View PDF Version

No. 08-6261

 

In the Supreme Court of the United States

JOHN ROBERTSON, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES, EX REL. WYKENNA WATSON

ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES AS AMICUS CURIAE

ELENA KAGAN
Solicitor General
Counsel of Record
LANNY A. BREUER
Assistant Attorney General
MICHAEL R. DREEBEN
Deputy Solicitor General
JEFFREY B. WALL
Assistant to the Solicitor
General
JOSEPH F. PALMER
Attorney
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
(202) 514-2217

 

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that the beneficiary of a civil pro tective order, when pursuing a private right of action under District of Columbia law for criminal contempt of the order, be understood to bring the action in the name and under the authority of the United States.

In the Supreme Court of the United States

No. 08-6261

JOHN ROBERTSON, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES, EX REL. WYKENNA WATSON

ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

 

BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES AS AMICUS CURIAE

 

INTEREST OF THE UNITED STATES

This brief is submitted in response to this Court's invitation to the Solicitor General to express the views of the United States. In the view of the United States, the petition for a writ of certiorari should be denied.

STATEMENT

1. On March 29, 1999, respondent filed a petition for a civil protection order (CPO) in the Family Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. She al leged that two days earlier, on March 27, 1999, peti tioner, who was her former boyfriend, had assaulted her. On March 29, the court issued a temporary protection order. On April 26, 1999, the Office of the Attorney Gen eral for the District of Columbia (OAG) entered an ap pearance on behalf of respondent. After a hearing that day, the court issued a CPO, effective for one year, that prohibited petitioner from assaulting, threatening, ha rassing or contacting respondent. Pet. App. A3-A4.

2. At the same time that respondent pursued a CPO, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia (USAO) independently pursued criminal charges stemming from the March 27 incident. On March 29, 1999, petitioner was charged by complaint in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court of the Dis trict of Columbia. Pet. App. A4. While those charges were pending, on June 26, 1999, petitioner allegedly vio lated the CPO by asking respondent to drop the criminal charges and verbally and physically abusing her. Id. at A4-A6. The USAO did not amend the complaint to add any charges stemming from the June 26 incident. On July 8, 1999, a grand jury indicted petitioner on one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon for the March 27 incident. Id. at A4.

On July 20, 1999, petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the USAO to resolve the pending crimi nal charges. App., infra, 1a. The agreement was hand written on a one-page standard plea agreement form that both the USAO and the OAG (then called the Office of Corporation Counsel) use in the Superior Court. Be cause the printed form is designed for use by both of fices, it lists the "United States" and the "District of Columbia" in the case caption. Ibid. It also includes a signature line at the bottom for an "Assistant U.S. At torney or [an] Assistant Corporation Counsel." Ibid.

In this case, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) handling the matter crossed through "District of Columbia" in the caption, so that it read only "United States vs. John Robertson." App., infra, 1a. The AUSA also crossed through "Assistant Corporation Counsel" in his signature line, so that it read only "Assistant U.S. Attorney." Ibid. The AUSA wrote at the top of the form: "In exchange for Mr. Robertson's plea of guilty to Attempted Aggravated Assault, gov't agrees to" dismiss the remaining charges and "not pursue any charges con cerning an incident on 6-26-99." Ibid. Petitioner, his counsel, and the AUSA signed the plea agreement, which was approved by the court that same day. Ibid.

3. On January 28, 2000, respondent, who was repre sented by OAG, filed a motion in the Family Division of the Superior Court to adjudicate petitioner in criminal contempt for violations of the CPO. Pet. App. A4. Re spondent's motion was based on the June 26 incident. Id. at A4-A5. On May 11, 2000, after a two-day bench trial, the court found petitioner guilty on three counts of criminal contempt. Id. at A5-A6. The court sentenced petitioner to three consecutive 180-day terms of impris onment, but suspended execution of one of those terms and instead imposed five years of probation. Id. at A6. The court also ordered petitioner to pay approximately $10,000 in restitution for medical expenses that respon dent incurred as a result of the assault. Ibid. Petitioner appealed.

4. a. More than three years later, on November 13, 2003, petitioner filed a motion in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court to vacate his criminal contempt convictions. Pet. App. A6-A7. He claimed that the con tempt proceeding had violated his plea agreement with the USAO and that his counsel had been ineffective for not so arguing. Id. at A7. Petitioner also filed a motion in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to stay the briefing schedule in his direct appeal. On Au gust 27, 2004, the trial court denied petitioner's motion to vacate. It held that "the plea agreement . . . is binding only on the government and not on any party seeking to vindicate a right against [petitioner] arising from the events of June 26, 1999." Ibid. Petitioner ap pealed from that order, and the appeal was consolidated with the pending direct appeal from his criminal con tempt convictions. Id. at A1-A2.

b. The court of appeals affirmed. Pet. App. A1-A25. Based on its precedent and the text and purposes of D.C. Code § 16-1005(f) (West Supp. 2009), the court read that provision to confer "a private right of action" on the holder of a CPO "to enforce the CPO through an intra family contempt proceeding." Pet. App. A13 (quoting Green v. Green, 642 A.2d 1275, 1280 n.7 (D.C. 1994)). It rejected petitioner's submission that the contempt pro ceeding could "only be brought in the name of the rele vant sovereign, the United States." Id. at A15 (internal quotation marks, ellipsis and citation omitted). The court reasoned that conferring such a private right of action "does not contravene the general principle that criminal prosecutions are prosecuted in the name of the sovereign," because of "the special nature of criminal contempt." Ibid. Unlike other criminal prosecutions, the court explained, criminal contempt enforces judicial orders rather than general criminal laws. Ibid.

Based on that analysis, the court held that respon dent's contempt proceeding against petitioner was not barred by his plea agreement, because that agreement bound only the USAO-not respondent or the OAG. Pet. App. A19-A20. In light of the handwritten changes to the plea agreement form, the court concluded, "no objectively reasonable person could understand that [pe titioner's] plea agreement bound [respondent] * * * [or] the District." Id. at A20. The absence of a bar on respondent's action was confirmed, the court added, by D.C. Code § 16-1002(c) (West 2001), which provides that "[t]he institution of criminal charges by the United States attorney shall be in addition to, and shall not af fect the rights of the complainant to seek any other re lief under this subchapter." Ibid.; see Pet. App. A20 n.7.

DISCUSSION

Whether the Constitution permits a private, inter ested party to maintain an action for criminal contempt in her own name and interest in order to redress viola tions of a CPO involves complex issues that might war rant this Court's attention in an appropriate case. Peti tioner, however, as a matter of litigation strategy, has declined to press or develop critical aspects of those is sues; the key statutory and constitutional questions are therefore presented only incompletely in this case. Ev en assuming that petitioner had thoroughly presented those questions, this case would remain an unsuitable vehicle for addressing them, because petitioner would not be entitled to relief in any event based on his partic ular plea agreement. Accordingly, the Court should de ny the petition for a writ of certiorari.

A. The Court Of Appeals' Decision Does Not Conflict With Any Decision Of This Court Or Another Court Of Ap peals

1. While petitioner raises a due process question concerning the authority of a CPO beneficiary to insti tute a criminal contempt action in her own name, equally significant are the issues that petitioner either concedes or does not raise.

a. Section 16-1003 of the D.C. Code permits any vic tim of domestic violence to petition for a CPO in family court, and Section 16-1005(f) provides that any viola tion of a temporary or permanent CPO issued by that court "shall be punishable as contempt." D.C. Code § 16-1005(f) (West Supp. 2009). Section 16-1005(f) fur ther provides that "[u]pon conviction, [such] criminal contempt shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 180 days, or both." Ibid.

In Green v. Green, 642 A.2d 1275 (D.C. 1994), the court interpreted Section 16-1005(f) to "reflect a deter mination by the Council [of the District of Columbia] that the beneficiary of a CPO should be permitted to enforce that order through an intrafamily contempt pro ceeding." Id. at 1279. According to the court, when the Council amended the District's intrafamily offenses stat ute in 1982, the Council created a private right of action to obtain a CPO because OAG was unable to effectively prosecute the growing incidences of domestic violence. Id. at 1279 n.7. The court then observed that OAG had professed a similar inability to effectively prosecute criminal contempt motions for violations of CPOs. Ibid. Based on that observation, "as well as the procedural scheme established for enforcing CPOs," the court con cluded that "[the] considerations supporting a private right of action to seek a CPO apply equally to a private right of action to enforce the CPO through an intrafam ily contempt proceeding." Id. at 1280 n.7.

In this case, the court of appeals relied on Green to hold that respondent has a private right of action to en force her CPO through a criminal contempt proceeding. Pet. App. A12-A16. Petitioner does not contest Green or its interpretation of Section 16-1005(f). Pet. 17 n.13. Pe titioner thus recognizes that the court of appeals has construed District of Columbia law to confer a private right of action for criminal contempt on the holder of a CPO, and he does not ask this Court, as the ultimate arbiter of District of Columbia law, to review that statu tory holding. See Whalen v. United States, 445 U.S. 684, 687-688 (1980); cf. Pernell v. Southall Realty, 416 U.S. 363, 368-369 (1974) (discussing this Court's "long standing practice of not overruling the courts of the Dis trict on local law matters save in exceptional situations where egregious error has been committed") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

b. Petitioner also does not argue that the Constitu tion requires criminal contempt to be prosecuted by a disinterested prosecutor. Pet. 17 n.13. It is a serious question whether the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment permits the District of Columbia to confer a private right of action for criminal contempt on the interested beneficiary of a CPO. Compare Wilson v. Wilson, 984 S.W.2d 898, 903-904 (Tenn. 1998) ("We hold that Due Process does not mandate adoption of a rule which automatically disqualifies a litigant's private coun sel from prosecuting a contempt action."), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 822 (1999), with People v. Calderone, 573 N.Y.S.2d 1005, 1007 (Crim. Ct. 1991) ("[P]rivate prose cutions by interested parties or their attorneys present inherent conflicts of interest which violate defendants' due process rights.").

In Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787 (1987), this Court held that federal courts have "inherent authority to initiate contempt pro ceedings for disobedience to their orders," id. at 793, and to appoint private attorneys to prosecute a contempt action. Id. at 794-796. In an exercise of its "supervisory power," however, the Court ruled that "counsel for a party that is the beneficiary of a court order may not be appointed to undertake contempt prosecutions for al leged violations of that order." Id. at 790; see id. at 804 ("A private attorney appointed to prosecute a criminal contempt therefore certainly should be as disinterested as a public prosecutor who undertakes such a prosecu tion.").

This case concerns private prosecution of criminal contempt pursuant to a District of Columbia statute rather than an exercise of the inherent authority of an Article III court, as was at issue in Young. The court of appeals in Green seemingly rejected a due process ob jection to the District of Columbia's statutory scheme, noting that Young was not a constitutional decision; rea soning that not all protections normally applicable to criminal prosecutions are required for certain criminal contempts; and observing that local law provides "ade quate protections to alleged contemnors." 642 A.2d at 1280-1281. But the Young Court recognized that the exercise of power by interested prosecutors may raise due process issues, 481 U.S. at 808 & n.19, and private prosecutors enforcing CPOs presumably are interested parties.

Petitioner, however, has expressly declined to raise those issues or to challenge Green at any point in the proceedings. See Pet. 17 n.13 ("[Petitioner] never has challenged the Green court's holding that interested attorneys can stand in the courtroom well and physically prosecute [Section] § 16-1005(f) actions."); Pet. C.A. Re ply Br. 4 & n.3 ("[Petitioner] in no way challenges the Green holding" that "interested CPO holders can serve as private prosecutors in [Section] § 16-1005(f) criminal contempt actions."). Accordingly, the due process issue that petitioner does raise-whether a private prosecutor in a contempt action in fact exercises governmental power-arises in an abstract and artificial context. Be cause this case does not present a key constitutional issue that the Court should consider if it were to enter tain a challenge to Section 16-1005(f)-i.e., whether an interested private prosecutor may maintain a criminal contempt action-this case is a poor vehicle for this Court's review.

2. The claim that petitioner does raise is not con trolled by this Court's precedents. Petitioner asserts (Pet. 16-27) that, under this Court's case law, the CPO holder must be deemed to represent the United States when prosecuting a criminal contempt. (He asserts that claim as a predicate to his argument that the plea agree ment with the USAO bars respondent's contempt prose cution.) Contrary to petitioner's assertion, this Court has never considered whether a private prosecution for criminal contempt must be treated as an action brought in the name and interest of the authorizing sovereign.

a. Petitioner points (Pet. 14-15) to this Court's oft- repeated statement that "[c]riminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense." Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 201 (1968); see Young, 481 U.S. at 799; International Union, United Mine Workers v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 826 (1994). But what the Court has meant by that state ment is that the adjudication of criminal contempt must be attended by many of the same procedural protections for defendants that attend the adjudication of other crimes. See Young, 481 U.S. at 798-799. The Court has not meant that the prosecution of criminal contempt necessarily must be lodged in someone who acts for or represents the government. As the Court explained in Young,

[t]he fact that we have come to regard criminal con tempt as 'a crime in the ordinary sense,' does not mean that any prosecution of contempt must now be considered an execution of the criminal law in which only the Executive Branch may engage. Our insis tence on the criminal character of contempt prosecu tions has been intended to rebut earlier characteriza tions of such actions as undeserving of the protec tions normally provided in criminal proceedings.

Id. at 799-800 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Petitioner correctly notes (Pet. 16-17 & n.12) that when private parties are appointed to prosecute criminal contempt pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Proce dure 42(a)(2), they represent the United States as the appointing party. See, e.g., Young, 481 U.S. at 804 ("Pri vate attorneys appointed to prosecute a criminal con tempt action represent the United States, not the party that is the beneficiary of the court order allegedly vio lated."); United States v. Providence Journal Co., 485 U.S. 693, 700 (1988) ("Private attorneys appointed to prosecute a criminal contempt action represent the United States.") (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted). But this Court has never addressed whose in terests private parties represent when they prosecute criminal contempt as the result of a statutory private right of action rather than a judicial appointment.

b. Petitioner relies (Pet. 17-24) on United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688 (1993), and Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418 (1911). Neither of those cases addresses whether a private prosecution for criminal contempt must be treated as an action brought in the name and interest of the authorizing sovereign.

i. In Dixon, this Court considered a pair of consoli dated cases involving the permissibility of successive prosecutions under the Double Jeopardy Clause. In one of those cases, the defendant, Michael Foster, was found guilty of criminal contempt under Section 16-1005(f) for

violating two CPOs. Dixon, 509 U.S. at 693. That crimi nal contempt action was prosecuted by attorneys repre senting Foster's estranged wife and mother-in-law, the holders of the CPOs. Id. at 692. The USAO subse quently indicted Foster for the assaults and threatening conduct that had formed the basis for the contempt prosecution. Id. at 693. Foster claimed that the succes sive prosecution was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause, ibid., and this Court agreed insofar as the con tempt offenses and the substantive offenses contained the same elements under Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932). Dixon, 509 U.S. at 700-703.

Petitioner argues (Pet. 19) that Foster's criminal contempt prosecution must have been brought on behalf of the United States, because double jeopardy bars on ly successive prosecutions by the same sovereign. See Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82, 88 (1985). As peti tioner recognizes, however, whether an action is brought on behalf of a sovereign depends on "the ultimate source of the power" under which the prosecution was taken, not the identity of the prosecutor. Pet. 19 (quoting Uni ted States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 320 (1978)); cf. Heath, 474 U.S. at 88 ("In applying the dual sovereignty doctrine, then, the crucial determination is * * * whe ther the two entities draw their authority to punish the offender from distinct sources of power."). In this case, as in Dixon, "the ultimate source of the power" for a criminal contempt prosecution under Section 16-1005(f) is Article I of the Constitution. But that does not an swer the question of whether, when the District of Co lumbia legislature acts pursuant to that power and cre ates a private cause of action for criminal contempt, a party who subsequently invokes that statutory cause of action represents her own interests or those of the Uni ted States. Application of the double jeopardy bar did not depend on resolution of that question, and Dixon did not decide it. Cf. Dixon, 509 U.S. at 692 ("[T]he United States was not represented at trial.").1

ii. In Gompers, a group of labor officials were en joined from boycotting a stove manufacturer. 221 U.S. at 436. The company subsequently brought a contempt proceeding, alleging that the officials had published statements in violation of the injunction. Ibid. After the officials were found guilty of contempt, they were sen tenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from six to twelve months. Id. at 435. The officials then claimed that their prison sentences were criminal sanctions that had been improperly imposed in a civil contempt pro ceeding. This Court agreed. It recognized that both civil and criminal contempt proceedings could result in imprisonment, id. at 441-443; but it held that because the officials' imprisonment had been imposed as a puni tive rather than a remedial measure, "it could have been properly imposed only in a proceeding instituted and tried as for criminal contempt," id. at 444.

Petitioner points (Pet. 23) to this Court's statement in Gompers that "proceedings at law for criminal con tempt are between the public and the defendant." 221 U.S. at 445. That statement, however, was intended to distinguish criminal contempt proceedings instituted to vindicate the authority of the court from civil con tempts that "are between the original parties, and are instituted and tried as part of the main cause." Ibid. The reason for drawing the distinction was that the con tempt proceedings at issue in Gompers were a continua tion of the parties' original equity proceeding, id. at 445-450, and thus should have been dismissed when the underlying action settled, id. at 451, rather than pro ceeding to the imposition of criminal punishment. Con trary to petitioner's assertion, the Court in Gompers did not hold that there is "no such thing as a criminal con tempt prosecution maintained in the name of a private person." Pet. 24. The Court did not have before it any statute purporting to create a private right of action for criminal contempt.

3. Petitioner asserts in passing that "private individ uals cannot, consistent with due process, bring criminal actions in their own name." Pet. 21. While petitioner does not contend that due process requires a disinter ested prosecutor, see p. 8, supra, he relies on Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614 (1973), for the proposition that due process requires a prosecutor who acts in the name and interest of the sovereign. That case, however, dealt not with due process but with standing. In Linda R.S., a single mother brought suit on equal protection grounds when the local district attorney declined to prosecute the child's alleged father for nonpayment of child support. Id. at 615-616. This Court held that "a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another," id. at 619, and therefore affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff's action for want of standing. This Court had no occasion to consider whether, consistent with due process, a leg islature may permit a private party to undertake a pro ceeding for criminal contempt in her own name and in terest.

Petitioner does not otherwise develop any argument that the District of Columbia's creation of a statutory private right of action for criminal contempt violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment or separation-of-powers principles. He does not cite any decision of any court finding such a constitutional viola tion. Nor does he discuss this Court's precedents ad dressing when nominally private conduct can constitute government action for constitutional purposes. See, e.g., Brentwood Acad. v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 296 (2001) ("We have treated a nom inally private entity as a state actor * * * when it has been delegated a public function by the State."); Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 51 (1992); Edmonson v. Lees ville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 627-628 (1991). Peti tioner does not develop any argument that the prosecu tion of criminal contempt is the sort of public function that constitutes governmental action even when per formed by private parties.

Given the complexity and importance of those consti tutional issues, this Court should await a properly devel oped challenge to Section 16-1005(f). The majority of States allow private parties to prosecute criminal con tempt. See Joan Meier, The "Right" to a Disinterested Prosecutor of Criminal Contempt: Unpacking Public and Private Interests, 70 Wash. U. L.Q. 85, 103-104 & n.89 (1992). But the circumstances in which States allow such prosecutions vary widely. Id. at 104-107. Because any decision addressing the constitutionality of a statu tory private right of action for criminal contempt could apply broadly to many States' laws, the Court should await a case that fully presents the relevant statutory and constitutional questions. For example, a decision that addressed whether private parties may serve as contempt prosecutors in their own names and not as governmental representatives, without addressing whether interested private parties may do so at all, could result in an abstract or limited decision that has little relevance to many actual statutory schemes. Fur ther review of petitioner's claims is therefore not war ranted in the context of this case.

B. This Case Is An Unsuitable Vehicle In Any Event For Examining The Issues Raised By Private Prosecution Of Criminal Contempt

Even assuming that the Due Process Clause required respondent to represent the United States when prose cuting the criminal contempt action at issue, petitioner still would not be entitled to relief on the facts of this case. For that reason, this case is an unsuitable vehicle for examining any constitutional issues raised by prose cution of criminal contempt by the holders of CPOs. Cf. Rescue Army v. Municipal Ct., 331 U.S. 549, 569 (1947) ("[C]onstitutional issues affecting legislation will not be determined * * * if the record presents some other ground upon which the case may be disposed of.").

1. Even if respondent were thought to represent the United States when prosecuting petitioner for criminal contempt, that still would not have violated the plea agreement that is at the center of petitioner's claim. See Pet. 30 ("In a criminal contempt action maintained in the United States' name and power, an alleged con temnor is entitled to the benefit of bargained-for prom ises made by government lawyers."); see also Pet. 2, 5, 31 (relying on plea agreement as ultimate source of re lief). That agreement was solely between petitioner and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. The AUSA handling petitioner's case crossed through "District of Columbia" in the caption of the agreement, so that it read only "United States vs. John Robertson." App. infra, 1a. The AUSA also crossed through "Assistant Corporation Counsel" in his signa ture line, so that it read only "Assistant U.S. Attorney." Ibid. The AUSA then wrote at the top of the form: "In exchange for Mr. Robertson's plea of guilty to Attemp ted Aggravated Assault, gov't agrees to" dismiss the re maining charges and "not pursue any charges concern ing an incident on 6-26-99." Ibid.

As the court of appeals recognized, in context "the abbreviated word 'gov't' clearly referred to the United States, not [respondent], and certainly not the District of Columbia since that name was deleted." Pet. App. A20. By crossing through "the District of Columbia" and "Assistant Corporation Counsel," the AUSA made clear that the plea agreement covered only the USAO, and not the District of Columbia itself or its Office of the Attorney General. Indeed, in the context of federal plea agreements, "within the criminal justice system throughout the country, the term 'the government' is widely used and understood to refer to the 'prosecution' or 'the United States Attorney.'" United States v. Rourke, 74 F.3d 802, 807 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1215 (1996).

A plea agreement made by one United States Attor ney's Office does not normally bind any other agency or entity acting on behalf of the United States. See, e.g., United States v. Camacho-Bordes, 94 F.3d 1168, 1175 (8th Cir. 1996) (plea agreement by United States Attor ney, on behalf of "the Government," did not bind the

INS); United States v. Annabi, 771 F.2d 670, 672 (2d Cir. 1985) (plea agreement by one United States Attor ney, on behalf of "the Government," did not bind another United States Attorney's Office, "unless it affirmatively appears that the agreement contemplates a broader re striction"). Even under an approach that construes plea agreements by one United States Attorney's Office to cover other such offices, and requires restrictions on the scope of such an agreement to appear on its face, see United States v. Gebbie, 294 F.3d 540, 550 (3d Cir. 2002); see also United States v. Johnston, 199 F.3d 1015, 1020 (9th Cir. 1999) (discussing United States v. Harvey, 791 F.2d 294, 303 (4th Cir. 1986)), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1207 (2000), the agreement in this case evinces an intent to limit its scope to the United States Attorney's Office in question. Certainly, no logic justifies construing the agreement to cover a private prosecutor in a contempt action who, at the time of the agreement, was under stood by local law to pursue such claims in her own right. The court of appeals therefore correctly con cluded that "no objectively reasonable person could un derstand that [petitioner's] plea agreement bound [re spondent] and precluded her contempt proceeding * * * , or that the agreement bound the District, a dis tinct, separate governmental entity." Pet. App. A20.

That conclusion is especially appropriate in view of D.C. Code § 16-1002(c) (West 2001). At the time peti tioner signed his plea agreement, Section 16-1002(c) provided that "[t]he institution of criminal charges by the United States attorney shall be in addition to, and shall not affect the rights of the complainant to seek any other relief under this subchapter." Section 16-1002(c) thus placed petitioner and his counsel on notice that the USAO's institution of criminal charges (and its subse quent resolution of those charges in a plea agreement) did not affect respondent's right to seek her own relief by instituting a criminal contempt proceeding.2 In light of both the specific terms of the plea agreement at issue and the legal backdrop for that agreement, petitioner could not reasonably have believed that the agreement precluded respondent from instituting a proceeding against him for criminal contempt under Section 16-1005(f).

2. Petitioner did not contend at any point during his trial for criminal contempt in the Family Division of the Superior Court that the proceeding violated his earlier plea agreement. Rather, while his direct appeal from the criminal contempt convictions was pending before the court of appeals, petitioner filed a motion in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court to vacate those convictions pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110(a) (West 2001). Pet. App. A6-A7. When that motion was denied, petitioner appealed, and the court of appeals consoli dated petitioner's direct and collateral appeals. Id. at A1-A2.

With respect to petitioner's direct appeal, his failure to timely raise the claim means that it is reviewed for plain error. See D.C. Super. Ct. R. Crim. P. 52(b); Green v. United States, 948 A.2d 554, 559 (D.C. 2008). An error constitutes reversible plain error only if the defendant can show that (1) there was an error, (2) the error was obvious, (3) the error affected substantial rights, and (4) the error seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Ibid. A case requiring those additional showings would be an unsuitable vehicle for addressing the underlying legal question-i.e., the permissibility of a statutory private right of action for criminal contempt. Petitioner does not attempt to explain how he could show obvious error, given the absence of any decision from this Court or any court of appeals invalidating a statutory private right of action for criminal contempt.

With respect to petitioner's collateral appeal, peti tioner would be entitled to relief only upon a demonstra tion of cause for his failure to timely raise the claim and prejudice as a result of that failure. See, e.g., Head v. United States, 489 A.2d 450, 451 (D.C. 1985) ("Where a defendant has failed to raise an available challenge to his conviction on direct appeal, he may not raise that issue on collateral attack unless he shows both cause for his failure to do so and prejudice as a result of his fail ure."). Just as petitioner does not attempt to demon strate plain error, he does not attempt to demonstrate justifiable cause. In those circumstances, this case does not present an appropriate opportunity for considering the difficult issues raised by purely private prosecution of criminal contempt by the holders of CPOs.

3. Finally, even assuming that respondent's criminal contempt prosecution both breached the plea agreement and rose to the level of plain error, it is not clear that petitioner seeks an appropriate remedy for the breach. Petitioner recognizes that "specific performance is no longer available," but argues for "a remedy approximat ing specific performance: a reversal of [his] convictions for criminal contempt." Pet. C.A. Br. 36. Specific per formance is generally disfavored, however, when it would undermine third-party interests, see Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 364 (1981), such as respondent's interest in protecting her personal safety and security by pursuing an action for criminal contempt under D.C. Code § 16-1005(f) (West Supp. 2009). Accordingly, the more appropriate remedy might be rescission-i.e., withdrawal of petitioner's guilty plea to attempted ag gravated assault. See Puckett v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1423, 1430 (2009) (citing 26 Richard A. Lord, Willis ton on Contracts § 68.1 (4th ed. 2003)). To the extent that such relief would not aid petitioner (because he has served the sentence imposed for his assault conviction), that is because petitioner waited three years before claiming a breach of the plea agreement. In any event, petitioner does not defend his choice of remedy before this Court, and the need to resolve that question as a predicate to relief provides an additional reason why further review of petitioner's claims is not warranted.

CONCLUSION

The petition for a writ of certiorari should be denied.

Respectfully submitted.

ELENA KAGAN
Solicitor General
LANNY A. BREUER
Assistant Attorney General
MICHAEL R. DREEBEN
Deputy Solicitor General
JEFFREY B. WALL
Assistant to the Solicitor
General
JOSEPH F. PALMER
Attorney

NOVEMBER 2009

1 Petitioner places (Pet. 19 n.15) undue weight on Justice White's as sertion in Dixon that it was "immaterial" that Foster's "contempt pro ceeding was brought and prosecuted by a private party," because "pri vate attorneys appointed to prosecute a criminal contempt action repre sent the United States." 509 U.S. at 727 n.3 (concurring in the judg ment in part and dissenting in part) (brackets omitted). That assertion, which in any event did not command a majority of the Court, does not bear on whether a private party represents the government when she institutes a criminal contempt proceeding pursuant to a statutory right of action rather than a judicial appointment.

2 Since the time that petitioner signed his plea agreement, Section 16-1002(c) has been amended. See D.C. Code § 16-1002 (West Supp. 2009). In its present form, Section 16-1002 continues to provide that the holder of a CPO "has a right to seek relief," including by instituting a criminal contempt action. According to Section 16-1002, that right "does not depend on the decision of the Attorney General, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, or a prosecuting attorney in any jurisdiction to initiate or not to initiate a criminal or delinquency case or on the pendency or termination of a criminal or delinquency case involving the same parties or issues." Ibid.