updated 7/10/2009 8:07:19 PM ET 2009-07-11T00:07:19

A Pennsylvania attorney who was released from prison Friday after serving the longest imprisonment on a civil contempt charge in U.S. history said judges have too much discretion in cases like his.

"If I had been convicted of murder in the third degree in Pennsylvania, I would have been out in half the time I was in jail," H. Beatty Chadwick said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

A judge ordered Chadwick's release from a county prison in suburban Philadelphia more than 14 years after he was jailed for refusing to turn over millions of dollars in a bitter divorce battle. The case prompted dozens of appeals to county, state and federal courts, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chadwick, 73, said he will stay with his 41-year-old son, Bill, for now. He said he plans to find a job, though he was not sure what sort of work he would do.

"I have to spend a little time thinking about that and seeing how I can best use my skills and talents," Chadwick said, speaking from the office of his lawyer, Michael Malloy. He said he was not sure if he would return to practicing law; he is eligible to apply for his law license when a five-year suspension ends next year.

Judge: Incarceration lost its effect
Chadwick was jailed in April 1995, accused of hiding $2.5 million from his ex-wife during divorce proceedings. Chadwick maintained he lost the money in bad investments. In 2006, before the economic downturn, experts estimated the money would be worth more than $8 million.

After repeated attempts to have himself freed, Chadwick's request was granted by Delaware County Judge Joseph Cronin, who determined his continued incarceration had lost its coercive effect and would not result in him turning over the money.

In court documents ordering the release, Cronin said he agreed with previous court rulings that Chadwick "had the ability to comply with the court order ... but that he had willfully refused to do so."

But Chadwick's continued imprisonment would be legal only if it were likely that he would ultimately comply with the order. The judge said that there was little chance of that, and Chadwick should be released.

Chadwick insisted Friday that he was unable to pay the money and said the law should be written so people in his situation can have a jury decide if they are capable of complying with court orders. He said there also ought to be time limits on jailing people for contempt, adding that there is an 18-month limit in the federal courts for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

"There's no question about whether they're able to do it — everybody's able to testify. But in my case, of course, there's a question: Was I able?" he said.

'Thumbed his nose'
Chadwick and the former Barbara Jean "Bobbie" Crowther married in 1977 and lived in Philadelphia's wealthy Main Line suburbs. She filed for divorce in 1992.

Bobbie Chadwick, now known as Bobbie Applegate, declined to comment when reached by telephone at her home in Maine on Friday.

Applegate's attorney, Albert Momjian, said it was the longest incarceration on a civil contempt case in U.S. history. He said he understood and respected the judge's decision but was still disappointed.

"Here's a guy who thumbed his nose at a court order for 14 years," Momjian said of Chadwick. "There should be some kind of sanctions for doing that."

Momjian said he was discussing with his client options in pursuing the divorce settlement. He also was seeking a court order requiring Chadwick to wear an electronic monitoring device and barring him from getting a passport.

"My contention is that he's going to take off very quickly," Momjian said. "He's not going to stick around."

A one-time corporate lawyer, Chadwick has battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in prison.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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