Appeals Court Upholds Defense Attorney's Contempt Conviction

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It was midday and Barry Wilson was sitting at the bar at Billy Tse's, a place he sometimes calls his office.

"I mean they've gotten what they want. They've seen the last of me," Wilson said. "I'm done being a lawyer. After this decision I'm not going into a court again. Are you kidding me?"

Attorney Barry Wilson (Courtesy of Randy Fenstermacher)
Attorney Barry Wilson (Courtesy of Randy Fenstermacher)

The decision he is talking about was made by the State Appeals Court and it upheld a finding that Wilson engaged in criminal contempt of court after exploding in anger last May during jury selection for a murder trial presided over by Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady. The criminal defense lawyer was sentenced to 90 days in county jail.

A bottle of 12-year-old Macallan was missing from the shelf above the bar. Wilson had finished it off the previous night and they don't place orders until Friday.

"I'll go to jail probably, probably because all I did was my job," Wilson said.

The Appeals Court decision that drained the Macallan called Wilson's conduct before the court of Brady last May "deliberately contemptuous" and "a serious threat to the administration of justice."

Wilson was defending a young black man charged with murder. Wilson went ballistic during jury selection after the judge dismissed two black people as jurors then empaneled a white person with a background in law enforcement.

This is what Wilson said to the judge:

No, we're not going to say wait. And you're going to sit him? Lock me up. Just lock me up now... That's ridiculous, 15 years a federal agent and he's going to be unbiased. Are you kidding me?

Barry Wilson's hero is the late and legendary radical lawyer William Kunstler, and like Kunstler, he sees the world as divided into two sides: the oppressed and their oppressors. His loyalty is clear. He says the system is unjust. He often calls cops "Nazis" and judges "idiots."

"I'm not even nice to a prosecutor, except, you know, to acknowledge you, because I don't want emotionalism to play into any role. If I sort of like you that would interfere with my job. My job is to be a zealous advocate on behalf of my client.

"Notice nobody saying I lied or cheated. Oh, I yelled at you. I yelled at you? You're damn right I might of yelled at you. Well, I'm going to tell you something, you earned it," Wilson said.

On Tuesday, the Appeals Court called Wilson's conduct "without parallel in the written decisions of the of the Commonwealth's courts." Significantly, the 21-page rebuke to Wilson was written by Kent Smith, one of the most respected judges among defense attorneys. The unanimous three-judge opinion also concluded that Wilson intentionally attempted to goad Judge Brady into dismissing the juror Wilson didn't want.

This is what Wilson said back in May:

Wilson: I think you gotta excuse him because I think he knows I don’t like him.

Brady: Mr. Wilson, is there some reason I should not hold you in contempt?

Wilson will seek to stay the sentence by Brady that has been upheld by the Appeals Court.

"And I'll go do my 90 days, I'll smile through the whole 90 days. No, I'll go out the way I came in," Wilson said. "And my man, Mr. Kunstler, wherever he is... No I don't regret anything. I did what I was supposed to do."

As Wilson got up from the bar at Billy Tse's he opened his fortune cookie. "Courtesy opens many doors" it said. It was an inclination the self-dubbed "dinosaur" Barry Wilson never showed in the courtroom.

This program aired on March 22, 2012.

Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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