BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J.; ROBERTSON AND GRIFFIN, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Implicated in today's appeal is a fundamental question of the nature of constructive criminal contempt of court. Complicating matters were appointment of a special judge and a de facto change of venue.
Criminal contempt is an offense against the legal institution, the court, not the judge individually. The identity of the court does not change, though a judge from another court be appointed specially, nor though the case is being heard in another venue. Because the Court below ignored
these premises, we reverse and render.
In December of 1980, a divorce decree was entered by the Chancery Court of Lowndes County, granting Thomas C. Harvey a divorce from Mary Beverly Harvey. Subsequently, Mary Beverly filed a motion to have her former husband held in contempt (not the contempt in today's case). This motion was also filed in the Chancery Court of Lowndes County and was predicated upon an alleged violation of the child custody provisions of the divorce decree. Thereafter, each of the two Lowndes County Chancery Judges recused himself from the cause, and Chancery Judge Nathan P. Adams, Jr., of Washington County was designated special judge to hear the cause.
Harvey, an attorney, was represented by his associate, Charles L. Culpepper, appellant in the case at bar. During settlement negotiations regarding enforcement of the child custody decree, Culpepper falsely represented to counsel opposite, and to the Court, that his client was willing to settle, when in fact his client knew nothing about the proposed settlement. After learning of Culpepper's misrepresentations, Harvey retained another attorney. When confronted about the misrepresentations, Culpepper stated that he felt he had failed in representing his employer/client, and that he (Culpepper) had been unable to bring himself to tell Harvey of his failures.
On June 14, 1984, Culpepper was charged by information with constructive contempt of court. The information was filed in the Chancery Court of Washington County and charged Culpepper with contempt of the Chancery Court of Washington County.
Culpepper filed a demurrer, claiming that the court was without jurisdiction, since only the court contemned may punish contempt. The trial court overruled the demurrer, and, after a trial, on October 17, 1984, adjudged Culpepper to be in contempt of the Chancery Court of Washington County. From that conviction and the sentence of a $500.00 fine and a thirty day suspended jail term, Culpepper appeals, claiming that the court was without jurisdiction to hear the contempt charge.
A criminal contempt is conduct that is directed against the dignity and authority of the court" or a judge acting judicially, "not individually. Hentz v. State, 496 So. 2d 668,
Criminal contempt proceedings vindicate the authority of the court. Varvaris v. State, 512 So. ...