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Judge wants defense attorney prosecuted // DOCUMENT


PANAMA CITY — A judge has initiated criminal charges against a Panama City attorney for allegedly violating a court order directing him not to pursue certain lines of questioning during a recent trial.

Judge James Fensom has ordered Bill Price to appear for an arraignment hearing May 23, when an evidentiary hearing will be scheduled for Price to show why he should not be held in criminal contempt for obstruction of justice.

In the February trial of Juliana Ellzey, who ultimately was convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash, Price allegedly disregarded basic rules of evidence and violated several pretrial rulings that prohibited him from referring to the penalty she would face if convicted and referring to the gender of a witness. Price was Ellzey’s defense attorney.

Fensom ruled orally on the state’s motion to limit Price’s questioning during the trial prior to the trial and filed a written order to the same effect on the day the jury returned its verdict. Price objected in writing to certain aspects of the state’s motion, but in a pretrial hearing all of his objections were resolved or overruled.

Fensom’s order refers to the trial transcript to show where Price overstepped the bounds of Fensom pretrial order. For instance, in his closing arguments, Price referred to the charges against Ellzey as “a first-degree felony,” calling them “a pretty big deal.”

In his questioning of a witness who was born a male but lives as a female, Price addressed the witness as “mister” and asked if the witness had psychological problems.

Price also attempted to “suggest to the jury evidence that had been excluded by the court” in violation of the pretrial order, and violated rules of evidence by questioning a witness about their criminal history though he had no evidence the witness had any criminal history, according to Fensom’s order.

Price declined to comment on the charge Tuesday. If convicted, he could face less than six months in jail, so a jury trial is not required, Fensom noted in his order.

Fensom has asked State Attorney Glenn Hess to assist in the prosecution. In the event Assistant State Attorney Bob Sombathy, who prosecuted Ellzey, becomes a witness and conflict arises, Fensom has asked Bill Eddins, state attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, to assist in the prosecution.

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