DILLARD, C. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.
notice and a hearing, the trial court found attorney Trace
Dillon in criminal contempt of court after he repeatedly
filed several nearly identical petitions for scire facias
under the wrong case number, the last of which was filed
after the trial court had admonished him not to do so. On
appeal, Dillon contends that the evidence was insufficient to
support the trial court's finding of criminal contempt.
For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
appeal from a conviction for criminal contempt, we view the
evidence in a light favorable to the trial court's
ruling." (Footnote omitted.) Dogan v. Ga. Dept. of
Human Resources, 278 Ga.App. 905, 905 (1) (630 S.E.2d
140) (2006). The record shows that Dillon conducts a
commercial debt collection practice. In 2007, Dillon obtained
a judgment in Case No. 06VS103736 in the State Court of
Fulton County. After the judgment became dormant, Dillon
filed a complaint to revive the dormant judgment in 2014. The
revival complaint was designated as Case No. 14VS003116.
Dillon subsequently dismissed Case No. 14VS003116 without
prejudice in 2015.
petition. On September 21, 2015, Dillon filed a petition
for writ of scire facias in Case No. 14VS003116 in an attempt
to collect the judgment that he had obtained in Case No.
06VS103736. At the hearing, the trial court denied the
petition because Dillon had previously dismissed Case No.
14VS003116 without prejudice. At that time, Dillon became
aware that any subsequent petition for writ of scire facias
should not be filed in Case No. 14VS003116.
petition. On June 10, 2016, Dillon filed a second
petition for writ of scire facias, again under Case No.
14VS003116. Dillon had reviewed the second petition before
signing it, but he apparently failed to notice that the
petition bore the wrong case number. The trial court denied
the second petition on the same ground as it denied the first
petition, finding that "it cannot now consider
Plaintiff's Petition for Scire Facias to Revive Dormant
Judgment after Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed [Case No.
14VS003116] without prejudice[.]" By this time, Dillon
was very much aware that any subsequent petition for writ of
scire facias should not be filed in Case No. 14VS003116.
petition. On or about September 9, 2016, Dillon filed a
third petition for writ of scire facias, again under Case No.
14VS003116. Dillon had also reviewed the third petition
before signing it, but he apparently failed to notice that
the petition bore the wrong case number again. The trial
court entered an order denying the third petition on the same
ground as it did the previous petitions, writing in part,
"[i]f counsel for Plaintiff files a fourth identical
[petition], the [c]ourt will refer this matter to the State
Bar of Georgia for investigation."
petition. After the trial court's third order,
Dillon met with his staff and determined that the software
that they used to generate pleadings was automatically
inserting 14VS003116 because it was the most recent civil
action file number associated with their case file.
Accordingly, Dillon claims that he had Case No. 14VS003116
deleted from his software system and instructed his staff to
prepare a fourth petition without a case number on it.
Inexplicably, he failed to consult with other members of his
staff or the Clerk of Court to find out whether he should
leave the case number assignment blank or insert 06VS103736,
the case number of the original action in which the judgment
was obtained. Had Dillon done so, he would have been able to
confirm that the filing procedures in Fulton County State
Court require petitions for scire facias to be filed in the
original action in which the judgment was obtained. After
signing the fourth petition without a case number assignment,
Dillon had the petition forwarded to his paralegal for
filing. However, Dillon failed to provide any instructions to
his paralegal regarding the assignment of a case number for
the fourth petition. Consequently, the paralegal inserted
14VS003116 as the case number assignment and e-filed the
fourth petition in the State Court of Fulton County.
Dillon's filing of the fourth identical petition, the
trial court issued an order requiring Dillon to appear before
the court and show cause why he should not be held in
contempt. After considering the evidence and arguments
presented at the contempt proceedings, the trial court found
that Dillon voluntarily signed the petitions without ensuring
that the proper case number had been assigned to them.
Despite the trial court's admonition in its third order,
Dillon caused the fourth incorrect petition to be filed,
later admitting that he did not do "everything that [he]
could have" to prevent the repeated filings of the
petition under the wrong case number. Although Dillon
explained that the repeated filings were the product of his
software system and certain actions on the part of his staff,
the trial court found that "[Dillon] knew of the[ ]
numerous improper filings in this action and failed to take
reasonable remedial action or prospective action[, ] . . .
[and that] . . . it was Mr. Dillon's obligation, not his
non-lawyer staff, to ensure that the pleadings he signed and
ordered to be filed did not violate this [c]ourt's prior
orders." Accordingly, the trial court found that
Dillon's actions or inactions were willful in light of
the circumstances, and it found him in contempt of court.
This appeal ensued.
two-related enumerations of error, Dillon contends that the
evidence was insufficient to support the finding of contempt.
OCGA § 15-1-4 (a) (1) clearly contemplates, and as we
have previously held, criminal contempt involves some form of
wilful disrespect toward the court; it may involve
intentional disregard for or disobedience of an order or
command of the court, or it may involve conduct which
interferes with the court's ability to administer
justice." (Punctuation and footnote omitted.) Moton
v. State, 332 Ga.App. 300, 302 (772 S.E.2d 393) (2015).
A court is authorized to find an attorney, as an officer of
the court, in contempt for misbehavior in his or her official
transactions or for disregarding an order or command of the
court. OCGA § 15-1-4 (a) (2)-(3). Furthermore,
"OCGA § 15-1-4 (a) (2) is intended to impose upon
officers of the courts engaged in their official transactions
a higher duty to the court than is demanded of
[others]." (Citations omitted.) In re
Beckstrom, 295 Ga.App. 179, 182 (2) (671 S.E.2d 215)
(2008). Accordingly, "courts have broader contempt
powers in cases of misbehavior of any of the officers of the
to Dillon's arguments, his actions or inactions were not
merely negligent; they were in derogation of his
responsibilities and duties as an attorney and officer of the
court. According to his testimony, he took initial steps to
remedy the discrepancy in the repeated petitions; however, in
light of the higher duty imposed upon officers of the court,
we believe that Dillon's disregard of his duty to ensure
that the problem was alleviated before filing the fourth
petition was sufficient to support the finding of contempt.
facts of this case are analogous to those found in the case
of In re Spruell, 227 Ga.App. 324 (489 S.E.2d 48)
(1997). In re Spruell involved an attorney who
agreed on a Thursday evening to represent a client at a DUI
trial four days later. At the time he was hired, Spruell knew
he was leaving the next morning for vacation in a remote area
where he would be unreachable. Although he did file a request
for a leave of absence and a motion for continuance in an
attempt to alleviate the problem, Spruell left town
without knowing whether leave had been granted and
without making arrangements for someone else to cover the
trial if it was not continued. We held that the evidence was
sufficient to support a finding of criminal contempt, as a
rational fact-finder could infer that "Spruell was
wilfully disrespectful when he disregarded the scheduling
order and forced the court to revise its schedule to fit his
convenience." Id. at 325 (1).
Dillon was aware that he had filed three identical petitions
for scire facias with the trial court, and each petition was
dismissed due to his failure to utilize the correct case
number. The trial court placed Dillon on notice that there
would be adverse consequences if he filed a fourth identical
petition. Although Dillon took some steps to remedy the
discrepancy, he failed to follow through and personally
ensure that the proper case number was utilized
before filing his fourth petition with the trial court. As
the trial court correctly noted, Dillon did not do everything
he could have to ensure compliance with the trial court's
orders and to avoid interfering with the trial court's