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COA reverses contempt finding, but upholds sanctions

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A nurse who made false allegations leading to the detention of a co-worker for mental health reasons will have to pay as ordered toward the woman’s attorney fees even though the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed an indirect civil contempt finding.

In In the Matter of Mental Health Actions for A.S.; Sara Townsend, 10A01-1211-MH-501, Sara Townsend appealed the indirect civil contempt finding imposed by Clark Circuit Judge Daniel Moore for lying on an application for emergency detention at a hospital regarding co-worker A.S. Townsend alleged A.S. said she was having marital problems and wanted to “end it all.”

A.S. was detained based on a signed statement from a physician who did not evaluate her. But when learning of her detention, several people brought to the attention of the judge that they did not believe A.S. should be kept in emergency detention. She was released. After an independent investigation, the trial court held a hearing and found Townsend to be in indirect civil contempt for willfully making false statements to the court through the emergency detention application. The court ordered Townsend to pay A.S.’s uninsured hospital bills resulting from the detention; $500 to the hospital; and $1,000 toward whatever attorney fees A.S. incurred as a result of the contempt hearing.

The Court of Appeals reversed the contempt finding, concluding “that a finding of civil contempt under I.C. § 34-47-3-1 must be premised upon an action that disobeys or in some other way impedes or is inconsistent with an existing court order or action. The detention warrant did not exist at the time Townsend completed the Application. In the absence of a court order or directive, there can be no disobedience thereof, which is the gravamen of a civil-contempt finding.”

This matter should have been pursued as an action for criminal contempt, Judge Ezra Friedlander pointed out. It’s up to the state on remand whether it wants to pursue a charge of direct criminal contempt.

The COA also upheld the order to reimburse A.S. and the hospital because such was a legitimate exercise of the court’s inherent power to impose sanctions.
 

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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