I get it. Steven Bannon’s misdemeanor conviction is not the crime of the century. But this conviction is important. And no, I am not talking about politics. I am talking about this conviction being of importance to our entire court system.
Bannon was found guilty of two counts of federal criminal contempt of Congress. Here is the gist: In September 2021, Bannon, a former White House chief strategist, was served subpoenas to testify and provide documents to the U.S. House select committee regarding the Jan. 6 attack. Bannon made it clear that he would not comply with the subpoenas. When Bannon did not appear as directed under the subpoena, the House of Representatives voted to refer him to the Justice Department. The Justice Department brought the case to a grand jury, and in November 2021, Bannon was indicted on two criminal contempt of Congress charges.
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Under the law, contempt of Congress is only a misdemeanor. Each count carries 30-100 days in jail, as well as a fine of $100-$100,000. However, certain mitigating and aggravating factors can modify the sentencing range.
It is rare for the nation to pause on a case only involving misdemeanors, but this case is different. Not just because Bannon is a polarizing political figure, it is different because of what it stands for. This case stands for holding someone accountable for defying a subpoena. This is important.
As an attorney who primarily practices in active litigation, Bannon’s conviction is refreshing. I don’t wish ill upon Bannon; I am speaking more to the message the conviction sends for our legal system. Here is the message: Defy a subpoena, and you will face criminal consequences.
Every day, Colorado courtrooms handle disputes of all kinds. But the one common goal we all want out of the courtroom is justice. Justice includes the proper application of the facts to the law. Gathering the facts is hard work and, for many cases, involves the issuance of subpoenas. We cannot expect justice when the facts are never given to the judge or jury. Subpoenas are court orders for someone to provide certain documents or testimony (answer questions under oath) and are essential to the fact-gathering process.
Here is the message: Defy a subpoena, and you will face criminal consequences.
What Bannon did (defying a subpoena) has happened to most lawyers who spend time litigating. While Bannon’s case involved a federal subpoena by Congress, Colorado lawyers frequently issue the same type of subpoenas. It has happened to me numerous times where a subpoena is either partially complied with or outright ignored. Issuing subpoenas is not a fun part of the job, trust me. Many times, I am interrupting someone’s usual course of life and making them provide information in a court case. My subpoenas inconvenience people, I understand. Staying out of court is usually our goal, but a subpoena commands someone to get involved in a court case, whether they want to or not.
But let’s balance the inconvenience with justice. Cases in court can involve the most important aspects of human life, such as families, adoptions, crimes, tragic injuries, death and, of course, money. These cases are important to the litigants, they are important to justice, and they are important to the foundation of the rule of law. Our court system must be supported by the pillar of facts. Without the facts, the system cannot work.
Look at it this way: If your child was injured by a drunk driver and there is only one eyewitness to the crash, wouldn’t you expect that eyewitness to provide the facts of the crash? Or, if you have been accused of a crime, and someone has proof that you were somewhere other than the scene of the crime, wouldn’t you expect that proof to be handed over? Or, worse, what if there was a witness to a murder? The safety of society needs the eyewitness’s testimony. Many times, the only way to obtain important facts is through a subpoena.
Holding Bannon accountable for willfully not complying with his subpoenas is necessary for our court system. Bannon’s conviction sends a message of the importance of subpoenas. Someone of Bannon’s background and position knows the importance of subpoenas. I believe he understood and knew that his defiance would somehow obstruct the Jan. 6 committee’s ability to gather facts. Our court system was designed with civil duty as one of its key ingredients. Our civil duty goes beyond just appearing for jury duty. It also includes complying with subpoenas.
If you are ever served a subpoena, comply with its terms. Your personal inconvenience is far outweighed by the overall advantages to our court system that subpoenas give. Whatever sentence Bannon receives, the message is clear: Defying a subpoena can, and should, result in criminal action.
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