A Travis County judge found defense attorney Adam Reposa in contempt on Tuesday for disrespecting another judge in a March drunken driving trial.
“You crossed the line,” Judge Paul Davis told Reposa.
Davis said he wasn’t ready to hand down a sentence and first wants to review evidence to determine which of the five allegations against Reposa rises to the level of contempt. The judge will announce the punishment — the maximum would be six months in jail — in the coming days.
In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutor Keith Henneke accused Reposa of “grandstanding to the jury and undermining the court” on March 27 when he told Travis County Judge Nancy Hohengarten within earshot of jurors that it was difficult to get a fair trial in her court. Reposa’s also accused of taking a rude tone with the judge, not following her order to approach the bench, and continuing to ask questions of a potential juror after he was told to stop.
Hohengarten declared a mistrial and excused the jury.
Reposa acknowledged fault on Monday, testifying that he “got a little hot.” He requested no jail time so he can be home with his two children.
Henneke said the apology was insincere. “He’s sorry he got caught.”
Henneke declined to recommend a sentence, but suggested probation would be difficult for the court to administer. Reposa’s attorney requested a fine.
Reposa in 2008 was found in contempt and served 10 days of a 90-day sentence for making a lewd gesture in court. Davis cut the sentence short because Reposa’s girlfriend was pregnant at the time and about to give birth.
In the recent contempt trial, Reposa’s lawyer, Steven Brand, argued his client is part of an important “fringe” group of criminal defense attorneys in Travis County who “push the envelope to keep our system honest.”
Brand added that any significant punishment against Reposa might have a “chilling effect” on other defense attorneys who now might be afraid of consequences for providing zealous representation to their clients.
And, Brand said, Hohengarten was out of line when she stated in front of jurors that Reposa had misstated the law on the questions he was permitted to ask them. That comment sparked Reposa’s controversial remarks, Brand added.
“That kills his client,” he said. “Now he’s vulnerable and his client is more vulnerable. The robe itself does not confer automatic respect.”
Hohengarten testified Monday in the opening day of the trial that Reposa’s conduct offended “the dignity of the court.”
A grand jury soon will hear a case against Hohengarten alleging official oppression because she limited the questions Reposa could ask jurors. Reposa, on the witness stand Tuesday, also accused Hohengarten of overriding the signature of another judge who had agreed to set aside a bond forfeiture for a defendant Reposa was representing.
Another defense attorney, Skip Davis, testified to a challenging encounter he had with Hohengarten which reached a head when the judge posted on Facebook that Davis was torturing her in trial. The Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association voted narrowly to not issue a letter of condemnation against the judge.