Ex Parte Robinson , 86 U.S. 505 ( 1874 )

  • 86 U.S. 505 (____)
    19 Wall. 505


    Supreme Court of United States.

    *510 Messrs. Durant and Hornor, for the petitioner. No opposing counsel.

    Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the facts of the case, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:

    The power to punish for contempts is inherent in all courts; its existence is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings, and to the enforcement of the judgments, orders, and writs of the courts, and consequently to the due administration of justice. The moment the courts of the United States were called into existence and invested with jurisdiction over any subject, they became possessed of this power. But the power has been limited and defined by the act of Congress of March 2d, 1831.[‡] The act, in terms, applies to all courts; whether it can be held to limit the authority of the Supreme Court, which derives its existence and powers from the Constitution, may perhaps be a matter of doubt. But that it applies to the Circuit and *511 District Courts there can be no question. These courts were created by act of Congress. Their powers and duties depend upon the act calling them into existence, or subsequent acts extending or limiting their jurisdiction. The act of 1831 is, therefore, to them the law specifying the cases in which summary punishment for contempts may be inflicted. It limits the power of these courts in this respect to three classes of cases: 1st, where there has been misbehavior of a person in the presence of the courts, or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice; 2d, where there has been misbehavior of any officer of the courts in his official transactions; and, 3d, where there has been disobedience or resistance by any officer, party, juror, witness, or other person, to any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of the courts. As thus seen the power of these courts in the punishments of contempts can only be exercised to insure order and decorum in their presence, to secure faithfulness on the part of their officers in their official transactions, and to enforce obedience to their lawful orders, judgments, and processes.

    If we now test the report of the grand jury by this statute, we find nothing in it which justified any proceeding whatever as for a contempt on the part of the court below against Robinson. No act of his is mentioned which could constitute within the statute a contempt either of the court or of its judge. The allegation that the witness Stephenson, after seeing Robinson, had suddenly absented himself, amounted to nothing more than an insinuation that possibly he may have been advised to that course by Robinson. There was no averment of any fact which the court could notice or the attorney was bound to explain.

    Whatever contempt was committed by the petitioner consisted in the tone and manner in which his language to the court was uttered. On this hearing we are bound to take the statements in that respect of the judge embodied in his order as true, for the question before us is not whether the court erred, but whether it had any jurisdiction to disbar the petitioner for the alleged contempt.

    *512 The law happily prescribes the punishment which the court can impose for contempts. The seventeenth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 declares that the court shall have power to punish contempts of their authority in any cause or hearing before them, by fine or imprisonment, at their discretion. The enactment is a limitation upon the manner in which the power shall be exercised, and must be held to be a negation of all other modes of punishment. The judgment of the court disbarring the petitioner, treated as a punishment for a contempt, was, therefore, unauthorized and void.

    The power to disbar an attorney proceeds upon very different grounds. This power is possessed by all courts which have authority to admit attorneys to practice. But the power can only be exercised where there has been such conduct on the part of the parties complained of as shows them to be unfit to be members of the profession. Parties are admitted to the profession only upon satisfactory evidence that they possess fair private character and sufficient legal learning to conduct causes in court for suitors. The order of admission is the judgment of the court that they possess the requisite qualifications both in character and learning. They become by such admission officers of the court, and, as said in Ex parte Garland,[*] "they hold their office during good behavior, and can only be deprived of it for misconduct ascertained and declared by the judgment of the court after opportunity to be heard has been afforded." Before a judgment disbarring an attorney is rendered he should have notice of the grounds of complaint against him and ample opportunity of explanation and defence. This is a rule of natural justice, and should be equally followed when proceedings are taken to deprive him of his right to practice his profession, as when they are taken to reach his real or personal property. And such has been the general, if not the uniform, practice of the courts of this country and of England. There may be cases undoubtedly of such gross and outrageous conduct in open court on the part of the *513 attorney, as to justify very summary proceedings for his suspension or removal from office; but even then he should be heard before he is condemned.[*] The principle that there must be citation before hearing, and hearing or opportunity of being heard before judgment, is essential to the security of all private rights. Without its observance no one would be safe from oppression wherever power may be lodged.

    That mandamus is the appropriate remedy in a case like this to restore an attorney disbarred, where the court below has exceeded its jurisdiction in the matter, was decided in Ex parte Bradley, reported in the 7th of Wallace. It would serve no useful purpose to repeat the reasons by which this conclusion was reached, as they are fully and clearly stated in that case, and are entirely satisfactory.

    A peremptory mandamus must issue, requiring the judge of the court below to vacate the order disbarring the petitioner, and to restore him to his office.


    Mr. Justice MILLER dissented.


    [‡] Ib.

    [*] 4 Wallace, 378.

    [*] Ex parte Heyfron, 7 Howard's Mississippi Reports, 127; People v. Turner, 1 California, 148; Fletcher v. Daingerfield, 20 Id. 430; Beene v. State, 22 Arkansas, 157; Ex parte Bradley, 7 Wallace, 364; Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Id. 354.