A District of Columbia judge who ordered a doctor to pay a $5,000 fine for criminal contempt said he has no authority to return the money even though an appeals court vacated and dismissed the conviction.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman's declaration was filed Monday in the D.C. Court of Appeals, where lawyers for the doctor, W. Stuart Battle, filed a petition in October seeking to compel the trial judge to return the money.
The appeals court last year vacated the contempt conviction against Battle, represented by Cozen O’Connor partner Bernard Grimm. Last month, the court ordered Holeman and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to address whether Battle should get a refund. Federal prosecutors did not handle the contempt case; Holeman found Battle guilty of summary criminal contempt. More background on the case is here.
In Monday’s filing, Holeman said he has no authority to order a refund because Battle’s fine, paid in January 2009, has already passed into the District treasury. The doctor’s money, the judge said, is beyond the control of the court.
Federal prosecutors said in court papers filed Monday that Battle is entitled to the return of the fine. But the government lawyers on the brief suggested that Battle could challenge the denial of the return of his money on a direct appeal instead of through a writ of mandamus.
An assistant U.S. attorney, John Gidez, said the government found “no legal authority that would prevent the return of the fine” since the underlying conviction has been vacated. Gidez said it appears Holeman was required to order a refund.
The appeals court invited the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General to file a response. Lawyers for the District said Holeman not only had authority to return Battle’s money but that he should have done so.
"This authority exists incident to the vacation of the judgment under which [the fine] was ordered paid, it makes for economy of judicial effort to have the matter disposed of in the criminal proceeding, and there is no apparent reason given the vacation of the conviction why the fine paid should not be returned," the District's John Woykovsky, said in court papers.
Holeman said in his filing that after Battle paid his fine it immediately became the property of the United States or the District and that no court has authority under the law or any case to order a refund.
“When a fine paid to the Clerk of the Court has passed into the treasury of the state, it is beyond the legal control of the Court,” Holeman said in his brief.
The judge said Battle’s petition for his refund “cited no legal authority whatsoever” to support the position that the trial judge has the power—and is required—to return the money.
Holeman noted that District courts have no procedure of refunding fines after a conviction has been overturned.