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What is contempt of court?

September 4, 2019

By Attorney Cara Anthaney

What happens if a person fails to appear in court when ordered to do so? Or if a person fails to comply with a mandate set forth in a court order? This conduct is considered contempt of court. A person who commits contempt is called a contemnor. When a person blatantly violates a specific and clear court order, s/he can be held in contempt. In the Seventh Circuit, “[f]or [a party] to be held in civil contempt, he must have violated an order that sets forth in specific detail an unequivocal command from the court.” Tranzact Techs., Inc. v. 1Source Worldsite, 406 F.3d 851, 855 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v. Dowell, 257 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir.2001)).

Contempt can be either civil or criminal, and direct or indirect. Civil contempt relief is either coercive or remedial, and it is designed either to compel the contemnor into compliance with an existing court order or to compensate the complainant for losses sustained as a result of the contumacy, while criminal contempt sanctions are punitive and are meant to vindicate the authority of the court. See Lightspeed Media Corp. v. Smith, 830 F.3d 500, 508 (7th Cir. July 19, 2016). Direct contempt occurs in the court’s presence with the judge’s personal knowledge. 17 Am. Jur. 2d Contempt § 18; see also Matter of Jafree 741F.2d 133, 135 (7th Cir 1984). Indirect contempt occurs outside of the court’s presence to which the judge does not have personal knowledge of. Id

The courts have the power to invoke a variety of sanctions to put force behind their orders when a person is in contempt of court. Such sanctions may include imposing jail time to contemnor, imposing monetary fines or ordering the contemnor to pay attorneys’ fees and costs to the adverse party in lawsuit. Needless to say, it is wise to always obey orders of the court.