A New Jersey man’s drug case has led to a Superior Court ruling in favor of his attorney.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the court reversed a decision by Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford that held State College lawyer Phillip Masorti in contempt for an October outburst during a hearing.
Masorti represents Jason Robert Randolph, 30, of Newark, who was arrested in March 2013 on charges of felony possession with intent to deliver and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia and instruments of crime and conspiracy.
The case made its way through court the way most cases do, according to court documents. There was an arraignment and bail was set. Although Randolph originally was represented by the public defender’s office, two weeks after the charges were filed, Masorti was hired, handling the preliminary hearing and then filing an omnibus pretrial motion for the case, including a motion to suppress evidence.
A suppression hearing on that motion was held in July 2013. Marc Decker, then an attorney at Masorti & Sullivan, represented Randolph in that hearing, at which Lunsford denied the motion.
Decker subsequently filed motions for recusal and reconsideration, asking the judge to step away from the case, claiming in his filing that Lunsford was “condescending” and refused to hear testimony regarding the suppression.
Lunsford held a hearing on the new motions in October. When Masorti showed up to argue the case instead of Decker, court documents show, Lunsford pushed to reschedule. Masorti opposed that on reasons including his client’s presence in court from out of state, the fact that his client wanted Masorti at the hearing and that Randolph had “already incurred significant legal expenses” connected with the hearing, including Masorti’s three hours of preparation at $300 an hour.
According to the Superior Court opinion, Lunsford said there was no way to proceed without Decker, which upset Masorti. The attorney “became very upset, banged his fists on counsel’s table and, in a loud voice, argued that Attorney Decker was not required to attend the hearing and that Randolph, as the client, was allowed to have Attorney Masorti present the motions as Randolph’s counsel of choice.”
Lunsford responded with a direct criminal contempt of court finding and a fine of $250, records show.
Masorti’s appeal claimed he was not guilty of misconduct, but persuasive legal arguments on his client’s behalf, and that rather than obstructing justice and delaying the court’s time, he was actually trying to keep the court from “delaying justice” with a postponed hearing.
The court agreed.
Senior Judge John Musmanno wrote in the decision that, although Masorti did engage in misconduct, it was not contemptuous and there was no obstruction of the proceedings, upholding a previous decision that lawyers “have a right to be persistent, vociferous, contentious and imposing, even to the point of appearing obnoxious, when acting in their client’s behalf.”
Randolph’s case has not yet gone to trial.