Judge dismisses contempt charges against attorneys
By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — A judge dismissed contempt-of-court charges against four Rowan County attorneys Thursday in Rowan County Superior Court.
Judge W. David Lee had charged Todd Paris, Trippe McKeny, Tom Brooke and Ted Blanton on Monday afternoon after Lee said the attorneys did not show up for court at 2 p.m. that day.
A similar charge against James Davis was dismissed earlier in the week.
Lee, a judge for 27 years from Union County, told the court he was "frustrated" Monday when a slow day in court came to a halt. Lee said he was "dead in the water" without attorneys present to continue the calendar.
By 2:20 p.m., he ordered the attorneys to be held in contempt.
When they appeared before Lee Thursday morning, the attorneys presented their explanations separately, starting at 9:30 a.m. Reasons ranged from lunch at Hap's Grill to exhaustive caseloads.
McKeny and Blanton said they had been handling cases in district court at the time Lee's court came to a halt. McKeny said he contacted two assistant district attorneys to explain he was in a trial.
"I don't fault you for being busy," Lee said.
Brooke, an attorney from China Grove, said he had simply overlooked his case, the only one he had on the calendar Monday.
Paris told the court that, due in part to health issues, he was indisposed in the bathroom for a period of time around the 2 p.m. start. He also said he was working on several cases Monday.
Many of the attorneys said they arrived shortly after being contacted by court officials, but it was too late.
Following Davis, who went last, Lee seemed understanding of the explanations and told the court the charges against each would be dismissed.
Each attorney "provided sufficient reasons for the absence," Lee said.
The judge told the court the charges were at odds with the normal behavior of the attorneys, who he said are among those most frequently seen in court.
In a back-and-forth with former judge Ted Blanton, Lee joked that Blanton, like several of the others, was one of the most punctual attorneys in the county.
"Mr. Blanton is always here," he said.
But with clients waiting in the courtroom Monday afternoon, Lee said, "I didn't know what else to do."
Following the dismissal, attorneys conferred with clients in the courtroom to discuss if they were satisfied with their services.
It did not appear any client opposed.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.