The state has dismissed criminal contempt of court charges filed in January against Lebanon County attorney Lebanon County attorney George Christianson.

Senior Lancaster County Judge Howard F. Knisely signed on Wednesday, April 10, the order stating that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was withdrawing its charges against Christianson. 

Knisely was assigned this case after Lebanon County’s judges recused themselves because the case involved a Lebanon County magisterial district judge. 

Read More: MDJ finds attorney George Christianson in contempt, orders jail; appeal filed

Christianson was convicted of a summary offense on Feb. 23 by Magisterial District Judge Aurelis Figueroa following a Jan. 18 eviction hearing before her. Figueroa accused Christianson of calling her an uncomplimentary name after the dismissal of the eviction case, leading to the contempt charge, according to Greer Anderson, Christianson’s attorney.

Anderson said he and an attorney in the state Attorney General’s office had reached out to Judge Knisely to let him know that “they had an agreement that the state would withdraw the charges and the judge was happy to accommodate that (agreement).”

Anderson had filed a motion with the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas on March 1 seeking dismissal of the charges based on a statute that says attorneys are “officers of the court,” meaning they can’t be charged with that crime.

“Once the Attorney General got ahold of it, actually read the law and knew that this did not apply, they were not going to go forward with it,” said Anderson. “We were, and I know my client was, in particular, disappointed that the judge tried to charge him with this in the first place when a plain reading of the law clearly shows that it did not apply here.”

Brett Hambright, a spokesman with the state Attorney General’s office, provided the following statement via email to LebTown: “Based on our review of the relevant law, a magisterial district judge is not legally authorized to hold an officer of the court in contempt.”

Anderson said his client wants to put this in the past and would not be willing to speak to LebTown about the case, and an employee who answered the phone in the judge’s office on Friday afternoon said Judge Figueroa would not speak to LebTown about the Christianson case. Figueroa is the magisterial district judge for five wards in the City of Lebanon.

Anderson said he tried to stop the case from moving forward at Christianson’s sentencing on Feb. 23 by informing Figueroa of the statute that prevented his client from being charged.

“At the hearing for that, I tried to provide information to inform the judge of what ‘officers of the court’ meant and what the law actually said, but she didn’t listen,” said Anderson. “She proceeded to charge him and sentence him, so we have a judge that wasn’t willing to follow the law.” 

Christianson was sentenced to 72 hours in Lebanon County Correctional Facility, but an appeal filed later that same day to the Court of Common Pleas stopped the jail sentence pending a decision. 

“We’re really happy that it didn’t go any further, that the legal system worked in this case, that my client has been exonerated and he doesn’t have to deal with this anymore,” said Anderson. “My client is happy that this is over and the right thing happened in the end.”

Anderson said he didn’t tell the court that the judge was the one who filed the charges and was also sentencing Christianson because he knew the “officers of the court” statute would get the case resolved in his client’s favor.

“We did not raise that issue and it does seem kind of odd that the reported victim is the judge and jury, which is kind of how not our system works,” said Anderson. “I didn’t address that on the appeal because at that point it didn’t matter. We were up to the common pleas level and I knew at that point that the courts are reliable in following the law. The statute is so clear that once we got to that level that at some point it was going to be dismissed or withdrawn.” 

Anderson added that Figueora can’t appeal the decision since that would constitute double jeopardy.

“I don’t think that there is any avenue to pursue contempt,” said Anderson. “She can’t do it anyway because he’s already gone through this process and it was dismissed. The law wouldn’t allow it.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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