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. Freedom From Religion Foundation: If you really want to be free from religion, don't go to the Christmas Play or the Christmas Pageant or the Christmas Parade. Anything with "Christ" or Saint...fill in the blank...would be off limits to you. Then leave the rest of us ALONE!

  2. So the prosecutor made an error and the defendants get a full remedy. Just one short paragraph to undo the harm of the erroneous prosecution. Wow. Just wow.

  3. Wake up!!!! Lawyers are useless!! it makes no difference in any way to speak about what is important!! Just dont tell your plans to the "SELFRIGHTEOUS ARROGANT JERKS!! WHO THINK THEY ARE BETTER THAN ANOTHER MAN/WOMAN!!!!!!

  4. Looks like you dont understand Democracy, Civilized Society does not cut a thiefs hands off, becouse now he cant steal or write or feed himself or learn !!! You deserve to be over punished, Many men are mistreated hurt in many ways before a breaking point happens! grow up !!!

  5. It was all that kept us from tyranny. So sad that so few among the elite cared enough to guard the sacred trust. Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law. Sophocles No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor. Theodore Roosevelt That was the ideal ... here is the Hoosier reality: The King can do no wrong. Legal maxim From the Latin 'Rex non potest peccare'. When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal. Richard Nixon