Family Law

Family Law News 2016, Issue 1, Volume 38, No. 1

Contempt Demystified

Roger Rombro

S. Roger Rombro, CFLS, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University School of Law, where he studied comparative law. He clerked for United States Ninth Circuit Judge Stanley Barnes after law school, immediately following which he was a Deputy District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles. After an extensive civil and criminal trial practice, he focused on family law. He served for over 20 years on State Bar children’s issues sub-committees, and he is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar where he serves as the Membership Chair.

The term "contempt" is unfortunately clouded by misconceptions, blurred labeling, and arguably obfuscatory appellate definitions. This is due in part to the overlapping nature of the term "contempt," which includes; civil, criminal and governmental proceedings; the origin of contempt as an extension of a monarch’s power; and the myriad of statutes that address contempt procedures.

A contempt proceeding is always a cause for concern. To members of the bench, questions arise as to whether aspects of criminal law will be involved with consequential constitutional issues. These same issues are also of concern to members of the bar, as are associated questions as to what procedures will be required to successfully bring, or prevent, the adjudication of a contempt action. Consequently, in addressing contempt one must recognize that contempt is neither a creature of the Roman Civil Law nor is it a manifestation of the English Common Law. Instead, contempt originated as a tool adopted by English monarchs to address insubordinate conduct. This tool was subsequently implemented by the monarchs’ judges and magistrates as royal emissaries to maintain or address insubordinate conduct in the courts.

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