Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer Lloyd Long discusses details surrounding the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court’s decision in the Taylor case for indirect criminal contempt convictions.
This was an en banc appeal from two indirect criminal contempt convictions. There was a PFA order against Taylor prohibiting threatening, harassing, and related contact toward his wife. The PFA order permitted text messages regarding legitimate issues involving the couple’s children. He was tried for two separate contacts with her during the course of divorce proceedings.
The first was in a gas station parking lot during a custody exchange. Taylor told the couple’s daughter to ask her mother whether she had been in touch with her lawyer about the sale of the marital property. He then got out of his car and spoke directly to her about the same subject.
In the second, Taylor sent his ex-wife a text message regarding the property; in the message, he stated that he had sent an email to her lawyer regarding the property and encouraged her to follow up with the attorney. He indicated that the sooner this was done, the faster he would be able to move into the house with their daughters.
Following conviction, he was sentenced to an aggregate term of 90 days in county jail and a fine. Taylor appealed, claiming that the fourth element of an indirect criminal contempt conviction — wrongful intent — had not been established. The Superior Court disagreed.
In the first instance, the trial court determined that Taylor’s intent was to discuss his desire to come to a quick resolution of issues regarding the couple’s jointly owned property. The panel agreed; any relationship between the contact and the children’s interests was remote and tangential.
The panel also agreed with the trial court’s finding of wrongful intent in the second contact. Although mentioning the children, the primary focus of the text was financial because it dealt with the transfer of marital property.
The panel considered it important that Taylor knew his ex-wife was represented by counsel and that he knew communications regarding settlement of the divorce should be directed to her attorney. It concluded that the trial court committed no error by deciding that Taylor was trying to rush the proceedings with these communications by pressing his ex-wife into action, rather than discuss legitimate issues concerning their children.
Taylor also waived his claim of an excessive penalty by not objecting at the time sentence was imposed or raising it in a post-sentence motion.
Judge Bender, joined by Judges Mundy and Ott, dissented. They would have found that the element of wrongful intent had not been established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In their view, the communication was not abusive, harassing, or threatening. Additionally, the dissent did not believe the text to be outside permitted communications, as it dealt with Taylor’s living situation with the children.