Case Caption: In Re: Jomo MeadeCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0035Date: 10/20/2015Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

An order holding an attorney in contempt for failure to attend a status conference scheduled by written order is affirmed. After a show cause order was entered and counsel submitted a written response, the Superior Court issued an order holding him in contempt and ordering him to pay a $100 fine. While the order did not specify whether the attorney was held in civil or criminal contempt, a non-dischargeable monetary fine may be civil rather than criminal when imposed to compensate the court for harm suffered from the contemnor's non-compliance. Here the Superior Court intended to impose civil, rather than criminal, contempt, expressly invoking the intent for civil contempt in finding that the attorney "committed inexcusable neglect that does not justify his failure to appear." While the Superior Court did not specify the purpose of the fine, the administration of justice is inherently disrupted when an attorney for one party fails to attend a mandatory court proceeding. Since the Superior Court referenced the minimum intent standard for civil contempt, and it is well-established that a court may hold an individual in civil contempt for past misconduct if the purpose is to compensate rather than to punish, in the absence of any express findings to the contrary it will be inferred that the attorney was held in civil contempt. Here this was not an abuse of discretion. The scheduling order required the attorney to appear and his response did not allege that he was not served with the order, or provide any legitimate reason for his failure to appear. The record contains no evidence that the attorney made any attempt to mitigate the harm caused by his non-appearance, and thus, all three elements of civil contempt are satisfied. However, the Superior Court abused discretion when it provided the attorney with the option to either pay the $100 fine to the Clerk of the Court or a charitable organization of his choosing, since the purpose of a civil contempt sanction is either to compel obedience or to compensate for disobedience. A civil contempt fine cannot be payable to a non-party charity without losing its compensatory nature. In this case, the only parties harmed-and thus entitled to compensation-are the Superior Court and the opposing party. Consequently, that portion of the March 25, 2015 order that permits the attorney to pay the $100 fine to a charitable organization is vacated, and the case is remanded so that the sanction may be modified by making the fine payable only to the Clerk of the Superior Court.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion