September 2012 Archives
It can be a misdemeanor to disobey a court order. Disobedience of a court order is called contempt. A contempt proceeding is a special proceeding in which, technically speaking, the court and the person charged with contempt are the only parties. However, the person alleged to be aggrieved by disobedience to the order in question is permitted to participate in a role that is, in all but name, that of an amicus curiae. The proceeding is not an adversary proceeding of the usual kind, but courts generally use familiar litigation terms and concepts in discussing contempt proceedings. For example, the California Supreme Court has said that in a prosecution for constructive contempt, the affidavit on which the proceeding is based constitutes the complaint, the affidavit of the defendant constitutes the answer, and the issues of fact are thus framed by the respective affidavits serving as pleadings.
Appellate courts often characterize a civil contempt proceeding as "criminal," "quasi-criminal," or "criminal in nature." However, the proceeding is not a criminal action or a prosecution for crime, although the punishment for civil contempt may be the same as that for a crime: imprisonment or fine, or both. By referring to the proceeding as criminal, the courts mean merely that certain procedural rules applicable in criminal actions also apply in a civil contempt proceeding.
Generally, a person who is convicted of contempt may be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or by imprisonment not exceeding five days, or both. In addition, a contemnor who has violated a court order may be ordered to pay attorney's fees and costs incurred to the party who initiated the contempt proceeding.
There are more specific statutory penalties with regard to contempt of family law orders. In any court action in which a party is found in contempt of court for failure to comply with an order under the Family Code, the court must order the following: