York County judge holds attorney Sandra Thompson in contempt of court

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York attorney Sandra Thompson

A York County judge on Friday morning held attorney Sandra Thompson in contempt of court and ordered her locked up after she continued asking questions after being told to sit down and be quiet.

Thompson told The York Dispatch she wasn't handcuffed and that deputies placed her in a holding cell connected to the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock.

"I was just trying to meditate ... so my client wouldn’t be negatively affected by me being distracted," Thompson said.

Before breaking for lunch, the judge noted that Thompson had been in custody the morning of Friday, Nov. 22, and said the "collateral matter" — meaning him holding Thompson in contempt of court — would be resolved at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25.

He said she was free on her own recognizance until then.

"Your honor, I have the right to a jury trial, and I'd like to exercise that right," Thompson said.

Trebilcock acknowledged her, then said they will still meet at the scheduled time to discuss the matter further.

The judge declined to discuss holding Thompson in contempt, saying it's an active issue before him.

The exchange happened while the jury was outside the courtroom.

The exchange: After Trebilcock refused to admit evidence Thompson was arguing for, Thompson continued asking him if it could be admitted under a different rule of law.

York County Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock

"You're not listening to me," the judge replied. "I have already ruled."

But Thompson persisted, saying she needed to be clear.

"Denied," the judge replied. "We are not going to go through this because you don't know the rules of evidence. ... This two-day trial is already in its third day because counsel is not prepared."

"I'm sorry, your honor," Thompson replied. "Can you say specifically, since you made a broad statement of how I'm not prepared, would you say it on the record how I have not been prepared?"

"Oh yeah, let's go over that," Trebilcock said. "You didn't show up to trial on time, you left your client sitting there without counsel on the first day of trial. Second, you have been rambling around on the record asking unfocused questions. You didn't know how to move for introduction of evidence under the right rule. Those would be three examples right off the cuff. Anything else?"

Thompson replied, "Is there anything else you'd like to put on the record?"

'Sit down': That prompted Trebilcock to say, "I'm not being deposed by you. Sit down."

Thompson started to say something else, but the judge stopped her, saying, "Sit down and be quiet."

Thompson again tried to speak, but was cut off.

"Counsel, I gave you directions to sit down and be quiet," Trebilcock said. "If you continue to disobey my order you're going to be held in contempt."

When Thompson tried to ask the judge another question, he responded, "Counsel, you are held in contempt."

Trebilcock ordered Thompson taken into custody at 9:38 a.m. and allowed her to be released at 10:03 a.m.

Trial resumed after Thompson's client indicated to the judge he was comfortable continuing to be represented by her.

During lunch break Friday, Thompson said there's no bad blood between her and the judge and that what happened Friday stemmed from a discussion Wednesday in Trebilcock's chambers about an evidentiary issue in the trial.

"I may not have immediately sat down the second he told me," she said. "It took a minute to process (what was happening)."

'Flat affect': Thompson said she didn't raise her voice and wasn't being argumentative but that she did speak after the judge told her to sit down and be quiet.

"I maintained a flat affect so I would not be accused of anything," she said.

Thompson said she doesn't want to further aggravate Trebilcock but also said judges have wide latitude.

"Judges control everything," she said. "They control what's put on the record. They can control if you put anything on the record to contradict their findings."

Thompson said it's the first time a York County judge has held her in contempt of court, though she's been threatened with contempt in the past. She maintains she's not the only black attorney who's been held in contempt by York County judges.

She also said she was a few minutes late but isn't routinely late for court. She said she should have been given an hour to get to court but was given slightly less than that.

As far as her level of preparation, Thompson told The York Dispatch, "I believe I was very prepared for trial."

About Thompson: Thompson, who is president of the York NAACP and owns her own law firm, made national headlines when the police were called on her and four other black women at a Dover Township golf course in April 2018.

They alleged discrimination after former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, whose family owns the Grandview Golf Course, called the police after the five wouldn't leave. Chronister said he believed they were playing too slowly and were delaying other golfers. 

The complaints prompted hearings from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission last year.

Thompson recently lost a bid to be elected York County common pleas judge, losing to Matt Menges.

Disciplined: The state Supreme Court's disciplinary board ordered Thompson receive a public reprimand for making "material misstatements of facts" to clients she represents in a civil lawsuit.

The board said she violated seven rules of professional conduct.

More:Disciplinary board: Judge candidate did not follow court order

Stacey Witalec, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said a public proceeding for the reprimand will happen but has not yet been scheduled.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.