Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What Is Contempt?

Without contempt, courts are like a tiger without teeth.
Without the ability to enforce it's orders, the Courts are like a tiger without teeth.  Therefore, courts have the power to hold individuals in contempt.  Although generally considered a non-criminal remedy (a civil remedy) but because a person could wind up in jail, it is basically criminal in nature and should be treated with that level of seriousness.  That is why many of the rights that we would normally think of being attached to a criminal proceeding (reading of rights, right to counsel, etc) may come into play.

Also, attorneys who attempt to get contempt for their clients must have specialized skill because pleadings and orders must be drafted with particular care.  An alleged contemptor may get off on a technicality because of sloppy drafting and because double jeopardy may attach, the careless lawyer may not have the opportunity to fix their error.

Contempt may be punished by a fine of not more tha $500 or confinement in the county jail for up to 6 months, or both.  That is for each violation (which in most family court proceedings there are usually multiple violations of support payments or instances of denied visitation.  In addition, contemptors can be placed on probation and under community supervision for a period not to exceed ten years. (Texas Family Code 157.211 and 157.212).

Contempt comes in two flavors.  Direct contempt is something that happened in front of the judge.  When Judge Judy gets pissed off at the sophomoric behavior of some idiot who can't get clue- that is direct contempt.   Direct contempt ensures that the court and the officers in it are treated with the respect and deference necessary for justice to happen. The other kind of contempt is called constructive contempt.  This is when, outside of court, a person does or fails to do something the court ordered him to do.  Essentially, the contemptor may be smiling to the judge's face, but then thumbing his nose at the court as soon as his back is towards the bench.  Constructive or indirect contempt is much more common and includes the engaging in conduct prohibited by the court such as violating a restraining order or failing to do something the court orders, such as paying child support.  Indirect contempt usually (but not always) requires a written order signed by the judge.

Mumbo-jumbo to know:

  • direct contempt
  • indirect contempt
  • contemptor