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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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