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Contempt of Court “Don’t Mess with Texas" (COURTS) Marcus D. Taylor Retired Criminal District Attorney Wood County, Texas` Contempt Power in General TX GOVT sec. 21.001 (a) A court has all powers necessary for the exercise of its jurisdiction and the enforcement of it’s lawful orders… (b) A court shall require that proceedings be conducted with dignity and in an orderly and expeditious manner… so that justice is done. TX GOVT sec. 21.002 (a) …a court may punish for contempt. Types of Contempt Direct Vs. Constructive Direct - within the presence of the court Constructive - outside the presence of the court Contempt by Particular Parties Attorneys Justices of the Peace Jurors/Prospective Jurors Spectators Witnesses Employers Court officers Court reporters Bailiffs Clerks Direct Contempt Proceedings Summary in Nature Occurred in court’s presence, so no need for hearing Act usually requires immediate vindication of court dignity Officers of the Court Law allows contemnor to move for PR bond and appointment of different judge to determine guilt or innocence Court must grant motion Characteristics of Hearing Notice of hearing not required if acts punished immediately If court does not act immediately, the notice and hearing is required Defense to Direct Contempt Truth may set you free Truth of a statement that forms the basis of the charge is a defense If charge based on Publication during trial, truth of publication is NOT a defense Invalid Defenses Mootness on merits Apology/Purging Constructive Contempt Proceeding Constructive contempt act done away from court that tends to belittle, degrade, obstruct, interrupt, or embarrass the administration of justice Examples: violation of court order discovery abuse filing offensive papers in court attorney late for trial making defamatory statements direct contempt by officer of the court Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Rights of the Alleged Contemnor No arrest Notice of the specific charges Hearing in open court Right to counsel Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Contempt Complaint Filed by any person who witnessed/has knowledge of alleged contempt Must be sworn to Separate charges for each act Must show accused had knowledge act committed If complaint insufficient, then court has no jurisdiction Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Show Cause Order Directs accused to appear on certain day and show cause why he/she should not be held in contempt Must be delivered to person accused or show he/she has actual notice Must be full and complete notification when how what means Void if fails on any of these If accused fails to appear, court may issue writ of attachment contempt Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Hearing Generally, NO right to JURY TRIAL If multiple charges which, if accumulated (run consecutively), could exceed six months confinement, then accused is entitled to a jury trial. Judge must hear from both sides If accused is indigent AND judge intends to impose confinement, then court MUST appoint an attorney for the accused. Accused has right to invoke the 5th Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Defenses to Constructive Contempt Void Order No jurisdiction Unconstitutionally vague Lack of knowledge Acquiescence of complainant Truth Constructive Contempt Proceeding (cont) Incomplete Defenses Mootness Apology Inability to comply with court order Judgment of Contempt Requirements Must be written Recites facts or omissions=contempt Recite jurisdiction over person and act Certain as to time and condition of punishment CLEARLY state what acts, if any, required to mitigate Make SEPARATE findings and SEPARATE PUNISHMENT in each case If court makes ONE penalty for multiple acts and a single act is found void, the WHOLE ORDER IS VOID IMPRISONMENT requires written Order of Commitment Can award costs, but no damages Punishment Types (TX GOVT sec.21.002) Fine not to exceed $500 per count (generally) Can set out in jail at rate of $50/day If so, will be credited to imprisonment ordered Imprisonment not to exceed six months per count Criminal - inability to comply with order does not bar jail Civil - court may exceed statutory confinement to compel obedience, but MUST include a SPECIFIC purge clause Combination of fine and imprisonment Punishment (cont.) Inability to Comply - Civil Contemnor unable to comply = NO JAIL Accused has b/p to conclusively establish involuntary inability See, however, Ex parte Chambers, 898 S. W. 2nd 257 (Tex. 1995 Punishment (cont.) Inability to Comply - Civil Contemnor unable to comply = NO JAIL Accused has b/p to conclusively establish involuntary inability See, however, Ex parte Chambers, 898 S. W. 2nd 257 (Tex. 1995 Review of Contempt Judgment Ordering Imprisonment Texas does not allow appeal Accused can seek Writ of Habeas Corpus Whether trial court had jurisdiction over person Whether trial court had jurisdiction over subject matter Whether accused afforded proper notice and hearing Whether order supported by evidence Review of Contempt Judgment (cont.) Ordering Fine Only Not Reviewable….unless Contemnor so bull headed he/she won’t pay fine, then… Court imprisons him/her for non-payment, then can file Writ of Habeas Corpus The End Ex parte Franklin Chambers 898 S. W. 2nd 257 Supreme Court of Texas 1995 Summary April 9, 1992 Chambers incorporated IBS to compete with IBEC June 15, 1992 Chambers removed all IBS board members and became the sole officer, director and shareholder of IBS July 15, 1992 First restraining order to prohibit violation of non-competition agreement August 19, 1992 Amended rest. Order after hearing where court found preparing to violate non-competition agreement and TRO clarified January 4, 1993 Second TRO Court found IBS contacting former and current IBEC customers and enjoined same. January 15, 1993 2nd TRO made into permanent RO February 2, 1993 First Contempt Judgment Held Chambers and IBS in contempt and assessed fine on both March 1993 Chambers begins doing business as IBS-2 as a sole proprietor at same office, phone and equipment. He drained most of the cash reserves from IBS. June 8, 1993 The day before the hearing on the 2nd contempt motion, Chambers drew all the money from the IBS account. June 24,1993 2nd Contempt Order Court held IBS in contempt for six violations and fined $3,000. No one paid. October 25, 1993 Third judgment of contempt and commitment order Held IBS and Chambers, as it’s sole officer, director and shareholder, in contempt. Ordered Chambers jailed seven days and fined $3,000. And the Supreme Court of Texas said... “Turn him loose!” Order was sufficiently specific to give rise to personal duty on officer’s part to obey BUT... IBS is “broke” and unable to comply BECAUSE OF ACTIONS PRIOR TO COURT’S ORDER REDUCED TO WRITING! GONZALEZ, Justice, dissenting. “I will not join an opinion that allows Chambers to continue brazenly flouting the orders of the trial court, thus making a mockery of the judicial system” Thank you, Justice Gonzalez!
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