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BGD Attorney Gaerte Discusses Sudden Accusations of Criminal Contempt of Court


BGD attorney K. Michael Gaerte and co-author James J. Bell recently discussed procedures for contempt of court and appropriate behavior when appearing in court in a recent column for Indiana Lawyer.

In their column, Gaerte and Bell analyze the case of State v. Valerie Perez in which a litigant involved in a routine traffic violation became frustrated by a particularly leisurely judge who opted for a brief recess before her case. She was not shy in expressing her disapproval, leaving the courtroom and proclaiming her frustration through the use of a few expletives, loud enough that it was audible to the bailiff in a neighboring courtroom. He confronted her and calmed her down but also notified her trial judge.

Valerie Perez was quickly prosecuted. The judge immediately ordered a petition for contempt, denied a defense motion to continue and immediately held a hearing in which she was found guilty of criminal contempt. Her actions were held as “disruptive to the administration of justice” although it was very “indirect.”

This was later overturned by an appellate court that believed certain acts could be considered criminal indirect contempt, but her actions were not so heinous to merit that decision.

Gaerte and Bell provide some advice for lawyers to keep in mind when a sudden accusation of contempt is made along with some simple advice for litigants to follow. Those in court should remember that there can be delays outside of the judge’s control and patience is necessary; to pay attention to other cases so that you will understand how your case will be handled; and finally, to vent quietly to your attorney, the judge doesn’t need to know how you really feel.

Read “Inside the Criminal Case: Contempt, Punctuality and Expressing Yourself to a Court” in its entirety on the Indiana Lawyer website.

To learn more about K. Michael Gaerte and his practice, please visit his profile.



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