Meadville Tribune

Local News

October 30, 2013

Court worker ignores subpoena, receives fine

MEADVILLE — Ignoring a subpoena issued to her to appear in magisterial court for a domestic dispute hearing has cost an employee of Crawford County’s court system a $100 fine plus court costs of $70.50.

A subpoena is a document that orders a named individual to appear before a duly authorized body, usually a judge or grand jury, at a fixed time to give testimony.

At a contempt hearing on Wednesday, Magisterial District Judge William Chisholm found Mary Marie Sanderson, 42, an employee of Magisterial District Judge Lincoln Zilhaver, guilty of criminal contempt for ignoring a subpoena Chisholm had issued to Sanderson in connection with an alleged domestic dispute at Sanderson’s Saegertown-area home, in which Sanderson was the victim. Zilhaver, whose office has jurisdiction over the Saegertown area, had recused himself from hearing the case because Sanderson is an employee of Zilhaver’s office.

Under Pennsylvania law, ignoring a subpoena issued by a magisterial district court is a contempt charge that carries a fine of up to $100 and up to 30 days in jail. Failing to pay a fine within a reasonable time may mean up to 10 days in jail, according to the law.

Pennsylvania State Police were called to the Saegertown-area home Sanderson shares with Kevin L. Hutchinson, 40, on Aug. 7, according to court records. Hutchinson was charged by state police with a summary count of harassment for allegedly shoving Sanderson, causing her pain, according to court records.

A hearing on the harassment charge was scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. before Chisholm.

“Yes,” Sanderson responded on Wednesday when asked by Chisholm if she understood what receiving a subpoena meant.

“When you get a subpoena you’re supposed to be there,” Chisholm said, noting that Sanderson herself had signed off on the subpoena when it had been delivered to her at work at Zilhaver’s office.

“I know,” Sanderson replied.

Sanderson told Chisholm she did call state police for an incident at her home Aug. 7, but a week later she wrote a letter to Trooper Eric Cox, the arresting officer, asking him to withdraw the citation.

“I never got a response,” Sanderson said of the letter. “I never got a hearing notice (for the harassment hearing). I did not receive anything prior to yesterday (Tuesday).”

Cox testified he contacted Sanderson by phone at her office on Tuesday around 8:30 a.m. and was told by Sanderson she would not appear.

Cox testified he reminded Sanderson of the subpoena, formally served it on her and then again attempted to contact Sanderson on Tuesday at 11 a.m. when she didn’t appear for the hearing.

Cox also testified he was aware of one other prior domestic incident involving Sanderson and Hutchinson where Sanderson did not want to testify and a lesser charge was imposed due to the lack of testimony.

Sanderson said when she got the subpoena, she didn’t feel she could leave her office to attend Tuesday’s hearing because of the workload. She said Zilhaver was out of the office at training and that Sanderson herself was training a new employee, who is the only other employee in the office. Sanderson admitted she didn’t attempt to contact Chisholm’s office about her work situation.

“Better than anybody else, you understand the (legal) system,” Chisholm said before imposing the sentence. “You know what it means to call the police and then not be cooperative.”

“Does Judge Zilhaver expect to have his subpoenas honored?” Chisholm then asked.

“Yes,” Sanderson said.

Chisholm said Sanderson did not make any effort on her own to deal with the situation.

“Nobody can make anybody testify, but when a subpoena is issued you’ve got to honor the subpoena,” Chisholm said in finding Sanderson guilty of contempt and imposing sentence. “If I fine you less than $100, the whole system crumbles.”

Chisholm also reset the harassment hearing involving Sanderson and Hutchinson for Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. and issued Sanderson a subpoena to appear.

“Needless to say, if you’re not here then, we’ll be here again,” Chisholm said.

The Tribune’s attempts to contact Zilhaver at home for comment on Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful, though Zilhaver was out of the office Wednesday for judicial training.

Contacted Wednesday afternoon, John Shuttleworth, Crawford County Court of Common Pleas administrator, said he couldn’t comment on the matter because he had not yet seen a report on the case.

Asked if any disciplinary action may be taken against Sanderson, Shuttleworth said that would be up to Zilhaver first and then, possibly, the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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