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Florida Trend Shows Misuse of Contempt Charges

In Floridscreen-shot-2010-06-02-at-101109-am_180x120a, trial judges use “contempt” proceedings when they feel aggrieved. The contempt proceeding, when used by wayward judges, shocks the conscience of the local bar association, the local citizens, and even the local judiciary as a whole. Bad judges are everywhere, but certain areas in Florida seem to tolerate more egregious judges than other areas of the state. While a broad brush should not be used to paint certain areas of the state to show the “bad” judges; it is fair to say that certain counties, mostly the smaller sized ones, have more pathetic jurist than others. Take, for instance, a judge in Indian River County, who recently placed a child in custody for simply answering a question.

In A.W. (child) v. State of Florida, Indian River County Circuit Court Judge Hawley, put a child in jail for just answering a question. The facts of the case are as follows: The juvenile had to return to court for a court ordered physical and the following exchange between the judge and child took place:

THE COURT: Why were you late this morning?

THE JUVENILE: I wasn’t late. I’ve been here.

THE COURT: Any reason why I shouldn’t hold you in contempt of court for the way you’re acting? Any reason? All right. I’ll hold you in direct contempt of court. Five days in the detention center for acting disrespectful to the Court. Go!

Here in A.W. (child), as in many contempt proceedings, the judge must follow the law of contempt, which is specifically spelled out in the following language. “Contempt is an act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the trial court in the administration of justice or which is calculated to lessen its authority or dignity.” Trial judges who “feel” aggrieved or vexed because of a gesture, facial expression, or verbal exchange between themselves and another in the well of the courtroom do not have the power or authority to find the other in contempt. “Direct contempt” of court must actually occur in the presence of the judge, so that he or she sees or hears the conduct constituting the contempt.

It is clear from the above record that the child A.W. was only answering the judge’s question. The judge in A.W. did not like the response he received and thus, placed the child in jail for 5 days. The Appellate court overturned the trial judge’s contempt decision, but only after the child had already served his sentence of incarceration.

Moreover, in contempt proceedings the trial judge must provide the contemptor with an opportunity to mitigate or excuse the circumstances of the contemptor. Here in A.W., the court merely asking “if the child wished to explain his behavior” is not fulfilling the procedural requirements of due process that the child be heard and be able to present evidence to mitigate or excuse his behavior. Here the trial judge was clearly holding this child in contempt because he felt “vexed” with the child. The thought that a judge would place a child in jail for five days for the above exchange and without a chance to be heard, should concern anyone who reads this material.

If you or a loved one is facing a contempt charge, criminal or civil, contact West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer, Andrew D. Stine, who has fought contempt proceedings throughout his career of over a decade for good people who are in dealing with an “unfair” judge or prosecution. Hire Stine or do the Time.


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