More than 24 hours after a judge signed an order for his immediate arrest, Augusta lawyer Christopher Nicholson is considered a fugitive.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Friday afternoon that his officers have looked for Nicholson at his home, office and a golf course he frequents but haven’t found him.
An officer did reach Nicholson by cellphone, and the lawyer knows there is a warrant for his arrest, Strength said.
Nicholson, 64, said he was out of town filing an appeal of the order of contempt that led to his arrest warrant. The sheriff said Nicholson told the officer that when the court ruled either Friday or Monday he would return to Augusta and surrender.
On Friday afternoon, however, a check of the online dockets of the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court showed no pending case involving Nicholson, who has practiced law since 1974.
“If you tell me where he is, I will put him in jail,” Strength said.
Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins issued an order finding Nicholson in contempt of court Tuesday. The judge imposed a 20-day jail sentence and $500 fine, but he gave Nicholson the option of serving the time on house arrest with electronic monitoring. The judge set a deadline for Nicholson to choose, and when Nicholson had not complied by noon, Watkins issued an order for Nicholson’s immediate arrest to begin a 20-day jail sentence.
The sheriff said his office has interviewed people close to Nicholson and believes Nicholson is out of town. If they knew where he was, they could have the local police department pick Nicholson up and hold him for Richmond County, Strength said.
Using his cellphone to track Nicholson’s location is possible but not practical. The cost in manpower and expenses would be too great. That has been done it for murder cases and such, but the Nicholson matter does not rise to that level, Strength said.
Being a fugitive is not a crime in itself, the sheriff said. If it turns out Nicholson lied to his officer, however, it could be obstruction; Strength said he doubted such a charge would be filed.
“He’s got enough problems,” Strength said.
In addition to the contempt of court ruling, he could face professional disciplinary action for his behavior at a Aug. 2 bench trial before Watkins. The judge conducted a hearing Tuesday – which Nicholson failed to attend – to determine whether he should find Nicholson in contempt of court for walking out in the middle of the trial, leaving his client behind.
Assistant Solicitor Kelly McIntyre said Friday that in 18 years in the court system, “Never in my life have I seen an attorney act like that.”
McIntyre was prosecuting Nicholson’s client, Matthew Dunham, on charges of driving under the influence and speeding.
At the point in the trial that Nicholson should have begun presenting a defense, he was ranting and raving, and then he went over to her, stood directly over her and screamed at her while pointing his finger in her face, she said.
Watkins got both attorneys to sit down and asked Nicholson whether he was going to present witnesses or have his client testify, McIntyre said.
Nicholson threw his things together and got up to leave.
“He can deal with this, or he can take care of this himself,” Nicholson said of his client, who was left at the defense table holding his head in his hands, McIntyre said.
Dunham was found guilty, but he has hired a new attorney and a motion for a new trial has been filed.
One cause listed for the new trial – that Nicholson walked out of the first one.