Consequences of Using the F-Word In Court

In Commonwealth v. Williams, 452 Pa. Super. 52, 681 A.2d 181 (Pa.Super. 1996) the appellant was an attorney embroiled in an unpleasant and highly contested custody dispute. He was representing himself during the custody hearing. At one point in the proceeding, the trial judge sustained an objection to a question which appellant had asked of a witness. At that point the appellant stated, as recorded in the stenographic record: "He's such a f--king a--hole " The trial judge did not personally hear this statement. However opposing counsel vigorously called the court's attention to appellant's statement. The trial judge convened a contempt hearing at which two witnesses testified to what appellant had said. The trial judge thereafter found the appellant in contempt of court. Our Court reversed in a published opinion. The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed our Court's opinion. In affirming, the Supreme Court specifically noted: "Opposing counsel claimed that Appellant made the remark under his breath. There is no indication that the remark was even heard by the court. The amplitude of such a remark can have a bearing on whether it was intended to obstruct proceedings." Id. at 469, 721 A.2d at 1074. Thus, the Court concluded that a single remark made by Appellant "under his breath" did not rise to the level of criminal contempt.