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STEVE VARVARIS, SR. v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

SEPTEMBER 02, 1987

STEVE VARVARIS, SR.
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., PRATHER AND ROBERTSON, JJ.

PRATHER, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

A conviction of direct criminal contempt of court is the subject matter of this appeal. In the County Court of Hinds County, Mississippi Steve Varvaris, Sr., appellant here, was found to be in direct criminal contempt of court by the county court judge. Varvaris was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $100. On appeal Varvaris asserts the following errors:

(1) Appellant was denied due process of law when the trial court judge sat as judge in the contempt hearing; subsequently acted as a witness to the contempt; and used his own testimony as the sole basis for his ruling.

 (2) The trial court erred in ruling that the appellant was guilty of contempt of court beyond a reasonable doubt;

 I.

 On the morning of January 16, 1986, Varvaris testified as a witness in county court in a habeas corpus hearing for his son. Upon his dismissal from the witness stand, Varvaris began talking in a loud voice. Despite objections from the Assistant District Attorney Mike Wallace and instructions from his own attorney, Varvaris continued talking. County Judge James D. Bell saw Varvaris look at Wallace and heard Varvaris say "If you keep messing with my boy, I'm gonna blow your goddam brains out, m____r f____r." Judge Bell then charged Varvaris with criminal contempt of court.

 Several hours later Varvaris, with his attorney and the assistant district attorney, was brought before Judge Bell at which time Judge Bell stated,

 You're here under my order and at my direction for the charge of direct criminal contempt of court for a statement you made in an outburst at a hearing this morning. I had wanted to give you an opportunity if you choose to take that opportunity, to explain your statement.

 Varvaris claimed he did not threaten the assistant district attorney but had merely repeated the former threats made by police to his son. Mrs. Varvaris and a Mr. Harding appeared as witnesses and corroborated Varvaris's story.

 Relying on his own recollection of events that occurred in his presence, Judge Bell recited for the record those

 events and adjudged Varvaris in direct criminal contempt of court. Varvaris was sentenced to serve 30 days in the Hinds County Jail and to pay a $100 fine. Varvaris now appeals.

 II.

 The distinction between civil contempt from direct or indirect criminal contempt was discussed in Pugliese v. Pugliese, 347 So.2d 422 (Fla. 1977), as follows:

 "If the purpose of the proceedings is to coerce action or non-action by a party, the order of contempt is characterized as civil. This type contempt proceeding is ordinarily instituted by one of the parties to the litigation who seeks to coerce another party to perform or cease performing an act. The order of contempt is entered by the court for the private benefit of the offended party. Such orders, although imposing a jail sentence, classically provide for termination of the contemnor's sentence upon purging himself of the contempt. The sentence is usually ...


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