What Is Contempt Of Court?

By harley erbe

I recently pointed out to a frustrated client, who believed that the defendant in his case was thumbing his nose at a series of court orders that we had received after a trial, that the fastest way to encourage the defendant to comply with the court orders is to point out that a contempt proceeding would be filed with the court if compliance didn't immediately occur.  Contempt of court occurs when someone or a business willfully ignores or violates a court order.  Contempt can occur during any of our work as Des Moines employment lawyers, Des Moines employment discrimination lawyers, Des Moines disability discrimination lawyers, Des Moines workplace harassment lawyers, Des Moines FMLA lawyers, Des Moines wrongful termination lawyers, Des Moines car accidents lawyers, Des Moines motorcycle accident lawyers, Des Moines dog bite lawyers, Des Moines product liability lawyers, Des Moines personal injury and wrongful death lawyers, and Des Moines nursing home injury lawyers.

Resistance to or violation of an order cannot be considered contempt of court unless it is willful.  To support a finding of willful disobedience, the court must find conduct that is intentional and deliberate with a bad or evil purpose, or wanton and in disregard of the rights of others, or contrary to a known duty, or unauthorized, coupled with an unconcern whether the party had the right or not.  In Iowa, all actions for contempt are quasi-criminal, even when they arise from civil cases.  Therefore, contempt must be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The party requesting a contempt finding has the burden of proving that the alleged violator (1) had a duty to obey a court order and (2) willfully failed to perform that duty.  Once a violation of a court order is proved, the burden shifts to the accused to produce evidence suggesting the violation was not willful.  Proof of contempt must be clear and satisfactory.  The law only requires that some of the violation was willful in order to establish contempt.

In civil cases, contempt proceedings often follow the entry of an injunction against a person or business.  An injunction is a court order requiring a party to do or refrain from doing something.  Violation of an injunction may be punishable as contempt.

An injunction must be clear, definite, and unambiguous before it may provide a basis for contempt.  In deciding whether a party is in contempt of court for violating an injunction, courts take into consideration the spirit as well as the letter of the injunction to determine if its intent has been honestly and fairly obeyed.  No artful attempt to evade it will be allowed to succeed, if the act in fact constitutes a substantial violation of the injunction.

There are only two recognized defenses available to an accused in a contempt action: (1) indefiniteness or uncertainty of the court's order and (2) absence of willfulness in disobeying the order, which was discussed above.  A court order must be clear, definite, express, specific, unequivocal, certain, and not rest upon implication or conjecture before it can be the subject of a contempt action.  Courts should thus draft orders in a manner that those who must obey them will know what the court intends to require and what it means to forbid.  It follows that a court cannot supply by interpretation constraints that are not expressed in an order, especially when the result is to apply powers of the court as formidable as contempt.

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