Friday, August 22, 2014

Summary Contempt Finding For Wearing Religious Head Covering Reversed

Without reaching the free exercise issue, in State of New Jersey v, Graham, (NJ App., Aug. 12, 2014), the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division held that a municipal court judge acted improperly in summarily holding a defendant facing a disorderly persons charge in contempt.  As explained by an ACLU press release:
When Matthew Graham went before Egg Harbor City Municipal Judge William Cappuccio in Oct. 2013, the judge held Graham in contempt for not removing his hat, despite Graham’s explanation that he wore it for religious purposes. When Judge Cappuccio stated that he knew of no religion that required the wearing of a “ski cap,” Graham attempted to explain that he lacked the funds to travel to the store where he could purchase a more traditional religious cap.
On apppeal (after a battle over indigency status of the defendant), the appeals court in a brief order said:
We do not beleive that wearing of what the municipal judge called a "ski cap" during the proceeding, compelled invocation of the extraordinary judicial contempt powers to summarily adjudicate a defendant's conduct. A contempt proceeding on notice and an order to show cause was available to deal effectively with defendant's conduct, if warranted.
The ACLU's brief discusses the 1st Amendment issues involved.