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.

 

State: Frederick Cobia won’t testify in Jamal Smith murder trial

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

On what could be the last full day of testimony in 24-year-old Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday that they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant whose presence in the case sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will likely rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton Friday and will not call Cobia as a witness.

Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he says he’s obtained confessions from other defendants, told deputies that Smith confessed his involvement in Clayton’s death while the two were housed together at the Palm Beach County Jail.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought hard since last year to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records last year transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.

The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox afterwards had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.

As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, the most damaging testimony against him now will likely be from co-defendant Quentin Lythgoe, who on Thuesday completed his testimony against his former friend.

Lythgoe told jurors that Smith lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Lythgoe, allowed him to plead guilty to robbery charges and capped a sentence recommendation at 15 years in prison.

Trial begins for Jamal Smith, whose case sparked fight over snitch

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Jury selection began Wednesday in a murder trial for Jamal Smith, the man whose case sparked a court battle over the recorded conversations of a jailhouse informant.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton told a panel of more than 100 prospective jurors Wednesday that the trial for Smith, accused in the 2011 shooting death of 24-year-old Kemar Clayton, is expected to last three weeks.

The expected star witness for the state in Smith’s trial is Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse snitch who has been listed by prosecutors as a potential witness in 23 cases. He has already testified as a jail informant in two local cases and earlier this year was still scheduled to testify in two others aside from Smith’s.

Prosecutors had once intended to seek the death penalty against Cobia for the murder of a 57-year-old man in Belle Glade, but he was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 in exchange for his cooperation in eight separate cases. In the recorded jail calls, which The Post published after Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey filed them in the court record, Cobia tells his daughter he expects his continued assistance will earn him a reduced sentence.

The publishing of those calls prompted Circuit Judge Jack Cox to order the calls removed from The Post’s website and initiate contempt of court proceedings against Ramsey, Smith’s attorney.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s decision to keep the calls private, and Cox later agreed to step down from Smith’s case, but the contempt case against Ramsey is still active.

 

More charges for Dennis Wright, accused in fighter’s hit-and-run death

MMA fighter Jordan Parsons
MMA fighter Jordan Parsons

A vehicular manslaughter charge has been added to the list of charges prosecutors are pursuing against the 28-year-old Boca Raton man accused of killing a rising MMA star in a May hit-and-run.

Prosecutors in a hearing before Circuit Judge Jack Cox Wednesday said Dennis Wright now also faces vehicular homicide charges in addition to charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, DUI manslaughter, evidence tampering and driving on a suspended license in the death of Jordan Parsons. Parsons, whose family filed a wrongful death suit against Wright, his mother and the bar where Wright allegedly drank before the crash, had been training for a May 14 fight and was walking in a crosswalk on U.S. 1 when he was hit by a car.

He died three days later.

Dennis Wright, 28
Dennis Wright, 28

Parsons’ mother, younger brother, and other fighters at the gym he attended were in court Wednesday morning.

“It’s hard to keep going every day, but I know I have to,” said Anna Morsaw, saying that what she missed most about his son was the sound of his laughter and his smile.

The next hearing in Wright’s case is set for Aug. 17.

Riviera man gets 25 years in rape case where he called 911 on himself

Joel Jones
Joel Jones

When Joel Jones raped a woman in August 2014 after she answered a Craigslist ad for a job with an office cleaning business, he called 9-1-1 on himself after he told her he did it to earn a trip to prison so he could get even with the person who had killed his 14-year-old son.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Jack Cox made at least the prison part of Jones’ request come true, sentencing him to 25 years more than two months after a jury convicted him of armed sexual battery.

The sentence was less than the life in prison sentence that Assistant State Attorney Chrichet Mixon requested, but at 49 years old and with no possibility of credit for good behavior on the 25-year minimum mandatory sentence, Jones will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars.

“This case is not really about what someone did to your child, but what you did to someone else’s child,” Cox told Jones. “The things that you did to her was completely beyond the realm of what a human being should do to another human being.”

According to an arrest report, Jones first met the victim when she filled out an application to work for his cleaning business two weeks earlier. On the night of the attack he lured her to a doctor’s office in unincorporated Palm Beach Gardens for a cleaning job, showed her the rooms she was supposed to clean, then raped her at knifepoint in one of the rooms.

Jones would later say that his attack was prompted by the shooting death of his 14-year-old son, and that he raped the woman because “this is how he would get to the people who killed his son,” according to an arrest report.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Jones was convicted for sexual battery and burglary in 1991 and served more than two years of a six-year sentence. He is not listed in Florida’s sexual offenders database because the Florida Sexual Predator Act does not include those convicted of sex-related crime before Oct. 1, 1993.

He also served almost eight years in prison for second-degree murder, though his sentence was 12 years, according to department of corrections records.