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Kenyon v. Plump

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 13, 2020


          Assigned on Briefs December 2, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Williamson County Nos. 2019-CV-18B, 47136B Michael Binkley, Judge

         During a hearing on a party's motion for a protective order, the trial court summarily found the party to be in contempt of court and sentenced her to spend ten days in jail after she described members in the gallery as pedophiles and abusers of her children. The party appealed, and we affirm the trial court's judgment and sentence.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Michele L. McGill, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sherrilyn Kenyon.

          Connie J. Chadwick, Thompson's Station, Tennessee, and Michael T. Fort and Sean Ross Aiello, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Lawrence R. Kenyon, II.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty and Carma Dennis McGee, JJ., joined.



         Factual and Procedural Background

         Sherrilyn Kenyon is the plaintiff in a tort and breach of contract action against Kerrie Ann Plump, Lawrence R. Kenyon, II, and Paco Kavanaugh, and Ms. Kenyon is the defendant in a divorce action filed by Mr. Kenyon. The two cases were consolidated for purposes of discovery and pre-trial motions. This appeal arises from the trial court's holding Ms. Kenyon in criminal contempt during a hearing on April 23, 2019, and sentencing her to spend ten days in jail.

         On April 23, 2019, counsel for the parties were presenting arguments with regard to Ms. Kenyon's request for a protective order. While the trial judge was speaking, Ms. Kenyon stood up and left the courtroom. Addressing Ms. Kenyon's lawyers, the trial judge said, "Y'all need to speak to your client. I'm not going to put up with that. Okay." The court then took a five-minute break. Before Ms. Kenyon returned to the courtroom, one of Mr. Kenyon's lawyers informed the judge that as Ms. Kenyon passed by on her way out of the courtroom, "the entire first row heard [Ms. Kenyon] call me a F'ing liar." The trial judge responded that he would "have to speak to her. . . . I can't just overlook that."

         As a result of statements Ms. Kenyon made upon her return to the courtroom, the trial court held her in direct contempt of court and sentenced her to spend ten days in jail. In an order issued on May 1, 2019, the trial court described the facts leading up to its decision to hold Ms. Kenyon in contempt and to impose the jail sentence. The court wrote:

During the course of the hearing, while the Court was responding to issues involving Ms. Kenyon's medical history and whether or not Ms. Kenyon had waived her request to have her medical information placed under seal for her protection, the Court noticed, as did other spectators, Ms. Kenyon abruptly and suddenly jumped up in a distracting fashion and, while she was clearly angry, stormed out of the courtroom. As Ms. Kenyon was storming out of the courtroom, the Court noticed she made some comment to attorney Connie Chadwick (hereinafter referred to as "Ms. Chadwick"), who represents Plaintiff/Defendant Lawrence R. Kenyon II (hereinafter referred to as "Mr. Kenyon). The Court could not hear the statement made by Ms. Kenyon, but certainly noticed Ms. Kenyon said something to Ms. Chadwick, which was apparently loud enough for courtroom observers to hear what Ms. Kenyon said to Ms. Chadwick based upon this Court's observation of the facial expressions on observers in the courtroom and their reaction to whatever was stated by Ms. Kenyon to Ms. Chadwick. Because of the obvious disruption in the presence of the Court and everyone else who was present in the courtroom, the Court took a recess and asked Ms. Connie Reguli, Esq. (hereinafter referred to as "Ms. Reguli") and Mr. Larry Crain, Esq. (hereinafter referred to as "Mr. Crain") to speak to their client, Ms. Kenyon, about her conduct before the Court proceeded. It was the Court's intention for Ms. Kenyon's counsel to speak to their client about Ms. Kenyon's conduct in storming out of the courtroom as she did. The Court then took a brief recess to allow Ms. Reguli and Mr. Crain to speak with their client with the hope Ms. Kenyon would understand her conduct of storming out of the courtroom would not be tolerated during the hearing.
After the recess of approximately ten to fifteen minutes, the Court returned to the bench and went back on the record, at which time Ms. Reguli advised the Court Ms. Kenyon was going to excuse herself from the courtroom "for a little bit," with Ms. Reguli's asking if that was okay with the Court. The Court approved the temporary absence of Ms. Kenyon. Mr. Crain then, on behalf of his client, Ms. Kenyon, apologized to the Court for his client's conduct.
. . . .

         Then, in response, the Court stated the following:

THE COURT: Well thank you. I appreciate the apology. I know things are sensitive, however I cannot put up with, nor will I tolerate, that type of attitude in this courtroom so - but thank you, I understand. If there are two lawyers that can handle their client it would be you two. So as long as she understands that I will not tolerate that. Okay.
At that time, Ms. Chadwick addressed the Court and stated to the Court that as Ms. Kenyon was passing her on her way out of the courtroom, Ms. Kenyon stated in a voice which could be heard by the entire first row of spectators, that Ms. Chadwick was a "F'ing liar." With this statement, I advised counsel for Ms. Kenyon because of Ms. Kenyon's conduct of cursing at one of the lawyers in the case as she exited the courtroom and stating it loud enough to be heard by spectators on the front row, I would have to speak with her again because I could not overlook her conduct toward Ms. Chadwick. After approximately five minutes, maybe longer, Ms. Kenyon reappeared in the courtroom. With her reappearance in the courtroom, the Court stated as follows:
THE COURT: Mrs. Kenyon, if you will stand there at the podium for a minute. It's my understanding, ma'am, that as you were leaving the courtroom before I took a break, and I took a break because of the manner in which you left the courtroom, that you said loud enough for the people on the first row to hear you, make reference to this lawyer that she was a F'ing liar; is that correct?
MRS. KENYON: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Okay. All right. That's two incidences where I could hold you in contempt of court and put you in jail. I'm not going to do that, but I want to be perfectly clear that I will not tolerate that type of conduct in this courtroom ever again. Is that clear?
MRS. KENYON: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: All right. I think you need to apologize to this ...

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