Family Court Contempt: MEYERS V. PETRIE (COA 8/31/2007)

MEYERS V. PETRIE
CIVIL PROCEDURE: CONTEMPT in family court
2006-CA-001112
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING
PANEL: MOORE PRESIDING; DIXON, TAYLOR CONCUR
COUNTY: BOYLE
DATE RENDERED: 8/31/2007

The family court held Meyers in contempt for violating a provision of a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) that required Meyers to attend domestic violence counseling.

As punishment for his contemptuous behavior, the family court ordered Meyers to complete domestic violence counseling. On appeal, Meyers argues that he only had a duty to comply with the DVO as long as it remained in effect, and, once the DVO had expired, the family court lacked the authority to extend the DVO’s provisions past its expiration date to require Meyers to complete the previously-ordered counseling. Finding that the family court properly exercised its contempt power, the COA affirmed.

The family court acknowledged that the DVO had previously expired but noted that it had issued the show cause order prior to the DVO’s expiration date. Consequently, the family court determined that it continued to have jurisdiction over Meyers’ contemptuous behavior.

When a court exercises its contempt powers, it has nearly unlimited discretion. Smith v. City of Loyall, 702 S.W.2d 838, 839 (Ky.App. 1986). Consequently, the COA will not disturb a court’s decision regarding contempt absent an abuse of its discretion.

When Meyers refused to attend counseling, he refused to obey one of the family court’s orders, thus, committing civil contempt. However, Meyers’ conduct not only constituted civil contempt, but it also constituted criminal contempt. By willfully defying the DVO, Meyers demonstrated great disrespect for the family court, bringing the family court into disrepute and degrading its authority a court not only has the right but also the duty to protect its authority and dignity against contemptuous conduct. Marcum v. Commonwealth, 272 Ky. 1, 113 S.W.2d 462, 466 (1938).

COA concluded when the family court sentenced Meyers to complete domestic violence counseling, it was not attempting to enforce the defunct DVO but was properly exercising its contempt powers. This was was not an abuse of discretion.

By Michael Stevens

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