Contempt charge dropped against defense attorney Elizabeth Ramsey

Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox sustains an objection to a recorded phone conversation during testimony by jail inmate and trial witness Frederick Cobia in the murder trial of Jamal Smith at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on December 30, 2015.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox sustains an objection to a recorded phone conversation during testimony by jail inmate and trial witness Frederick Cobia in the murder trial of Jamal Smith at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on December 30, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A judge on Friday agreed to drop contempt of court charges against an assistant public defender who drew the ire of a Palm Beach circuit judge while fighting to keep a perennial jail informant’s testimony out of her client’s murder trial.

The order from Circuit Judge Peter Blanc in attorney Elizabeth Ramsey’s favor comes nine months after Circuit Judge Jack Cox first took the rare step of seeking the charges that could have landed Ramsey in jail for up to six months.

It also comes as testimony nears an end in the murder trial of Jamal Smith, Ramsey’s client whose case has been the center of more than a year of arguments over prosecutor’s use of Frederick Cobia – a man who has earned the reputation in legal circles as the most frequently-used jail snitch in local history.

Cox hit Ramsey with the contempt charges after arguing that she had violated a court order by placing in court records for public view transcripts from an interview with Cobia that discussed the contents of recorded jail calls with his daughter. Cox had ordered an mention of those calls sealed from public view in an order that was later overturned by the 4th District Court of Appeal in a case that involved The Palm Beach Post.

A request to dismiss the charges, which prosecutors filed last week, revealed that the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s office did file the transcript into the court record, but did so under seal pursuant to the court order – meaning the records were never made public.

“Simply put, the defendant cannot be prosecuted because the court order was never violated,” Assistant State Attorney Donald Richardson, a special prosecutor from Okeechobee, wrote in a Sept. 15 filing.

Ramsey’s defense attorney, Donnie Murrell, confirmed on Friday that the charges against Ramsey had been dropped, although a copy of Blanc’s order had not appeared in public court records late Friday.

Murrell described Ramsey as a great lawyer who was doing nothing more than advocating for her client.

“All of this hullabaloo, after nine months, was over nothing,” Murrell said. “She should’ve never had to go through this.”

As for Cobia, prosecutors in Smith’s trial on Thursday announced that they will be not be calling him as a witness.

Had he taken the stand, he was expected to testify that Smith confessed to him his involvement in the August 2011 shooting death of Kemar Clayton. Cobia claims to have obtained similar confessions from several of his jail mates.