An Orleans Parish judge held a prominent criminal defense attorney in contempt of court Wednesday, fining John Fuller $100 for criticizing the judge’s relationship to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich, who has a policy of levying $50 fines on lawyers who show up late, began a pretrial hearing Wednesday morning when Fuller wasn’t there.
His client, Shawn Phillips, faces a repeat-offender marijuana possession charge that carries a possible 20-year prison sentence, Fuller said.
Zibilich found probable cause for the case against Phillips and denied a motion to suppress evidence. When Fuller arrived in the courtroom about 9:15 a.m., about 25 minutes after the hearing began, a bitter exchange ensued.
Zibilich offered to reopen the hearing, but Fuller wasn’t having it. He rejected the validity of what went on without him, insisting on a do-over.
“Motions have not been heard as far as I’m concerned,” Fuller said. “I’m here for motions. If you don’t want me to have them, that’s fine. I’m sure Cannizzaro’s going to give you a pat on the back for that.”
“All right, that last little comment, I’m finding you in contempt,” Zibilich replied. “You’re not going to talk to me that way. I’ve been nothing but kind with you.”
The judge fined Fuller $100, payable by Monday.
Fuller suggested that Zibilich was doing the DA’s bidding, and in a later interview, he suggested he was being targeted because of recent courtroom victories over prosecutors under Cannizzaro, who endorsed Zibilich when the former deputy city attorney won the Section L seat in 2011.
“The reason for us going back and forth was that he had a motion hearing — which I feel should have resulted in the evidence being suppressed — without me being there. The hullabaloo started from that,” Fuller said.
“I don’t understand why he would go forward with that hearing without me, when (he had) received information that I’m coming. My client is charged with an offense that is ridiculous, in my estimation. He’s being prosecuted by Leon Cannizzaro, who just happens to be the judge’s good friend.”
Zibilich, who declined comment, nevertheless decided on his own to reopen the motions hearing for Phillips, 32, postponing it until the morning of a trial scheduled for July 20.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.