Sunday, February 26, 2006

Contempt – Part 1

"A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims."
-- Ayn Rand
Contempt Defined

The Following text is an explanation of Contempt as defined by The Honorable Carolyn K. Fulmer District Court of Appeal Second District March 1999 Revised and Updated by Judge John C. Lenderman February 2002.

Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or dignity. This includes but is not limited to a willful refusal to obey any legal order, mandate or decree made or given by any judge. See Ex Parte Earman, 85 Fla. 297, 95 So. 755 (1923); section 38.23, Florida Statutes.

Courts have the authority to enforce a judgment by the exercise of their contempt powers. They are granted this contempt authority because orderly government demands that respect and compliance be given to court orders. Parisi v. Broward County, 769 So.2d 359 (Fla. 2000).
The definition of criminal contempt is not restricted to a violation of an order per se. The test in determining whether conduct constitutes criminal contempt is whether the conduct interferes with or impugns the judicial function, not whether it causes a particular judge to feel aggrieved or vexed. Thomas v. State, 752 So.2d 679 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000).

Ambiguous Orders: Ambiguous, implied or inherent provisions of a final judgment or order cannot serve as a basis for an order of contempt. Keitel v. Keitel, 716 So.2d 842 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998); Reynolds v. Reynolds, 711 So.2d 45 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998).

Erroneous Orders: Party may be held in contempt for failing to comply with erroneous order. Rubin v. State, 490 So.2d 1001 (Fla. 3d DCA) rev. denied, 501 So.2d 1283 (Fla. 1986); Robbie v. Robbie, 726 So.2d 817 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999).

Intent: Intent to disobey court order is one of the necessary elements of contempt. Power Line Components, Inc. v. Mil-Spec Components, Inc., 720 So.2d 546 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). For example, late court appearance because of car breakdown is not indirect criminal contempt. Werner v. State, 740 So.2d 591 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999).


A contempt is either civil or criminal and either direct or indirect. The cause in which the contempt arises is not determinative. For example, a criminal contempt may occur in a civil proceeding. The distinctions are important because the type of contempt governs the procedures that must be used to institute and conduct the hearing, and the sanctions that may be used. Pugliese v. Pugliese, 347 So.2d 422 (Fla. 1977).

1. Criminal Contempt
If the purpose of the contempt proceeding is to punish for offensive conduct against the court, its judgments, orders or processes, it is criminal.

2. Civil Contempt If the purpose of the contempt proceeding is remedial or coercive, it is civil. Civil contempt is usually used to preserve and enforce rights of private parties to a suit or to compel obedience to orders made for the benefit of a party. Civil contempt may not be used to compel payment of debt not considered support. Montanez v. Montanez, 697 So.2d 184 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997); Lee v. Lee, 710 So.2d 186 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998).

3. Direct Contempt
If an act deemed contemptuous is committed in the presence of the court (i.e., detected through the judge’s sense of hearing, seeing, or smelling), it is direct.

4. Indirect (Constructive) Contempt
If an act deemed contemptuous is committed outside of the presence of the judge, it is indirect. (E.g., if the judge does not see, hear or smell the contemptuous act, it is indirect contempt even if it is committed in the courtroom where the judge is presiding.)

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