Jim Shella, writing for WISHTV, reports that a Howard County judge has, at least ostensibly, found the Kokomo mayor in contempt for issues having to do with construction around the courthouse.
Outside the Howard County Courthouse there is construction underway on the Industrial Heritage Trail. The construction has at times forced changes in the normal delivery of jail inmates to the courthouse.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon construction materials were placed in the driveway blocking access. To Judge Menges that was an act of contempt by Mayor Goodnight.
He sent the Sheriff to Goodnight’s office with a message. “If you don’t come with me over to the judge’s chamber,” Goodnight quoted the Sheriff as saying, “we’re going to take you to jail.”
Through a spokesperson the judge said he can’t comment on the record. His contempt order says the mayor blocked access to the courthouse and says it was “intentional and done solely for the purpose of disrupting the regular proceedings of the court.”
I’m not going to say I have the authoritative answer on these issues, particularly based on what is probably an incomplete set of facts, but some questions come to mind:
1. Wouldn’t that be, at best, indirect contempt, requiring the court to provide due process, including appointment of a special judge, before threatening to incarcerate the mayor? (See IC 34-47-3).
2. Given that there are multiple judges at the Howard County courthouse is Judge Menges authorized to take action absent the consent of his colleagues with respect to matters concerning the courthouse generally as opposed to his court room in particular?
3. When does that part of the courthouse stop being under the jurisdiction of the state judiciary in the person of the judge (or judges) and start being under the jurisdiction of the Board of Commissioners? If, for example, the judge asserts the authority to clear obstructions to the drive; does he then become liable if someone slips and falls on the driveway from a hazard he had the power to remedy?
4. Did the City have a construction easement that authorized the use of the real estate in that fashion?
This would be a good exercise for a law school exam!
UpdatePat Munsey, writing for the Kokomo Perspective, has some additional details.
On the order of Howard Superior Court I Judge William Menges, Goodnight was brought to court and summarily sentenced to the Howard County Jail on a charge of direct contempt of court.
During the hearing, Menges explained that the courthouse’s west entrance had been blocked, making it impossible for the county to transport “dangerous” prisoners to the court for a Friday hearing. Initially, the county determined that it would fill an area with gravel leading to the concrete pad so that the transports could be completed.
The rest of the story describes Menges summarizing information he seems to have received second and third hand before finding Mayor Goodnight in “direct contempt.”
IC 34-47-2 describes “direct contempt” as involving activity taking place “in a court of record” while the court is in session. That’s clearly not what took place here. Sometimes the courts take the position that the legislature can go pound sand when it comes to defining the court’s powers, so maybe the Indiana Supreme Court has its own definition of “direct contempt” that goes beyond the statute. But I can’t imagine that what’s described in these news reports satisfies the requirements of due process.
Update 2 The court’s order on “direct contempt” is here (pdf). The court’s rationale for calling this “direct contempt” (which can be punished with much less in the way of process) instead of “indirect contempt” (which would seem to require appointment of a special judge) is that the judge witnessed the placement of construction materials in the courthouse drive. I don’t see that the court had direct, first-hand knowledge of the mayor’s acts or omissions.