‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It’: Miami-Dade Attorney Held in Criminal Contempt
The judge also imposed a $500 fine.
A federal judge sanctioned a North Miami attorney, charging him with criminal contempt in what started as a $3 billion lawsuit involving a famous rapper.
Derrick C. Morales was one of three attorneys representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Jonathan Kirk, also known as rapper DaBaby.
But the lawyer run afoul of Judge Jose Martinez, who fined him $500.
“In open court and in the presence of this court, Mr. Morales refused to obey and did repeatedly disobey the orders and directions of this court regarding the procedure for closing arguments,” the judge wrote. “During rebuttal closing argument, Mr. Morales belligerently ignored several direct orders from this Court to immediately stop addressing the jury.”
Morales, of DC Morales Law, was co-counsel representing two men who brought suit against Kirk nearly three years ago.
But Martinez said Morales displayed “brazen disobedience” in open court by refusing to obey the Judge.
“By order of this court, the parties were given a total of 40 minutes for closing arguments. Plaintiffs had only 20 seconds remaining in their allotted time after initial closing arguments. Despite fair warning that there was almost no time left, Mr. Morales proceeded to attempt a rebuttal closing argument,” the judge wrote. “Once time expired, this court repeatedly ordered Mr. Morales to cease and sit down. Mr. Morales continued his argument over the protest of this court with brazen disobedience.”
The judge added that Morales’ conduct constituted contempt of court. He found that it “was of such a nature as to directly obstruct the administration of justice and affront the decorum and dignity of the United States District Court.”
“Such behavior will not be tolerated by the court,” the judge concluded.
‘Extremely Unfair and Unnecessary’
Morales did not respond to requests for comment by news deadline, but his co-counsel in the underlying litigation suggests the sanction was too harsh.
“I’ve never seen anything like it—very extreme—because the judge could have just given a warning,” said Jonathan May, co-founder of The Lion’s Den law firm in Miami. “You know, set the stop. And I’ve seen many judges do that. But I’ve never seen a criminal contempt. You know, it’d be different if you just did a civil contempt and it’s still fine. Five hundred dollars is reasonable. It’s not crazy. But criminal contempt seems to me to be extremely unfair and unnecessary.”
The contempt finding was not the first time Morales’ side caught a judge’s attention.
Court records show Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Becerra entered an order on June 21, 2021, asking why the plaintiff had not complied with a court order, and had made no filings regarding a request for an evidentiary hearing.
“Therefore, the court hereby orders plaintiff to show cause by June 24, 2021 at noon as to why the appropriate filing has not been made,” Becerra wrote.
‘Something That You Don’t Want on Your Record’
Brian Tannebaum, an expert on legal ethics, is special counsel to Bast Amron. He is not involved in the litigation, but suggests the case has lessons for other litigators.
“The judge runs the courtroom, and if the judge says you’re out of time, the next words out of your mouth should be, ‘Judge, can I have some more time?’ And if the judge says, ‘No,’ [then] sit down. At some point the judge’s ruling is the end of the story. And you have to move on,” Tannebaum said. ”The appellate courts have made it clear that judges have the right to run their courtrooms. And if a judge says you’re out of time, and you keep talking, then you’re subject to being held in contempt. … A lawyer can always ask for reconsideration, which happens all the time. But according to the order, it looks like what happened was the lawyer was ignoring the judge, and continuing to talk—and obviously upset Judge Martinez, to the point where he felt that this is what he had to do.”
But Morales’ camp is suggesting the attorney will challenge the contempt certification.
May, Morales’ co-counsel, said Morales will appeal.
“My advice to him was to appeal, just because it can have a lasting … effect on your career,” May said. “It’s something that you don’t want on your record.”
The underlying litigation involved Universal Music Group Inc. and Interscope Records, which received summary judgment in their favor and exited the lawsuit.
“Summary judgment was granted as to everything except for breach of contract by one plaintiff against Kirk. Intentional assault and battery by Carey against Kirk. … And that [left] just a damages question. And everything else was dismissed on summary judgment,” Zach Kelehear, Kirk’s attorney, said.
The “Rockstar” rapper’s attorney said DaBaby also filed a countersuit against the Miami promoter for unspecified damages, accusing the promoter of using his photo and name to promote events without his permission.
The litigation began as a multibillion-dollar trial on the state level, and ended in federal court with plaintiffs seeking $6 million in damages over what lawyers said was payment for a Miami event by promoters Kenneth Carey and Steve Anyadike.
DaBaby was hired to perform.
When the sides disagreed over the specifics of the contract, a fight broke out. A bystander’s video of the encounter appears to show the rapper ”slapping” the plaintiff, which his lawyers say he admitted occurred.
But one of the rapper’s lawyers, Drew Findling, said, “These plaintiffs were attempting to use the legal system to shake down Mr. Kirk.”
Now, the rapper’s lawyers are embracing the result.
Speaking on behalf of local counsel representing Kirk, Scott Cagan of GrayRobinson said, “We are pleased with the outcome, and it was our pleasure to represent Mr. Kirk in this matter.”