The Law Gives Up on Beatty Chadwick
Two years ago, I noted that H. Beatty Chadwick was about to spend his thirteenth year in a Pennsylvania jail for civil contempt, arising out of his failure to comply with a 1995 order to turn over assets in a divorce litigation. I opined that:
Unless circumstances change, Chadwick will die in jail to preserve an idea: even civil law must be obeyed. As Robert Cover wrote, “Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death.”
So, I guess that Cover needs to be footnoted: “Except when judges blink.” Beatty is out. And his jailers are celebrating:
About 35 prison staffers gathered yesterday – some crying and hugging Chadwick – to say goodbye to the “model inmate” who had worked in the law library and forged friendships with everyone from guards to senior administrators, said prison Superintendent John Reilly.
“He’s done more time than maybe the majority of people convicted of homicide do,” said Reilly, a former prosecutor. “What person in his right mind is going to flaunt the authority of the court and say, ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life in jail?’ People just aren’t made that way.”
Maybe so, but that claim seems to be another example of how we routinely ignore the tremendous emotional investment people have in being vindicated by courts. As far as I can tell, the state courts of Pennsylvania have not abandoned their factual finding that Chadwick had the money and refused to comply with their order. They’ve just concluded that his ornery will would never bow to any legal pressure.
But just because the judges of Delaware County gave up on compliance doesn’t mean that Chadwick has paid his debt to the courts, his ex-wife, or society at large. His conduct (as alleged) created a social harm which his ultimate freedom only made worse. As the attorney for Chadwick’s ex-wife pointed out, “[h]ere’s a guy who thumbed his nose at a court order for 14 years … There should be some kind of sanctions for doing that.”