District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman may have felt teamed up on in a dispute over the return of a man's $5,000 fine in a criminal contempt case.
Federal prosecutors and lawyers for the District said this month in court papers that Holeman has the authority to order a refund of a man's fine since it was attached to a criminal conviction that an appeals court vacated. Holeman wasn't convinced.
Responding to a demand from the D.C. Court of Appeals to justify why the money should not be returned, Holeman said this month the fine is beyond his control. The former defendant, W. Stuart Battle, already cut a check. The money, the judge said, belongs to either the United States or the District of Columbia.
Battle’s lawyers at Cozen O’Connor in Washington have fought for the return of the fine for more than a year. Simple argument: the conviction was dismissed, so the money should be returned. An attorney for Battle, Cozen partner Bernard Grimm, petitioned the D.C. Court of Appeals in October, urging the court to order Holeman to refund the money.
With the appeals court weighing the rare dispute—and the potential for the court to publicly rebuke Holeman for failing to return the money sooner—the trial judge last week abruptly reversed himself. Holeman didn’t wait for an appellate court ruling.
In a nine-page order Nov. 23, Holeman told court officials to refund $5,000 to Battle, a doctor who was held in criminal contempt for skipping out on a medical malpractice trial appearance. More on the underlying case here.
“It’s unfortunate our client had to wait this long to get his money returned in a case where everyone agreed that it should be returned,” Grimm said.
Holeman based his decision in the interest of justice. Still, he took a parting shot at the federal prosecutors and District lawyers who earlier sided against him. Holeman’s Nov. 23 ruling is here.
The applicable District statute says all paid fines “immediately” become the property of the United States or the District of Columbia. Holeman said the DOJ attorneys and District lawyers failed to address the application of this statute and “seem simply to disregard it.”
Holeman said there is no appellate explanation of the judicial or administrative “mechanics” for the return of a defendant’s money and there is no reported case that the judge says gives him authority to order the return of the money.
In his ruling last week, the judge noted that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and New Jersey, have established procedures to handle the return of a defendant’s fine.