s chief Superior Court judge, filed the contempt of court charges Sept. 26, alleging that Brinson had filed multiple documents in a former client’s case after another judge, Howard Simms, had ordered her not to.
Simms had issued an order Sept. 17 removing Brinson as attorney for Frank Reeves, a 74-year-old man charged with shooting a woman to death outside a gas station in 2012. In his order, Simms deemed Brinson’s representation “ineffective,” and he appointed a public defender to represent Reeves.
The order instructed the Superior Court clerk not to accept any additional filings from Brinson in the case.
Simms amended the order Sept. 18 to say that Brinson herself wasn’t allowed to file any documents in the Reeves case.
Brinson admitted Thursday that she filed documents -- a letter and a motion Sept. 19 and two motions on Sept. 24 -- but maintained that she wasn’t aware of the Sept. 18 prohibition until she read Self’s contempt citation.
Asked if she would have filed the motions if she had read the judge’s order, she responded Thursday, “Of course not.”
Brinson said she filed the documents to try to preserve Reeves’ rights.
Her lawyer, Franklin J. Hogue, submitted emails exchanged between Brinson and Superior Court Clerk Erica Woodford as evidence that Brinson wasn’t aware of the amended order.
He also submitted an email Brinson sent Self on Sept. 15 in which she asked for guidance.
Brinson read the email aloud from the witness stand.
“I respect all of you and I hope that I am not being perceived as being disrespectful or challenging the court. I need for someone to tell me if that is what the judges think,” she said.
She asked for any “suggestions for being respectfully assertive without causing a problem.”
“I just want to check myself,” Brinson said.
Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Woods Miller testified that she talked with Brinson Sept. 23 and it didn’t appear as though Brinson was aware of the amended order.
Miller said she had given a copy to Brinson’s son, a paralegal working in Brinson’s law practice, on Sept. 19 while he was in the courthouse on another matter.
In his arguments to Judge John D. Allen, Hogue maintained there’s no evidence to dispute Brinson hadn’t read the amended order when she filed the documents. Allen is a senior Superior Court judge from the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit. Judges in the Macon circuit disqualified themselves from hearing the case.
Self, speaking in support of the contempt citation, told the judge it concerned him that Brinson’s defense was that she didn’t read the order and therefore isn’t bound by its contents.
“That disturbs me on a great level,” he said.
In his opening statement, he told the judge he didn’t file the contempt citation out of any desire to persecute Brinson, a recent allegation.
“I filed this citation because I have a duty to protect the integrity of the court,” he said. “This has been my only motivation.”
Allen found Brinson guilty of contempt on the charges stemming from her filing the two Sept. 24 motions and an allegation that she impeded the work of the new attorney assigned to represent Reeves.
“The court is particularly concerned with all the contentions of ‘I didn’t know there was another order, thus I took the actions that I took,’” Allen said.
He noted that “the filings themselves appear to be more addressed to the concerns of Ms. Brinson for her own reputation than Mr. Reeves. She knew at that time that she had no right to file anything on behalf of Mr. Reeves.”
Allen said he interpreted the original Sept. 17 order to be a prohibition against Brinson filing anything in the Reeves case.
“We can deduce from that that she filed those documents knowing her access was limited,” he said.
By filing requests for an appeal, she could have delayed the case if an appeal had been docketed, the judge said.
Allen cleared Brinson of seven other counts of contempt, five of which stemmed from allegations that she made false or misleading statements.
Hogue argued that the statements weren’t intentionally misleading and they didn’t meet the standard of causing a danger to the administration of justice.
Allen ruled in Brinson’s favor in regard to the statements, but he told her from the bench, “You should take no consolation in that. ... There are still issues that might be susceptible to being dealt with at the (State Bar of Georgia), just maybe not proving beyond a reasonable doubt” as required in the contempt proceeding.
Frank Dixon, Frank Reeves’ son, attended Thursday’s hearing, as did the lawyers prosecuting and defending his father.
Reeves’ case is still pending.