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Attorney's Fees Cannot be Awarded as a Contempt Sanction in Arizona

In Kaufmann v. State of Arizona, Division Two of the Arizona Court of Appeals issued a decision yesterday involving a criminal case where the court ordered the criminal defense attorney to pay the attorney's fees of the prosecutor. The case involved a defendant who was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and apparently cooperated with the police in connection with other investigations in exchange for leniency. The defense lawyer requested that the prosecutor be held in contempt of court for allegedly not honoring whatever agreement had been reached.

The court found that the defense attorney's claims were baseless and ended up hold him in contempt. As his punishment, the judge ordered him to pay the prosecution $499 in legal fees to the prosecution. The attorney filed a special action with the Arizona Court of Appeals who reversed the order. The court reversed the order on the grounds that Arizona criminal law does not permit a court to award attorney's fees as punishment for a contempt finding.

Most criminal defense attorneys in Phoenix and throughout Arizona anticipate that the judge will impose an alternative sentence against the lawyer after the case is returned to the Superior Court.