Criminal defense lawyer ordered to jail on contempt charge

Wilson’s behavior called ‘atrocious’

'I don’t think my conduct was egregious or out of line in terms of what occurred in court,' said Barry Wilson. "I don’t think my conduct was egregious or out of line in terms of what occurred in court," said Barry Wilson.
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / May 20, 2011

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The fiery attorney who represented former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner in his bribery trial is now headed to jail himself, sentenced yesterday to three months behind bars after drawing the ire of a judge during jury selection for a murder trial earlier this month.

“Mr. Wilson, your behavior before me two weeks ago was atrocious,’’ said Suffolk Superior Court Judge Patrick F. Brady to Barry P. Wilson. He called Wilson’s conduct “the worst I’ve seen in 20 years on the bench.’’

Wilson, a criminal defense attorney who has practiced law for almost 36 years, recently shaved his trademark scraggly gray beard, but he replied to the judge in his well-known booming voice and effusive manner.

“I don’t think my conduct was egregious or out of line in terms of what occurred in court,’’ he said.

Wilson, 61, has represented dozens of clients charged with murder, most recently Antwan Carter, who received a life sentence last December after two previous trials ended with hung juries.

Carter was convicted of killing 18-year-old college honor student Cedirick Steele in 2007.

Wilson also represented Garrett Jackson, who was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for killing a rival drug dealer. During the jury selection phase, Wilson lashed out at the court’s decision to seat a man with a law enforcement background, after dismissing a woman who told the court that her two sons had criminal records.

“How can I look at my client and say he should think this is legitimate after you make a ruling like that and you excuse a woman who had two children. . .’’ Wilson told Brady during the May 5 empanelment.

“No way I’m gonna try a case with that man,’’ he said referring to the former Department of Homeland Security employee Brady chose to sit on the jury. “That’s ridiculous. Fifteen years as a federal agent and he’s gonna be unbiased? Are you kidding me? I can’t do it, I won’t do it.

“And the other thing is I think maybe if he’s standing outside there you better go ask him if he heard me screaming because I think you gotta excuse him now cause I think he knows I don’t like him,’’ Wilson said, according to a typed transcript provided by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Brady replied, “Mr. Wilson, is there some reason why I should not hold you in contempt?’’

In a four-page finding, Brady said “Mr. Wilson lost his temper at a ruling of the court and delivered a loud, abusive, insulting, and disruptive outburst in defiance of the court ruling. At least in part the outburst was likely motivated by a desire to force the court to excuse the juror because Mr. Wilson’s screaming was so loud the juror may have heard him and concluded that Mr. Wilson ‘did not like him.’ Needless to say, the court cannot tolerate such behavior.’’

Wilson has previously been jailed for contempt. In 1985, he served almost five months in a federal prison camp in Danbury, Conn. for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in Rhode Island about a former client suspected of drug smuggling. Wilson said yesterday he’s been threatened by judges with contempt during his career, “more times than you can shake a stick at.’’

Many of Wilson’s colleagues attended yesterday’s hearing and offered words of encouragement afterward.

“I really think it’s outrageous,’’ said Rosemary C. Scapicchio, a Boston-based criminal defense attorney, referring to the sentence.

“I think Barry was doing the best job he could trying to zealously represent his client, and the court saw it differently. When you’re in the trenches and you’re trying cases day in and day out things get emotional, things get heated, and you do the best job you can for your client and that’s exactly what Barry was doing.’’

John H. Cunha Jr., the president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said contempt findings against attorneys are rare, used as a last resort to regain order. He said it may have affected Wilson’s defense of Jackson during the weeklong trial.

“One could say, whether by design or not, that it was like a Damocles sword which could have been constraining to Barry,’’ he said.

Wilson also complained yesterday that the jury selected for the trial of Jackson, who is black, lacked people of color, although he did not bring that up during empanelment.

Prosecutors disputed that claim, saying at least four jurors were of color.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached by e-mail at