A Washington County judge ordered a woman to jail for six months for talking in his courtroom without so much as a hearing before she was handcuffed and led away, the woman’s attorney said during a hearing at the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday.
“Not only was she not given the opportunity to be heard, she was ordered to be quiet or face further sanction,” attorney Josh Lee argued during a hearing in front of a Supreme Court Referee Daniel Karim.
Lee is seeking the immediate release of 19-year old Randa Ludlow, who has been jailed in Washington County since January for contempt of court.
Washington County District Judge Curtis DeLapp is accused of abusing his power by imposing a six-month sentence against Ludlow for talking in the courtroom and refusing to leave the courthouse.
The woman was allegedly trying to communicate with her boyfriend, a Washington County jail inmate, during one of his court appearances.
According to Ludlow’s attorneys, DeLapp has a long history of handing out severe sentences for contempt, including jailing a woman in 2015 for eating sunflower seeds in his courtroom.
In court filings, Ludlow’s attorneys claim DeLapp has cited attorneys, spectators, defendants and potential jurors for contempt in at least a dozen other cases. In another instance, DeLapp allegedly held a courtroom spectator in contempt for foul language after the man muttered something under his breath in the courtroom.
Speaking on his own behalf in court on Friday, DeLapp said Ludlow was combative during a November court hearing for her boyfriend and continued to be disruptive outside the courtroom, and even after he told her to leave the courthouse. Ludlow continued to try and communicate with her jailed boyfriend through the door of the courtroom, he said.
“The facts matter in this case,” DeLapp said.
DeLapp allegedly had sheriff’s deputies bring Ludlow back into the courtroom, where he ordered her to serve six months in jail for direct contempt of court.
As a sheriff’s deputy took her into custody, Ludlow continued to be disruptive, repeatedly shouting “I love you,” to her boyfriend, DeLapp said.
“She continued to yell obscenities and yell in the chambers as she was escorted out of the courtroom,” he said.
After spending four days in jail for allegedly disrupting court proceedings in November, DeLapp released Ludlow and ordered her to pay a $500 fine. But in January, he ordered her back to jail to finish out the remainder of the six month sentence after she was charged with driving with a suspended license and speeding.
Ludlow didn’t even have a lawyer until defense attorneys Lee and Clinton Ward recently became aware of her case through the complaint of a concerned citizen, they said. Ludlow’s continued incarceration has kept her from working and has also caused considerable strain on her family, Ward said.
In court, Lee argued that DeLapp didn’t file any written documentation with the court about what Ludlow did to be held in contempt of court.
“We can’t even look at the record and determine what contemptuous conduct even occurred,” Lee said.
DeLapp said he documented Ludlow’s outbursts and disruption of court proceedings in a court minute, but claims the court clerk’s office lost the document.
In a brief interview after the court hearing, DeLapp said he would continue to look for the misplaced document. The judge also said he did not frequently order people to jail for contempt of court.
In a formal response filed with the court on Friday morning, DeLapp included affidavits from three Washington County sheriff’s deputies and a court clerk, who witnessed Ludlow’s behavior in the courtroom the day of her arrest.
Ludlow continued to talk and argue with the judge after DeLapp threatened her with jail time, Carla Fairlie, a deputy court clerk wrote in an affidavit. Ludlow continued yelling loudly after a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed her and led her out of the courtroom to jail, she wrote.
“Ms. Ludlow could be heard throughout the courtroom yelling, screaming and using profanity until the elevator arrived,” a deputy court clerk wrote in her affidavit.
Karim said the court would make a decision on Ludlow’s case as soon as possible.