Tensions ran high today in Section C of New Orleans Criminal Court, where Judge Ben Willard held four different people in contempt of court within the space of an hour.
Attorneys and spectators in Willard's courtroom today were taken aback when the judge issued contempt charges against three assistant district attorneys and, in a separate case, a criminal defendant. According to witnesses, Willard briefly had the four taken into custody before he rescinded his order.
The judge apparently was upset at the prosecutors when they weren’t prepared to go to trial in an attempted first-degree murder case. The prosecutors explained to Willard that they were unable to get a key witness into court, so they requested a capias or material witness bond to secure the witness.
Willard reportedly denied the requests, then held the prosecutors in contempt when they refused to go ahead with the trial without the witness.
The second flare-up came up a short time later. In that case, a defendant was handcuffed and held in contempt despite appearing in court as scheduled with his attorney Rick Teissier. According to Teissier, both he and prosecutors were in court to schedule a date for trial.
Willard apparently had a different timetable in mind and asked that trial proceedings begin. When both Teissier and prosecutors balked, the defendant – who had been free on bond – was ordered to jail.
Teissier immediately objected. He later questioned legality of the judge’s actions.
"I'm yelling foul. I think that a judge that misuses his power to that extent and makes a mockery out of that courtroom by throwing four people in jail who shouldn't be in jail, is a definitely abuse of power and maybe a perversion of power."
Within hours, Willard rescinded all the contempt charges and all four people were released.
Late Friday, Judge Willard responded, denying that he held the ADAs and the client in contempt. According to Willard, the defendant Quentin Rogers was previously held in contempt so he was remanded.