Interesting case from the Court of Appeals involving the judge of the Martin County Circuit Court holding the Martin County Clerk in contempt, sentencing him to jail for 2 days, and fining him $1,000.
Apparently, the facts are more or less these: A criminal defendant plead guilty. The defendant’s bond was ordered to be applied to certain costs and the rest remitted to the defendant. The defendant got the run around from the Clerk’s office with respect to her bond money, waited around a couple of weeks, got the run around again, and complained to the court. The court ordered the Clerk to certify that he had complied with the court’s order with respect to the bond money. Another week went by and the bond still had not been released. The trial court judge sat down with the Clerk and the criminal defendant’s file. The file contained a certification that the Clerk had complied with the court’s order but had a hand written note saying that the bond still needed to be released.
The judge then ordered the Clerk into the court room and told the Clerk he was being charged with direct criminal contempt for not immediately processing the court’s orders and for certifying that he had complied with orders when he had not. The trial court judge then summarily found the Clerk to be in direct criminal contempt of the court and sentenced him to two days in jail and the fine of $1,000.
The Court of Appeals had a few problems with this method of doing business. First of all, the trial court judge got his contempts wrong. Because the alleged wrongdoing did not take place in the court’s presence, it was indirect contempt, not direct contempt. Direct contempt usually involves things like causing a disturbance in the court room. Direct contempt is punishable summarily, without evidence or formal proceedings.
Indirect contempt, among other things, includes disobeying a trial court’s order outside of the presence of the court. The Court of Appeals determined that the alleged wrongdoing here fell within the indirect contempt statute and, therefore, required a bunch of that due process mumbo jumbo like writing down the charge and having sworn facts substantiating the charge. Why I’ll bet they’d even require that the Clerk be afforded a lawyer if it got down to it.
Another interesting statement by the Court of Appeals is that the trial court does not have jurisdiction over monies held by the Clerk. Rather, the remedy for a third party who isn’t getting money held by the clerk to which the person is entitled must proceed against the Clerk’s bond.