Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Law Offices Wins Appeal for Florida Man Wrongfully Jailed for Contempt

When you become involved in a family law case, it is important that you follow the orders issued by the judge. However, it is also important to understand that, if you do not comply, there are certain limits imposed by the law regarding the punishments that the judge can hand out. These limits are the reason that the Third District Court of Appeal threw out an order jailing a man recently. The man, represented by Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Law Offices, could not permissibly be jailed because the notice regarding his most recent hearing, which he attended, did not state that he was potentially facing criminal contempt penalties.

In this case, M.M. had failed to comply with an order issued by a Miami-Dade County trial court. Based upon that failure, the court issued what’s called an “order to show cause” and scheduled another hearing on August 3. An order to show cause is a court order in which the court demands that you present your reasons for failing to comply with a previous order. Whether or not the court finds you in contempt will be based, in part, upon the extent to which you can give the court sufficiently good cause for failing to comply with that previous order.

M.M. showed up to his August 3 hearing, where the court explained the charges, informed M.M. of his rights, and scheduled a later hearing for the purpose of taking testimony and presenting evidence. Then, at the hearing’s end, the judge ordered M.M. jailed until he posted a $100,000 bond or until he appeared at the next hearing in late September. M.M.’s counsel objected to this decision, pointing out that the existing order to show cause did not authorize the man’s incarceration. The trial judge went forward with the decision to jail M.M. anyway.

On the next day, M.M.’s legal team filed a petition of habeas corpus in the Third Circuit, and the appeals court ordered him released immediately. A petition for habeas corpus is a legal process objecting to one’s imprisonment. In M.M.’s case, his counsel argued that the judge’s decision to place him in jail was not consistent with Florida law. The appeals court agreed. Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure say that a trial judge can order the arrest of a party to a case if that judge reasonably believes that the party “will not appear in response to the order to show cause,” but this situation did not apply to M.M. The court had ordered a hearing on August 3, and M.M. had attended that hearing as ordered.

The key problem with the court’s order was, as trial counsel pointed out, the complete lack of notice to M.M. that he could be sent to jail. Before a court can put you in jail for contempt of court, the court must first provide you with proper notice that jail is a potential penalty that you face. The notice document that M.M. received, demanding his attendance at the August 3 hearing, did not inform him that he possibly was subject to criminal contempt proceedings or criminal penalties (such as jail) at the August hearing. Without notice that such consequences potentially awaited M.M. at the August 3 hearing, the trial court was not allowed to place the man in jail at that time.

Effective legal counsel can help in many ways in your family law case, including helping you protect your rights from legal errors made by the courts. Whether you’re seeking a just distribution of assets in a divorce, a fair custody and timesharing plan, or a defense against alleged contempt of court, the hardworking South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. can help. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Man’s Non-Payment Wasn’t Alimony or Child Support, So Contempt Charge Was Inappropriate, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 20, 2016

Florida Appeals Court Tosses Out Contempt Order Due to Violation of Husband’s Due Process Rights, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2016

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