Ex Parte Bradley
Annotate this Case
74 U.S. 364 (1868)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Ex Parte Bradley, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 364 364 (1868)
Ex Parte Bradley
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 364
1. The Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, as organized by the Act of March 3, 1363, is a different court from the criminal court as fixed by the same act, though the latter court is held by a judge of the former. Hence the former court has no power to disbar an attorney for a contempt of the latter.
2. An attorney cannot be disbarred for misbehavior in his office of an attorney generally, upon the return of a rule issued against him for contempt
of court, and without opportunity of defense or explanation to the first-named charge.
3. Mandamus lies from this Court to an inferior court to restore an attorney at law disbarred by the latter court when it had no jurisdiction in the matter, as, ex. gr., for a contempt committed by him before another court.
This case arose out of a petition by Joseph H. Bradley, Esq., to this Court for the writ of mandamus, directed to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to restore him to the office of attorney and counselor in said court, from which he alleged that he had been wrongfully removed by it on the 9th of November, 1867.
It appeared that the said "Supreme Court of the District of Columbia" had issued a rule against Mr. Bradley reciting certain offensive language which it alleged had been used by Mr. Bradley at the previous June Term of the "criminal court" to Mr. Justice Fisher, presiding justice, pending a trial there for murder, and for which language the said justice, on the 10th August, entered a judgment ordering the name of Mr. Bradley to "be stricken from the rolls of attorneys practicing in this Court." The rule of the Supreme Court referred also to certain alleged conduct of Mr. Bradley at the time that Judge Fisher announced the order disbarring him in the criminal court, and to a certain letter previously delivered to that judge, who had been holding the said court, and it concluded in these words:
"And the said conduct requiring, in our opinion, investigation by this Court, it is therefore ordered, that said Joseph H. Bradley show cause, on or before the fourth day of November next, why he should not be punished for contempt of this Court by reason of said offensive conduct and language towards one of its members and relating to the official acts of the said justice."
To this rule Mr. Bradley made a return in which, after expressing his satisfaction at the opportunity afforded him by it to present his statement and version of the facts involved in the investigation, and thus "to purge himself from any intentional disrespect, contumely, or contempt towards
the court or any member thereof in the transaction referred to," he set up as one reply, among others, that the Supreme Court had "no power, authority, or jurisdiction to punish for an alleged contempt committed in another forum."
It will be seen from this return of Mr. Bradley's to the rule of the Supreme Court of the District issued against him that his defense turned, so far as respected this point, upon the question whether there was or was not a criminal court in the District as distinguished from its Supreme Court, a matter depending on a history and upon statutes which are now set forth:
By an act passed in 1801, [Footnote 1] there was organized for the District the "Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, vested with all the powers of the circuit courts of the United States." It had "cognizance of all crimes and offenses committed within said District, and of all cases in law and equity," &c.
By act of 1802, [Footnote 2] it was provided that the Chief Judge of the District of Columbia should hold a district court in and for the said District, "which court shall have and exercise within said District the same powers and jurisdiction which are by law vested in the district courts of the United States."
Thus stood the jurisdiction until the passage of an Act, July 7, 1838, [Footnote 3] "to establish a criminal court in the District of Columbia" for the trial of all causes and offenses committed in the District. This act provided that
"The said criminal court shall have jurisdiction now held by the circuit court for the trial and punishment of all crimes and offenses, and the recovery of all fines and forfeitures and recognizances."
It provided also for a writ of error from the circuit court or any judge thereof in any criminal case wherein final judgment had been pronounced by the "criminal court" convicting any person of any crime or misdemeanor.
It was further provided by an amendment of 20th of February, 1839, [Footnote 4] that the judge of the criminal court
authorized to make all needful rules of practice, and to provide a seal for said court, and also that in any case where the party might be related to the judge of the criminal court, then the case and the record thereof should be sent to the Circuit Court of the District, to be there tried and determined as if this act and the act to which it is supplemental had never been passed."
Thus things stood till the 3d March, 1863, [Footnote 5] when by act of that date the courts of the District were reorganized.
The first section of that organic act established a court, to be called the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, which shall have general jurisdiction in law and equity, and consist of four justices, one of which shall be chief justice.
The third section provided that the Supreme Court should possess the same powers and exercise the same jurisdiction as was then possessed and exercised by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia.
The justices of the court (the act proceeds) shall severally possess and exercise the jurisdiction now possessed and exercised by the judges of the said circuit court. Any one of them may hold the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia in the manner and with the same powers and jurisdiction possessed and exercised by other district courts of the United States, and any one of the justices may also hold a criminal court for the trial of all crimes and offenses arising within said district, which court shall possess the same powers and exercise the same jurisdiction now possessed and exercised by the criminal court of the District.
The fifth section provided that general terms of the said Supreme Court should be held at the same times at which terms of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia were then required to be held, and at the same place, and that district courts and criminal courts should also be held by one of said justices at the several times when such courts were then required to be held, and at the same place.
The sixth section provided that the Supreme Court might
establish such rules as it might deem necessary for the regulation of the practice of the several courts organized by the act.
The thirteenth, that all suits and proceedings which, at the time the act should take effect, should be pending in any of the courts thereby abolished should be transferred to the courts to be established under the provisions of the act, and might be prosecuted therein with the same effect as they might have been in the court in which the same were commenced.
The sixteenth, that the circuit, district, and criminal courts of the District of Columbia were thereby abolished, and that all laws and parts of laws relating to said courts, so far as the same were applicable to the courts created by this act, were thereby continued in force in respect to such courts &c.
The Supreme Court of the District, having heard argument in support of the return made by Mr. Bradley, entered its final order to its rule as follows:
IN THE MATTER OF JOSEPH H. BRADLEY, SR."
"Contempt of Court"
"Mr. Bradley having filed his answer to the rule of the court served on him, and having been heard at the bar in support of his answer, it is by the court ordered that for the causes set forth in said rule, the name of Mr. Bradley be stricken from the roll of attorneys, solicitors &c., authorized to practice in this Court."
After the order thus made, this Court (the Supreme Court of the United States), on the petition of Mr. Bradley and motion of Mr. Carlisle, granted a rule on the Supreme Court of the District requiring them to show cause why a mandamus should not issue for Mr. Bradley's restoration.
To the last-mentioned rule of this Court the Supreme Court of the District made return:
"That on the 10th of August, 1867, while Judge Fisher, one of the justices of the Supreme Court, was holding a criminal court in this district, the relator had been guilty
of contemptuous language towards the said judge in the progress of a trial therein, and for which the said justice disbarred him from the privileges of attorney and counselor of the Supreme Court."
The return added:
"At the time the contempt was given, Judge Fisher was holding a Supreme Court, and exercising its criminal jurisdiction as such Supreme Court. There is no criminal court in this District; there is, therefore, no judge of a criminal court in this District. The Act of 3d March, 1863, abolished both the circuit and criminal courts of the District of Columbia and transferred all their several powers and jurisdictions to the Supreme Court created to take their place. It prescribes in what manner said Supreme Court shall exercise those powers and jurisdictions. One of the justices shall hold a criminal court, another a circuit court, a third the special term, and a fourth a district court. Or any one of the justices may, at the same time, hold two or more of these courts. But these several justices, when holding courts in this manner, have no authority or jurisdiction of their own, for the law has given them none. Their powers and jurisdiction are those of the 'Supreme Court,' and these it is which make a court. The court where the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia are exercised is that court. The Supreme Court of the District holds the criminal court, and the law makes one judge the court for that purpose. The contempt in question was therefore a contempt of the authority of the Supreme Court."
"the conduct of Mr. Bradley was not merely a contempt of the authority of the Supreme Court of this district, but was also gross misbehavior in his office of attorney, and that for this reason also, his offense was cognizable by the court in general term, irrespective of the doctrine of contempts."
The return proceeded:
"It is true that the rule to show cause, ordered against him by the court in general term, ignored the order made by Judge Fisher and called upon him to answer for the specified acts as a contempt; yet after his return was made, the court, as it had
the right to do, considered his offense in both these aspects, and"
"ordered, that for the causes set forth in said rule, the name of Mr. Bradley be stricken from the roll of attorneys, solicitors &c., authorized to practice in this court."
"Because Mr. Bradley was removed only after due notice had been served upon him and he had been heard in defense and after mature consideration by the court. That the said order of the court was a judgment of the court in regard to a matter within its own exclusive jurisdiction, and not subject to review in any other court, and especially not in this form of proceeding."