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Dispatch from the Contempt Front

Retired Judge Don Burgess, formerly of the Beaumont Court of Appeals, has been appointed (order—PDF) by Olen Underwood, Presiding Judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, to hear the contempt cases against the two prosecutors and two court reporters whom Judge Susan Brown of the 185th District Court accused (frivolously, in my opinion) of contempt.

Judge Burgess knows contempt law better than Judge Brown appears to. See, for example, In re Estrello, 130 S.W.3d 391, 396 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2004)—

The terms of compliance of a court order must be clear, specific and unambiguous, or the order will not be enforceable through contempt. See Ex parte Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43, 44 (Tex.1967). If the underlying order is susceptible to more than one interpretation, the ensuing contempt judgment will be void. See In re Houston, 92 S.W.3d 870, 877 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, orig. proceeding).

—and Templet v. Templet, 728 S.W.2d 844, 847 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 1987)—

“The trial court properly refused to enter a judgment on the back child support payments because an ambiguous, indefinite and uncertain order will not support a judgment. Howard v. Texas Dept. of Human Resources, 677 S.W.2d 667 (Tex.App.—Dallas 1984, no writ), Richey v. Bolerjack, 594 S.W.2d 795 (Tex.Civ.App.—Tyler 1980, no writ). The ambiguity of the decree renders it equally unenforcible for contempt. Ex parte Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43 (Tex.1967).”

In the case in Judge Brown’s case, the order does not clearly, specifically, and unambiguously prohibit the alleged contempt. I predict that once Judge Burgess looks at the show cause order and sits down with the lawyers, the whole thing goes quietly away.


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