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Lawyer Jailed For Contempt Is Freed After 14 Years 408

H. Beatty Chadwick has been in a staring match with the judicial system for the past 14 years, and the system just blinked. Chadwick was ordered to pay his ex-wife $2.5 million after their divorce. He refused to pay saying that he couldn't because he lost the money in a series of "bad investments." The judge in the case didn't believe him and sent him to jail for contempt. That was 14 years ago. Last week another judge let Chadwick go saying that "continued imprisonment would be legal only if there was some likelihood that ultimately he would comply with the order; otherwise, the confinement would be merely punitive instead of coercive." Chadwick, now 73, is believed to have served the longest contempt sentence in US history.


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Lawyer Jailed For Contempt Is Freed After 14 Years

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  • Well... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bin_jammin ( 684517 ) <> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @10:58AM (#28770047)
    do we get to find his treasure now?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MiniMike ( 234881 )

      It might be gone already, if anyone else received the Nigerian-style scam (so I thought) letter from a PA prison as I did last year...

  • I guess (Score:5, Funny)

    by gubers33 ( 1302099 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:03AM (#28770089)
    This guy must have really hated his ex-wife.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yup, to intentionally lose all your money in bad investments is spiteful enough, then you realize this was 14 years ago, BEFORE the current economic downturn or the dotcom crash. That must have taken effort!

      Of course, his ex-wife is the judge who sent him to jail for it, so there's a lot of hate on both sides.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:03AM (#28770093)
    It's seriously scary that this guy was basically in debtors prison for 14 years! Wasn't it a bit obvious after say 6-12 months that the guy either didn't have the money or wasn't going to ever hand it over? I can't believe that the original judge thought it was fair and ok to keep this guy in jail for over a decade on the assumption (not proof) that he was lying.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by westlake ( 615356 )

      Wasn't it a bit obvious after say 6-12 months that the guy either didn't have the money or wasn't going to ever hand it over?

      If he has it - and refuses to pay - in jail he stays. You can't allow mule headed stubbornness to defeat the law.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:19AM (#28770281)

        You're right, the guy should suffer forever because he made the mistake of getting married.

        If this doesn't illustrate to men everywhere why getting married is a stupid idea, nothing ever will. You only have everything to lose by doing it. But no "she's not like that!" and "we're really in love and she'd never want anything from me!". Then it all goes south or she cheats on you and decides she wants 50% of everything you have or ever will have and becomes vindictive and spiteful and you end up giving her $2.5m or spending 20% of your life in prison. All because she decided you needed to pay for all those years of pussy after all (sounds like a retro-active hooker to me).

        Jut imagine how much more fun you could have had without any commitment and for far less than 50% of everything you'll ever earn? Man, I wish I were a woman. It's no risk and all gain!

        • by TerranFury ( 726743 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:18PM (#28771101)

          And this is yet one more reason why the government shouldn't be giving people marriages. Anyone. Gay or straight. There's no reason to regulate marriages -- which are a religious institution and personal committment -- in any way, whatsoever. If there are financial things attached to a marriage, they should be handled as a private contract like anything else. And with the contractual obligations of marriage made explicit rather than existing in the legal code, I think this kind of garbage would end -- because two people in love wouldn't make each other sign grossly unfair contracts.

          It's funny: I'm not particularly libertarian. I like government to do stuff. But I'm pretty staunchly libertarian on this because it seems like such a personal issue, and such an intrusion of government into the intimate parts of our lives which are simply not other people's business.

          Some hypothetical questions and answers:

          "Doesn't this mess up taxes?" Why does it need to? If someone is a dependent, it shouldn't matter why from the government's point of view.

          "But what if an 80-year-old wants to marry a 10-year-old girl?" Then he's committing statutory rape. We don't need separate laws.

          "But what if someone with AIDS marries someone without it? Shouldn't we require that people be tested?" Do we require government certification of sex partners in any other context?

          "Don't we need a way to understand 'who is a couple' for adoption purposes?" Is it currently illegal for single people to adopt children? Or to raise children?

          "But what about bigamists? Polyamorists?" The government doesn't snoop in people's homes to keep polyamorists from living together. Why should it care if people decide to make these kinds of arrangements long-term and official?

          The end. That's what I think.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mugnyte ( 203225 )

            Except you ignore the true ways marriage is used/abused and instead make up some wacky questions.

            Marriage changes certain rights a person has, and allows legal claims that arose because of abuse, not the other way around:

            - Would we allow families to marry off their daughter to older men in return for payment?
            - How would monetary issues, property ownership, health care coverage, duties of care for minors, and land transfers be regulated? Would a couple participate in both, but would we need the proof of id

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by julesh ( 229690 )

              Marriage changes certain rights a person has, and allows legal claims that arose because of abuse, not the other way around:

              It shouldn't change anything; that's the point. The legal status of two people who are married should be no different to the legal status of any other two people who are dependents (e.g. cohabiting partners).

              Would we allow families to marry off their daughter to older men in return for payment?

              Before I answer the question, remember that this happens anyway, whether or not the system p

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
          I had a friend who got divorced and his wife (who had left HIM, incidentally), had his dog put to sleep. I bullshit you not. Divorcing women can be vicious and spiteful in ways that men never even DREAM of.
      • by laron ( 102608 )

        After 14 years, that is a pretty big if. Any sane person would have payed after a few months, so IMHO chances are that he didn't have the money and the judge wasted 14 years of his life, never mind a large sum of taxpayers money.

      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        Ok, so "stealing" $2.5M from your ex-wife carries a 14 year prison sentence, but robbing a bank of a similar sum probably carries a smaller punishment. How exactly is that just?

        How is it that refusing to testify to a court should carry a lifetime prison sentence (if the judge feels so inclined)?

        • by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:10PM (#28771013)

          Ok, so "stealing" $2.5M from your ex-wife carries a 14 year prison sentence, but robbing a bank of a similar sum probably carries a smaller punishment. How exactly is that just?

          How is it that refusing to testify to a court should carry a lifetime prison sentence (if the judge feels so inclined)?

          Oh, it's better than that. He could have beaten her to death and gotten a lighter prison sentence.

    • You assume that our justice system makes sense.

    • by Bigby ( 659157 )

      So you are sent to jail for not paying, but let out of jail if you can't pay. Some would say they can just donate all their money to charity, but the court would seize that money.

      What would they do if I got a hold of the cash and literally burnt it? Would I avoid jail?

      • Depending on the country, you'd do time for burning money.

      • by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:34PM (#28771313)

        So you are sent to jail for not paying, but let out of jail if you can't pay.

        He didn't go to jail for not paying. He went to jail for contempt of court.

        He was getting divorced from his wife, and his wife alleged that he hid $2.5M in overseas accounts. He never contested the existence of the $2.5M, but claimed that he lost it all in bad business transactions.

        The judge said, "OK, show me documentation of these bad business transactions or show me the money." He said, "No." So the judge held in in contempt of court, not as a punishment for not paying, but to coerce him into paying (or at least showing what happened to all that money).

        The whole point of holding someone in contempt is not to punish that person--it is to coerce that person into complying with a lawful court order.

        The new judge found that after 14 years, Chadwick was not going to be coerced into complying with the order by further confinement, so holding him in contempt could no longer be considered a form of coercion. At that point, holding him further would have to be considered punishment without a trial. And as you surely are aware, it is illegal to deprive someone of life, liberty, or property in the US without due process of law (see US Constitution, Amendments 5 and 14).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 )
      Wouldn't you be willing to do 6-12 months for 2.5 million dollars? That's a large chunk of change, it's hard to say how long a person would be willing to hold out to keep it. And once you've been in for a year your thinking well that would be a huge waste if I gave it up now, I'm sure they'll blink first and let me out soon.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:07AM (#28770135) Homepage

    It's not like this is an RNO story. Chadwick wasn't imprisoned for taking a moral stand. Divorce isn't especially nerdy. What's the relevancy to my life that this story brings?

    I'm not trolling, either; I just want to know if there's some angle that I'm missing.

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:09AM (#28770159)

      He was imprisoned because the just -though- he was lying. No proof, just a judge's whim. You can't see how that affects you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ekimminau ( 775300 )
        >He was imprisoned because the just -though- he was lying. No proof, just a judge's whim. You can't see how that affects you?
        I wouldn't call it a "judges whim". A judge, in a court of law, ordered a plaintiff to comply with an order, i.e.

        "Show me the money or show me the proof you lost the money"

        An answer of "No" isn't either A or B. You are in contempt of a direct order from a judge of the court. He could have either produced the proof, even if it was a letter from a business partner saying "We lo
    • by Swizec ( 978239 )
      Don't piss off the judge when you're getting a divorce because you don't have boobs and will NOT be forgiven. It's valuable advice.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Agreed. I can tell you first-hand that walking into Family Court or anything remotely like it (say, Divorce Court) with a penis is grounds for immediate imprisonment.
    • by e9th ( 652576 ) <e9th&tupodex,com> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:16AM (#28770255)
      The next time a judge orders you to turn over the passphrases for your SSH/PGP private keys and holds you in contempt until you do so, it will seem very /. worthy.
      • by Eskarel ( 565631 )

        If a judge says you must turn over your SSH/PGP private keys, then you are legally obligated to do so.

        You are free to appeal, that's what appeals are for. You're free to fight it, again that's how the system is supposed to work, but if in the end you are ordered to turn over the keys, you are legally obligated to do so.

        If you believe that having to turn over those keys is something you cannot live with, you are free to take a stand and refuse to turn them over, that's your right as a human being and one of

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by flajann ( 658201 )

          ... I do not however have any problem at all with people being tossed in jail for however long for failing to comply with a court order. If we didn't allow that we'd have far less justice than we have now.

          What if the order was confiscatory, as is apparently the problem in this particular case? If you don't have 2.5 million dollars to give to your ex, you are unable to comply, period. There should be at least some evidence that YOU DO have the money, not just some idle speculation.

          This sort of thing scares the hell out of me, because I am in a divorce situation, and to think I could be thrown in jail for noncompliance with a confiscatory order for an indefinite amount of time!

          I would rather have a non-fu

    • by Bob9113 ( 14996 )

      Slashdot is for nerds. Law is code. Peculiar behavior in code is a possible bug worth looking into. This is pretty peculiar behavior, and we code specialists should examine it to see if it indicates a bug.

      Lawyers have a better grasp on the practice of law, but we are pretty good at analyzing the mechanical aspects. The public should take an interest in ensuring that law does not serve only lawyers, and we geeks have a skill that lets us help with that oversight. It's a duty we should take seriously, IMO.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:19AM (#28770279) Journal

    I fail to see where the benefit is in keeping an old man in jail for so long, at taxpayers expense, is.

    14 years? I've seen figures of $30,000 PA to keep a prisoner captive. [].

    So we're talking $420,000 so far spent on this man. Instead he could have had assets seized and been forced into work, and paying tax, and having some money garnished. Or his actual money would have shown up after a few years when he thought people weren't looking.

    It's not as if he was a danger to people on the street - the number one reason to put someone into jail.

    • You're missing the point - this is just attorneys' arrogance at work (on the public dime, no less). The Bard had it right - they lawyers need to go.

      This reminds me of a joke I heard from a court clerk:
      Q: Do you know what they call an attorney with an IQ under 80?
      A: Your Honor
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:21AM (#28770297)

    Lawyer Jailed for Contempt Freed After 14 Years

    The fact that he was a lawyer has little relation the story - he could've just as easily been a baker, a banker, a doctor...

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      The fact that he was a lawyer has little relation the story - he could've just as easily been a baker, a banker, a doctor...

      Actually the fact that he is a lawyer is probably the most important part of this.

      You see, the judge is a lawyer too, and he knows that the lawyer in front of him is full of shit and trying to get away with stuff. The only proof required is that he's a lawyer.

      Needless to say, throwing all lawyers in jail would be against the interests of the profession in general, so the *real* reason that he's in jail is that the judge is pissed at him for a prank he played on him at the Country Club.

      You don't fuck with a

  • How hard is it to prove he has the money?

  • This has got to be one of the scariest stories that I've ever read. No trial and not even evidence was necessary to put this guy in jail for 14 years. If that doesn't make you question the legal system nothing will. I think there is need for contempt of court punishments but they seriously need to be looked at in light of this case. For example, anything over two weeks should need the agreement of three judges and there should be a cap of a year. I would argue that in cases like this there should be a jury

    • Re:Wow, life fail (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:46AM (#28770665)

      Sometimes shit like this is necessary. I can't say whether it was in this case, because I don't know the details, but sometimes it is necessary. Personally, from what I've seen in the vast majority of cases where some millionaire divorces his wife and then claims poor, he sure as hell does still have the money and knows damned sure where it is.

      There can't be a cap on contempt of court, because if there was, there wouldn't be any court. If I can get sued, lose, and basically say "fuck you, I'm not turning over that money" and just wait three weeks in jail, then what's the motivation for ever paying that money. You'd just wait three weeks and walk away free and clear without having to pay a cent. That's what contempt of court means,

      This isn't an issue of trial or no trial, there was a court case, the divorce was a court case, he had ample opportunity within that case to prove he didn't have 5 million dollars(presuming a 50/50 split), he obviously failed to do so. Then the court case was decided, all nice and legal like, and he seemingly cried poor and said he couldn't pay. He again couldn't prove that, so they tossed his ass in jail. Contempt isn't something magical with no trial, and it's not generally the stuff you see on tv where someone just acts a bit like an ass in a court. This is failure to comply with a court order contempt, which is breaking the law. There doesn't need to be a trial on the contempt charge because quite obviously he is in contempt, he's been ordered by a court to do something, and he hasn't done it. It's a bit like being found guilty of murder and then saying, well I don't feel like going to prison. Only difference is they can drag your ass down to jail whereas they can't get back the money you hid offshore, so they do what they can to try and make you do what you should.

      Realistically the only reason this old geezer got freed was because he was 74 and the judge reckoned if he'd put up with 14 years he'd put up with another 20 and they got sick of feeding him, not because he was innocent or anything, he's still presumably failing to comply with a legal court order and is so still guilty of contempt of court(since he won this great game of chicken, he presumably has even more contempt for the court.

      FFS people, I know slashdot is largely male and largely single and full of contempt and bitterness for women and marriage, but whether or not you feel that a wife getting a portion of the families assets is right or wrong, if you let people refuse to follow the orders of the court you may as well scrap the whole system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by squoozer ( 730327 )

        The problem is you are saying he has to prove that he doesn't have the money. That's totally back to front. The other party should have to prove he does have the money. Making him prove he doesn't have something opens the system to abuse by his wife who presumably hates the guy because she left him to rot in a cell for 14 years (I'm assuming that if she waved the money the judge would probably have let the guy go).

        Note that I'm not saying the other party has to know exactly where the money is just build a s

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      This shouldn't be a hard matter. The wife can get a civil judgement based upon a preponderance of the evidence (it is more likely that he has $2.5M than not).

      Then she can seek to enforce it, and ask him to tesify about the location of the money.

      He can say that it doesn't exist or refuse to testify. So, then he can be charged with interference with collection of a lawful debt or perjury or whatever the crime is.

      Then a jury needs to decide if there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that he lied. He does

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:28AM (#28770389) Homepage

    I saw this story on TV a few years ago.

    This guy is a real tool. He was a multi-millionaire ultra-tightwad. He made his wife do all the landscaping on their mansion. She left him when he started rationing her toilet paper usage.

    Then when she sued for divorce he hid all his money in some offshore company and pretended it was lost in a "bad investment". It was a blatant lie. This guy deserves to rot in prison until he decides to come clean. He held the keys to his release the entire 14 years. He was just a stubborn liar.

    • Just goes to show: you can lead a man to the door, but you can't make him use your keys and walk through it.
    • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:41AM (#28770585) Homepage Journal

      Yes, he was a real asshole. The problem I have with this is that the legal system is supposed to be about what you can prove, not what you "know". You, the judge and I all know that this asshole isn't really broke. But if the judge and his ex-wife's lawyers can't prove that he has the money, then it's not right to hold him in a cell for so long.


    • by Roogna ( 9643 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:54AM (#28770809)

      Actually it was a complete waste to ever stick him in prison. As others have said, let him loose, tax the hell out of him, garnish his wages, and make him pay what he owed. But sitting in prison has simply cost the tax payers money, prevented him from paying his owed debt by working, and potentially collecting the money he "hid". The judge was a fool in this case and accomplished nothing.

      In fact this is a good example of why it's stupid to ever stick someone in prison because they owe money to someone else. It's far better to keep them out of prison, make sure they're working, and then collect the money owed. In fact, what are the odds that instead, they could have let him go, watched his bank transactions for a bit, then frozen his accounts and paid his debts? If he really did still have access to the money.

    • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:05PM (#28770955)

      Which means that he should have been tried in a court of law with a jury, and the prosecution should have had to prove that he did have he money.

      Just because we think someone is an asshole should not mean we get to imprison them.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:33PM (#28771309) Homepage

      Then when she sued for divorce he hid all his money in some offshore company and pretended it was lost in a "bad investment". It was a blatant lie. This guy deserves to rot in prison until he decides to come clean.

      No, he deserves to be charged with purjury, which is the crime of lying under oath. Then a jury needs to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he did in fact lie. Then he gets punished per the laws passed by the appropriate legislative body (which probably won't include 14 year prison sentences).

      People should go to jail for committing crimes. Crimes should be established by laws passed by legislative bodies. Whether somebody has committed a serious crime should be determined by a jury of their peers.

    • by superdave80 ( 1226592 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:35PM (#28771323)

      "This guy is a real tool....This guy deserves to rot in prison"

      Yeah, but what happens when some judge thinks you are a real tool, and deserves to rot in prison for 14 years? With no trial? No evidence? No jury?

  • Abuse of power (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:37AM (#28770521) Journal
    This judge should be removed from the bench, and perhaps prosecuted for doing this to this man. 14 years! WTF?
  • I'll just keep reading sits like and No seriously, before someone jumps down my throat for saying that. I think if I was this guy, I would have worked out some kind of deal with my ex-wife before I spent what could be the majority of my golden years in jail. I never understood why people want so much stuff from their ex, most of the time requiring that they have to stay in contact with them. I would understand if children were involved, but I've never wanted to
  • That's what ya get folks

    For Makin Whoopee

  • Truly Insane... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flajann ( 658201 ) <fred.mitchell@ g m x . de> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:24PM (#28771177) Homepage Journal
    This is truly insane. There should be limits on how long a judge can lock you away "for contempt." Also, there should be some evidence that you have the ability to comply with the court order. What we now have is a system so broken that any judge, if he so wishes, can hit you with a confiscatory order and lock you away for years for "noncompliance".

    This is NOT the type of country I want to live in. I would rather live in the old Soviet Union!

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