By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer, Friday, July 14, 2006
When it was announced in the courtroom last month that the jury found him not guilty of abusing his son, Junior Stowers raised his hands and exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus.”
But instead of leaving the courtroom, Stowers was cited for contempt of court by Circuit Judge Patrick Border for the “outburst.”
For about six hours, Stowers had to remain in the courtroom and a cellblock until the judge granted him a hearing on the contempt charge and released him. At a July 7 hearing, Border dropped the contempt charge, a petty misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail.
Stowers couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday, but Deputy Public Defender Susan Arnett, who represented him on the contempt matter, said although they were pleased with the verdict and the dropping of the contempt case, she doesn’t think Stowers was treated fairly.
“I don’t think there’s anything about saying ‘Thank you, Jesus’ that rises to the level of contemptuous behavior in this case,” she said.
She said Stowers is a devoutly religious man active in his church who spontaneously expressed his thanks to the higher power in which he believed. He had gone from being found not guilty of a crime that he knew he didn’t commit to being held on a contempt charge, she said.
“He was just stupefied by what happened,” Arnett said.
Family members and Iakopo Sale, Stowers’ pastor at Assembly of God Church, who watched from the gallery were “very upset that those words could land somebody in jail,” Arnett said.
Border yesterday declined to comment but indicated his actions are reflected in the court minutes, which indicated he found Stowers’ “non-verbal gestures and outbursts to be disruptive and improper regardless of content.”
Border later dropped the charge because he realized Stowers trial lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Carmel Kwock, did not have time to convey the judge’s message to Stowers that he should not show any emotion when the verdict was announced, the court minutes said.
Stowers, 47, a Honolulu resident, was charged with hitting his 15-year-old son with a broomstick in January. The misdemeanor charge of abusing a household member carries a sentence of up to a year in jail. Stowers was free on a $1,000 bond.
During the trial last month, the boy recanted his earlier statements that his father hit him, according to court records. The boy testified his brother had hit him with a car door. The boy’s brother testified he hit the brother with the door. Stowers denied hitting his son.
Just before the verdict was announced on June 29, Border called city Deputy Prosecutor Sean Sanada and Kwock to the bench and told them he didn’t want a show of emotion by either side, according to a defense request to dismiss the contempt charge.
When Stowers made his remarks after the verdict was announced, the judge told him, “There will no more of that,” the papers said.
Stowers asked to approach the bench and apologize, but the judge told him he could not and ordered him to remain in the courtroom, the defense request said. He was later taken to the cellblock. He was released at 3 p.m.
Sanada said he took no position in the contempt case.
“Judge Border is entitled to run the court in a way he deems appropriate,” Sanada said.
Arnett said in 20 years of legal practice here, she had not heard of a similar case. She said defendants have been held in contempt after a judge repeatedly issues warnings and a defendant ignores the admonitions, but Stowers had not caused any trouble in the courtroom and had not been given any warnings. “Contemptuous behavior has to be much higher than (what Stowers did),” she said.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judge Border is active in various professional and community organizations, including the Inter Pacific Bar Association, American Bar Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Consumer Lawyers of Hawai`i, Mediation Center of the Pacific, and the New Hope Christian Fellowship Prison Ministry.Ă‚Â He was previously involved with the Asia Pacific Lawyers Association and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Honolulu.