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State v. Zarafu

Decided: April 28, 1955.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ANNA ZARAFU, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

This is an appeal from a conviction for contempt in facie curiae in the Municipal Court of the Borough of Fairview, Bergen County.

On December 17, 1954 defendant appeared in the Municipal Court of Fairview both as a defendant charged with disorderly conduct under N.J.S. 2 A:170-29, and as a complaining witness against a police officer for assault and battery. Defendant claims this latter charge was actually atrocious assault and battery.

The record on appeal is fragmentary and disjointed. It does not indicate whether Mrs. Zarafu was ever sworn. Her counsel requested an adjournment of the hearing on the disorderly person charge because his client was emotionally upset and not well enough to take the stand in her own behalf. The request was denied and counsel thereupon withdrew from the case.

The attorney for the police officer then asked that the case against his client proceed. Mrs. Zarafu stated she was not ready to proceed because she was sick. She insisted upon having counsel. There was a motion for a directed verdict on her complaint against the officer, whereupon defendant said to moving counsel, "Oh, nuts, you do not." The court warned her that she would be held in contempt. After granting the motion it proceeded to consider the police officer's complaint against defendant under the Disorderly Persons Act. He read the charge. Defendant claimed she was sick, and that she could not hear or talk. The court entered a plea of not guilty.

The record then becomes very confusing. After the police officer had begun to testify the court suggested that he first be sworn. Defendant, apparently believing that the remark was addressed to her, refused, stating she could not raise her right hand and did not know what she was saying. When the court sought to interrogate her she refused to answer, again claiming she could not talk. She demanded counsel and asked for a postponement. She continually interrupted the court's interrogation so that the magistrate again had to warn

her she would be held in contempt. He offered her a recess of 15 to 20 minutes to discuss the matter further with her attorney. She repeatedly declared she was being deprived of her rights and refused to answer anything. The court then found her guilty on the complaint, as charged. Defendant went into a tirade over the decision, interrupting the court despite warnings. The court tried to reason with her in the face of constant interruptions. It finally held her in contempt.

Sentence on both the disorderly person charge and the contempt was postponed for two weeks, to December 28, 1954. On that date the court fined defendant $100 as a disorderly person, suspending the fine on condition that she at no time go to the tavern where the brawl took place. Defendant's attorney -- the same one who had withdrawn at the time of the hearing -- then asked that defendant be given an opportunity to be heard on the contempt charge before the court passed judgment. The magistrate refused, stating that this was not necessary where the contempt had taken place in the presence of the court. A fine of $25 was imposed. This appeal ensued.

Our cases uniformly hold that any act or conduct which obstructs or tends to obstruct the course of justice, constitutes a contempt. In re Caruba , 139 N.J. Eq. 404 (Ch. 1947), affirmed 140 N.J. Eq. 563 (E. & A. 1947), certiorari denied 335 U.S. 846, 69 S. Ct. 69, 93 L. Ed. 396 (1948).

N.J.S. 2 A:10-1 provides the statutory authority in the instant case:

"The power of any court of this state to punish for contempt shall not be construed to ...


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