Judge frees Pa. inmate who served record term for delinquent alimony account
14-year contempt sentence ends
July 11, 2009 4:00 AM
AP Photo/Courtesy of Bobbie Chadwick
In this family photo, H. Beatty Chadwick poses overlooking Florence, Italy, during an Italian motorcycle vacation in 1992. By summer 2006, Chadwick had spent 11 years in a Delaware County, Pa., county jail where he is charged with contempt of court for failing to turn over some $2.5 million in a messy divorce dispute.
By Mari A. Schaefer Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA -- H. Beatty Chadwick, imprisoned in Delaware County for the last 14 years, was in the jail library yesterday giving legal advice to female inmates when a prison official walked up and gave him the news.
He was a free man.
Minutes earlier a Delaware County Common Pleas judge issued an order granting Mr. Chadwick's petition for freedom, thus ending his incarceration for contempt of court -- a U.S. record for the charge.
"We want you out of here right away," Mr. Chadwick, 73, said the official told him.
In 1995 -- the year "Apollo 13" was a box-office hit, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder and 169 people were killed in the bombing of an Oklahoma federal building -- Mr. Chadwick was a corporate lawyer who grew up in Bryn Mawr and became embroiled in a nasty divorce. In April that year, he was arrested by two sheriff's deputies at his dentist's dowtown Philadelphia office and landed in jail.
A Delaware County judge issued an order to jail Mr. Chadwick for failing to deposit $2.5 million in a court-controlled account that would be used to pay alimony to his ex-wife, Barbara "Bobbie" Applegate.
Mr. Chadwick contended he no longer had the money, saying he lost it in a bad overseas investment. The judge believed he hid the money after divorce proceedings were started. Court-ordered investigations after he was jailed turned up no money.
The couple were married for 15 years. Mr. Chadwick called their marriage happy; she said he was stubborn and controlled her every move.
Efforts to reach Ms. Applegate's attorney, Albert Momjian, yesterday were unsuccessful.
In yesterday's ruling, Judge Joseph P. Cronin said Mr. Chadwick had the ability to comply with the 1995 court order to make the bank deposit and willfully refused to do so. But, after 14 years, Judge Cronin said, the contempt order had lost its coercive effect and instead had become punitive.
At the prison yesterday, when Mr. Chadwick's attorney, Michael J. Malloy, arrived to pick him up, about 50 people -- prison staff, correction officers and inmates -- were gathered inside and out to see him off.
"It was pretty remarkable scene," said Mr. Malloy. He added people were crying, shaking hands and hugging Mr. Chadwick. When he walked out into the brilliant, blue sky day, Mr. Malloy said everyone applauded.
The two packed 14 years of clothes, books, magazines -- including Bon Appetit -- and boxes of legal filings into the backseat and trunk of Mr. Malloy's Honda Accord, and then they drove off.
"I really missed being free and being able to have interactions with other people," said Mr. Chadwick, who was dressed in a dapper green suit and maroon tie for the occasion. "Jail is really a very artificial society."
Later in Mr. Malloy's office, Mr. Chadwick talked about his legal battles, the judicial system, his life in prison and his future.
He said he held no anger about the imprisonment or toward his ex-wife, to whom he has not spoken in more than a decade.
"The dark moments always came when I had a turndown from some court," said Mr. Chadwick, who had repeatedly sought release over the years. He said he kept his spirits up helping others with their legal issues.
For more than six years, Mr. Malloy worked pro bono on the case.
"I always thought if I could take this to a jury, he would have been home in a week," said Mr. Malloy.
When Mr. Chadwick's son, William, 41, walked into the office, the two embraced.
"It was so tough to keep up hopes at these hearings," said William Chadwick.
"We were concentrating so much on getting him out, we haven't thought what we'd do immediately afterward."
Beatty Chadwick will stay at his son's house in King of Prussia until he can set up his own apartment. He has no firm plans beyond that.
"I have to get out and make a living," said Mr. Chadwick, who has no income other than Social Security.
He is considering possibly teaching, trying to see what he can do in a corporate advisory role, and he will try to get his law license reinstated.
"I'm really thinking about what I'm going to do with the rest of my life," Mr. Chadwick said.
He would like to use his "skills and talent and time" to benefit others.
As Mr. Chadwick walked outside to transfer his belongings into his son's Prius, a man driving a car along Veteran's Square in Media honked, cheered and gave the thumbs-up sign, all while hanging out the car window.
"Good job, buddy," said the former fellow inmate, who declined to give his name. "You deserve to be out."