The state Supreme Court has rejected the appeal by Clerk of Courts Brenda Davis in her ongoing fight against administrative orders from Washington County President Judge John DiSalle, setting the stage for the long-awaited contempt of court hearing to be held against her.
The high court filed a one-sentence decision Thursday morning denying Davis’ petition for writ of prohibition challenging DiSalle’s orders removing various duties from her office over the past year, which effectively exhausts her legal options.
While her appeals through the appellate courts were over judicial orders stripping duties from her row office, the decision now could result in Davis finally undergoing a contempt hearing before DiSalle. The hearing has been rescheduled multiple times following the November incident inside the Washington County Courthouse in which she allegedly blocked sheriff’s deputies from removing juvenile case files from her office at DiSalle’s direction.
It was not known if or when DiSalle would reschedule the contempt hearing, or what other actions he may take against Davis now that the appeals are settled. DiSalle politely declined comment Thursday morning since he had not had a chance to review the Supreme Court’s order.
“We are aware of the decision of the Supreme Court denying the Clerk of Court’s writ of prohibition and challenge to the President Judge’s authority to manage the local judiciary,” Court Administrator Patrick Grimm said in a written statement. “Regarding the contempt case (regarding) Brenda Davis, any further proceedings will be scheduled by order of court.”
Charles Gallo, the attorney who represented Davis through the appeals process, said he was miffed by the decision and was hoping to get an explanation beyond the one-sentence order released by the court.
“It’s unquestioned (DiSalle is) the CEO of all judicial business in the county. We weren’t challenging how he makes the rules, we were challenging how her role was altered. The argument was that he can’t go about it that way,” Gallo said of DiSalle’s administrative orders.
Gallo said he hopes DiSalle decides against holding the contempt hearing for Davis because her office is now in line with his administrative orders, but he was unsure what the president judge ultimately will do.
“I hope he finds the matter moot, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d still want to see Ms. Davis in front of him,” Gallo said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re in compliance with the orders by Judge DiSalle, so I don’t think there is a need for any further penalty.”
DiSalle began contempt proceedings immediately after the Nov. 24 incident in which Davis blocked deputies from transferring the juvenile case files out of her office and was briefly handcuffed. However, she was permitted to leave the courthouse to seek medical treatment after she fell to the floor during a confrontation with the deputies and then complained of heart palpitations and back pain. The state Attorney General’s office investigated and recently closed the case without filing charges against anyone involved in the incident.
The resumption of the contempt hearing was scheduled for Dec. 2, but it was pushed to the following week so DiSalle could implement security and decorum procedures for proceeding. During that time, Davis appealed DiSalle’s orders and was granted an emergency stay by the state Commonwealth Court as it reviewed her case. That court rejected her appeal Feb. 7 and DiSalle again rescheduled the contempt hearing, only to delay it once more when Davis filed her final appeal with the state Supreme Court that same month.
In addition to the state Supreme Court ruling against Davis, the justices also directed that DiSalle’s name be removed from the record. It was not known why the court decided to “strike the jurist name from the caption” of the files. No details explaining the court’s decision were included in the order.
“The Supreme Court’s order didn’t provide any reasoning or justification. Just a sentence or two,” Gallo said. “I would love to know what they didn’t agree with.”