An ugly job, but it’s a living

On contempt for authority – Or, how much is a “thousand billion”?


When I was a field training officer I found that some probationary officers had a hard time understanding when and how to properly assert their authority. Most of them were young kids whose only experience with power and authority had been on the receiving end. They didn’t really understand the responsibilities that came with the job, and the authority that came with those responsibilities. Some cops never figure out the differences between having power, exercising authority, or the responsibilities of office. You read about them in the papers when they get fired or indicted.

On the other side of the coin are citizens who find it difficult to be subject to authority. Some of them are just sociopaths and that’s why cops have handcuffs, batons, tasers, OC spray and guns.

But not everyone unprepared to recognize the legitimacy of authority suffers from an antisocial personality disorder. There are socially privileged people who just don’t think that all of the rules of society apply to them. Fully prepared to enjoy the benefits from living in a society with order, they want to trash the rest of the social contract when it comes to rules they don’t like, or find inconvenient to abide by. Authority is okay as long as it is applied to other people, but if they get caught they throw a fit and blame everyone but themselves.

In the Federal courts for the Norfolk Division of the Eastern District of Virginia there was a recent interesting case that illustrates what happens to people who fail to understand the legitimacy of a magistrate’s authority. Case number 2:2007cv00565 was styled, In Re: Prospective Juror, Dr. Margaret I. McIntyre, titled as “Other Statutory Actions.” According to the Hampton Roads Pilot, Dr. McIntyre had been called as a prospective juror in federal court – something she did not want to do. She had attempted to be excused from serving jury duty, but her request was denied.

No mention is made of Dr. McIntyre’s reasoning for her request to be excused, but most people claim work obligations. Most courts will excuse people who have served on a jury within the preceding two years, are over the age of 70, live a considerable distance from the courthouse, or are volunteer firefighters or members of a volunteer ambulance crews. Other than that there are no excuses, just temporary deferrals to serve at a later date. Juror duty is indeed a duty and obligation and all qualified citizens are subject to serve.

From work or my own summons to juror duty, I’ve listened to thousands of people try to get excused from service. Most of them are variations of, “I have too many work responsibilities to take time off for this.” But some are downright entertaining, “My wife and I are trying to have a baby, and when her temperature indicates she is ovulating I need to be home.”

Whatever excuse Dr. McIntyre offered was not accepted. She was displeased and apparently became abusive toward the jury clerks. The clerks informed the magistrate that after her excuse was denied that she became disruptive. Magistrate F. Bradford Stillman ordered McIntyre to appear before him on November 14th. to explain herself. She appeared and made something of a spectacle of herself.

McIntyre proceeded on a tirade for nearly 15 minutes, at one point demanding to be put in jail.“I just can’t believe I have to come down here for jury duty and be treated like this,” she said. “This is incredible. This is like a nightmare out of an American sitcom. You have nothing better to do than to harass an American citizen who’s done nothing.”

Stillman tried to get her to leave and come back with a lawyer to face a contempt charge.

“Oh, great. So I have to spend a thousand billion dollars now again on lawyers for something that I didn’t even want to do to start with,” she continued.

A “thousand billion dollars”? Man, they have some expensive attorneys in Virginia.

But she wasn’t done and continued to argue with the judge.

“Ma’am, I don’t think that we can accomplish anything more today,” Stillman said. “I’m trying to be as fair to you as I can.”“Well, you’re not talking to me like a person,” she said. “I’m not in preschool, you know. I’m not a kindergartner. I don’t need to be sat down and told to sit like a dog.”

When she wanted to debate the meaning of “contemptuous” the judge decided he had enough and ordered the marshals to remove her from the court.

“He’s not the president. He’s a judge,” McIntyre yelled before U.S. District Court Magistrate F. Bradford Stillman on Nov. 14, as U.S. Marshals moved toward her. “He’s a federal employee that ought to be doing something important other than treating me like this.” “Don’t touch me,” McIntyre said to the marshals before storming out of the building.

Sounds like a tempter tantrum to me. And that is how we get to case number 2:2007cv00565 – “Other Statutory Actions” apparently was a hearing regarding Dr. McIntyre being in contempt of court.

Margaret must have gone and found herself one of those “thousand-billionaire” attorneys who promptly set the doctor down and explained to her the many ways in which she had screwed up, how federal sentencing works, and how long an incarceration her childish behavior could cost her. It must have worked.

On Tuesday, her attitude had changed. As her attorney begged the judge for mercy, McIntyre sat bawling.“I’m very sorry,” she told Stillman.

She could have received up to 30 days in jail and a $2,000 fine for the criminal contempt of court charge.

“The court can find no excuse for your behavior,” the judge concluded.

She was convicted of contempt and only had to pay a fine of $250. Everybody, well almost everybody is contrite when they are in fear of punishment. I wonder if she really matured a little that day, or if it was just a show to keep out of jail.

But if she can take away one small victory from the public spanking she received – she got out of jury duty.


One response

  1. Hi Cerberus,

    You have a very interesting and unique web site. I posted a copy of the image “Tantrum” on my blog today at Are you the artist? I would love to give credit if that is possible and permissible by the artist.

    Dave Scriven

    15 November, 2008 at 10:31

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