Contempt of Court

Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 107 (C.R.C.P. 107) governs contempt proceedings in Colorado. Carefully review and learn that rule. Chances are, you are working with indirect contempt that happened outside of the courtroom. Be sure about which type of contempt you are bringing and what relief you are asking the court to impose.

Direct versus Indirect Contempt

It is not very often that direct contempt occurs. Once, a very well-respected Judge in Colorado had a young man appear before him in a shirt that said, “F— you.” The real word was printed on his shirt, but for decency here, you know enough. The young man must have thought it was hilarious because the Judge was blind. BUT – the Court Clerk, who passed the Judge a note (in braille).  As one can imagine, he was held in direct contemptIndirect contempt occurs when someone disobeys a Court Order or an injunction.

Is Contempt Really your Best Option?

Pursuit of a contempt action is often not the most affordable or reasonable choice. When you walk into a Courtroom asking for contempt even the Judge will be thinking, “This had better be good.”

For example, when someone fails to pay their child support they could be found in contempt. Consider better ways to get what you need, which is the support. Making the non-paying party potentially sit in jail and lose wages and parenting time may not achieve your goal. You may want to confer with an attorney regarding better ways than contempt to attain your objective and this is a time when unbundled legal services could be helpful.

Getting Started

If you end up pursuing a contempt action, make sure you are specific, that you have clear evidence to support you, and that you ask the Court to make a very specific order for either remedial contempt or punitive contempt. You will file a Verified Motion and Affidavit for Citation for Contempt of Court. Then, the court will direct the Clerk to issue you a Citation to Show Cause with a return date set forth a few weeks out. It requires personal service. On the return date, the person who is summoned is advised of his or her rights, and then has to plead guilty or not guilty. He or she almost always pleads not guilty. Then the issue is set for a hearing. The hearing will occur within about a month.

One key to understanding the process is to watch a similar hearing take place, preferably in that judicial officer’s courtroom. That will give you a chance to experience how contempt hearings are conducted and to see how exhibits and objections are handled. If you have seen the process at least once it won’t be so foreign to you. The better prepared you are to present your case the more receptive the Court will be to hearing the case. While process is important what you want is for the Court to focus on the message and not on that you didn’t make enough copies of your exhibits.

Proving Contempt

Punitive contempt requires (1) proof of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt and (2) that the conduct was offensive to the authority and dignity of the Court. In addition, be prepared to show that (3) there was a valid court order, (4) that the other party knew about that order, and (5) that the other party voluntarily acted contrary to the order. If the Court finds the person charged to be guilty, it can impose a fine of up to $5,000 or fixed jail sentence up to 6 months.

The requirements for Remedial contempt are the same as those listed above for punitive contempt, but the burden of proof is  by a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. The other party does not have a 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Remedial contempt requires proof of an additional element, (6) a finding that the person charged with the remedial contempt has the present ability to “purge” or “fix” the problem on the day of the hearing. If the Court finds that the person charged is guilty, it issues an order describing the means by which the person can purge the contempt and the sanctions that will be in effect until the contempt is purged. This could include imprisonment until the contempt is purged.

A Final Caution

Attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded for a remedial contempt but not for a punitive contempt. Awarding fees is always up to the judge and is not mandatory. Attorney’s fees cannot be awarded against you simply because you lose.  However, if the judge makes a finding that bringing the contempt action was frivolous, groundless, and vexatious you could be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the other party.

Our firm offers free consults to clients seeking Unbundled Legal Services if you decide you would like a bit more information than offered above.

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