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7th Circuit vacates sanction in contempt judgment

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that an order, while unclear, did require a company to become the operator of leases involving oil and gas fields in Texas. But the judges held the District Court judge didn’t fully explain why he was imposing the sanction he did, so the 7th Circuit vacated the sanction.

At issue in Securities and Exchange Commission v. First Choice Management Services Inc. et al.; SonCo Holdings LLC v. Joseph D. Bradley, receiver, and ALCO Oil & Gas Co. LLC, No. 11-1702, is the sanction imposed stemming from a settlement SonCo Holdings entered into with the receiver of First Choice Management Services, which had defrauded victims out of $31 million. Some of First Choice’s assets had been used to acquire “Hull-Silk” oil and gas leases in Texas through a sham corporation. SonCo claimed to have a valid legal interest in the leases obtained through the sham corporation. ALCO Oil & Gas Co. was the operator of the leases.

As part of the settlement, SonCo paid the receiver $600,000 and was ordered to "obtain a bond … that shall replace ALCO’s bond so that ALCO and the receiver may obtain the release of its bond paid for with the defrauded investor funds." ALCO had paid a $250,000 cash bond with the Texas Railroad Commission to assure payment of any costs the commission might impose on ALCO for failing as operator of the wells.  
 
SonCo failed to post the bond that would replace ALCO’s bond and didn’t obtain the commission’s authorization to operate the wells. The District Court held SonCo in contempt, ordered it to return the Hull-Silk leases to the receiver, and allowed the receiver to keep the $600,000 SonCo paid to the receiver. The receiver then assigned them to another company, which in turn assigned them to an unrelated party.

The 7th Circuit found the agreed order was poorly drafted but the language did indicate that SonCo posted a bond so ALCO’s could be released. The order doesn’t say that SonCo must be the operator; it could have engaged with another oil company to become the operator, noted Judge Richard Posner.

Since the District judge in this case used the term “contempt” when sanctioning SonCo, he had to prove the contempt by clear and convincing evidence, which he did not do. The 7th Circuit vacated the sanction and remanded with instructions: the District judge can reimpose the sanction he imposed upon demonstration that it is a compensatory remedy for a civil contempt after all; impose a different or even no sanction, whether for civil contempt or for misconduct not characterized as contempt; or proceed under the rules governing criminal contempts, wrote Posner.

 

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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