Lawyer Freed After Longest-Ever Term for Contempt

Attorney Beatty Chadwick went to jail after failing to produce money in divorce.

ByABC News
July 16, 2009, 1:47 PM

July 17, 2009 -- A 73-year-old Philadelphia lawyer walked out of prison July 10 after serving 14 years for contempt of court -- the longest term ever served for contempt.

In a divorce proceeding in 1995 H. Beatty Chadwick said that he had lost his fortune of about $2.75 million and so could not make a significant financial settlement with soon-to-be ex-wife Bobbie.

At the time, the court professed its skepticism of Chadwick's claim of pauperage and ordered him to produce his money. He claimed the money had been lost and he was sent to jail.

"If I had been convicted of murder in the third degree in Pennsylvania, I would have been out in half the time I was in jail," Chadwick said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after his release. "I have to spend a little time thinking about ... seeing how I can best use my skills and talents."

In 2005, Bobbie Chadwick said she had no reason to see her ex-husband remain in jail. She says she has wished "he would come to his senses and realize, 'OK, life is short, this is crazy.'"

But Beatty Chadwick, who worked as the top lawyer for an international corporation in Philadelphia, told "Primetime Live" correspondent Jim Avila in 2005 that he is not keeping anything from his wife.

"I don't control the cash," he said. "They haven't been able to establish that, despite the fact that they have run up a large bill in the process."

Chadwick's request for freedom was granted by Delaware County Judge Joseph Cronin, who determined his continued incarceration had lost its coercive effect and would not result in him turning over the money, according to the AP.

In court documents ordering the release, Cronin said he agreed with previous court rulings that Chadwick "had the ability to comply with the court order ... but that he had willfully refused to do so."

But Chadwick's continued imprisonment would be legal only if it were likely that he would ultimately comply with the order. The judge said there was little chance of that, and Chadwick should be released.

How did the divorce case get so ugly? Bobbie was Chadwick's second wife -- 18 years his junior. She says theirs was once a lifestyle of luxurious homes, manicured lawns, 5 o'clock cocktail hours, full-course dinners by candlelight and classical music.

But Bobbie said her ex-husband was also powerfully controlling. Despite all their wealth, she says she was given a relatively small household budget of $600 a month.

She was expected to clean out the mansion's elegant pool, mow the three-and-a-half acres of lawn and cook those elaborate candlelit dinners -- alone, with no household help.

"I ended up making all my clothing. I lived what looked like an opulent life, but I did it on a very tiny little budget," she said.