"Look, Judge, if we've got to pay for justice around here, I will pay for justice. I've paid other judges to try to get justice, pay you, too, if that's what is necessary."
That statement, made by attorney Chokwe Lumumba to Leake County Circuit Judge Marcus D. Gordon on October 17, 2001 got Lumumba in trouble -- big trouble.
Gordon cited Lumumba for contempt, fined him $500 and ordered him to serve three days in the county jail. According to an Associated Press story written at the time, Lumumba was referring to the fine itself, meaning that he would happily pay the fine if it meant justice for his client at the time, Henry Payton.
A 2003 tribunal recommended a public reprimand for Lumumba but the bar sought a harsher punishment.
"Instead, the Mississippi Bar wanted Lumumba suspended from the practice of law for an unspecified period of time. The Mississippi Bar stated that the length of suspension would be left up to this Court to determine," records show.
The court ruled that in addition to the fines he'd been ordered to pay, a six-month suspension of Lumumba's law license would be appropriate. Lumumba appealed the decision to the Mississippi State Supreme court on the grounds that his speech was protected by the First Amendment. Both courts disagreed.
However, the appellate court found in August 2003: "Lumumba's behavior was done in the presence of the court and intended to embarrass or prevent orderly administration of justice. Further, it was both disrespectful to the judge and disruptive to court proceedings. We cannot fathom any situation that would warrant such behavior. This Court finds that the statements made toward the judge about how he can better get along with lawyers in the future, about the judge's "henchmen," about being proud to be thrown out of the courtroom, and about paying the judge for justice were made to embarrass the court or impede the administration of justice. This Court finds that the statements go far beyond zealous representation of one's client, and makes a mockery of the court and its proceedings."
In 2005, the state Supreme Court declined to hear Lumumba's appeal. The state high court reinstated Lumumba to the bar in 2007 with an 8 to 1 decision.