By Justin Jones, Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2012 —
Local Albemarle Attorney Jim Phillips was found guilty for being in contempt of court Tuesday afternoon at the Stanly County Courthouse.
The verdict was given by Judge Theodore Royster of District 22B.
By Friday morning, Phillips’ attorneys, Brad Smith and Matt Arnold, were making preparations to file an appeal.
“We do respectfully disagree with the courts ruling,” Matt Arnold said.
“The ball is already rolling to give notice to Court of Appeals in Raleigh.”
The order of the court concluded that the defendant, Phillips, was in contempt of court through gross negligence.
Leading to that finding, the order included that Phillips “had attempted to obtain ex parte an order returned to seized property in a pending criminal matter,” which was in violation of both law and ethics, and that he tried to obtain the signing of the order through subterfuge, a term for deceit.
The strongest language of the order was on points four and seven, which said that Phillips had “intentionally took advantage” of a judge’s trust as an attorney and officer of court, and that he had “impeded administration of justice,” and brought the court system into disrepute.
Through e-mail, Arnold confirmed that the item that was deemed seized property, which Phillips and his staff tried to obtain, was the cell phone of Ryan McLain.
Phillips was representing McLain, who was facing both civil and criminal charges. Several of those charges stemmed from an incident that occurred on June 6, which was reported by The Stanly News & Press involving McLain, his estranged wife Marci, and another male, Daylan Honeycutt.
McLain was arrested that night, and after being released awaiting trial, was unable to obtain his cell phone, as it was deemed evidence.
McLain was found guilty of two charges, both of which were criminal. An appeal was immediately made on the ruling. The other civil charges were dismissed or McLain was found to be not guilty.
According to Phillips’ attorney, it was believed that the cell phone was not included as evidence in the criminal charges.
“Mr. Phillips testified that he did not believe that the cell phone had any relevance at all to any of the criminal charges,” Arnold said.
After a request from McLain to Phillips to have his cell phone back in his possession, Phillips filled out a form that his staff claims was taken off of the N.C. Courts website.
The form was asking permission to obtain the cell phone from the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office, who had possession of the phone since the night of McLain’s arrest.
According to Phillips’ attorneys, Judge Dennis Redwing from Gaston County “signed the Order in question,” and sent the form back to Phillips.
Phillips’ wife, Karmen said that as of Wednesday she left her job as a paralegal at Phillips’ office.
She said that once the form was returned, McLain went to the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office to obtain his cell phone. But, once he got there, it was not given to him and McLain was asked questions about the form and why he had it.
“I tendered my resignation on Wednesday evening because as an employee of Jim’s, I cannot speak freely and openly. When my family is being maliciously attacked, I refuse to sit in silence and watch it occur,” she said.
But as his wife and witness, she said that the ruling is a false representation of her husband.
“Some people will go to great lengths to attempt to destroy and ruin the reputation of a good, honest man.”
As for the form, Phillips’ attorney said their client did not feel he was violating any statutes.
“We believe the evidence showed that Mr. Phillips and his staff were proceeding in good faith at all relevant times,” Arnold said through e-mail.
As Karmen Phillips noted, Jim Phillips had never been disciplined by the State Bar.
The ruling carries that Phillips be publicly censured, fined $500 and that a copy be sent to the N.C. Bar Association, along with notification of the grievance committee.