Friday, June 27, 2008

Filthy Lucre

A guy in Davenport, Iowa is going to spend a week in jail for contempt of court. His crime: he tried to post a $100.00 bond in dirty pennies and singles.

When the man opted to go to trial on a case of driving with a defective tire, the court required him to post a $100.00 bond. So he arrived at the courthouse with a box of allegedly bug-ridden bills and a bucket of gooey pennies. The clerk of the court said they had to use rubber gloves to count out the filthy lucre. When the judge found out what was going on in the clerk's office, she ordered the guy arrested for contempt of court.

Here is the Iowa statute defining acts of contempt:
665.2 ACTS CONSTITUTING CONTEMPT. The following acts or omissions are contempts, and are punishable as such by any of the courts of this state, or by any judicial officer, including judicial magistrates, acting in the discharge of an official duty, as hereinafter provided:

1. Contemptuous or insolent behavior toward such court while engaged in the discharge of a judicial duty which may tend to impair the respect due to its authority.

2. Any willful disturbance calculated to interrupt the due course of its official proceedings.

3. Illegal resistance to any order or process made or issued by it.

4. Disobedience to any subpoena issued by it and duly served, or refusing to be sworn or to answer as a witness.

5. Unlawfully detaining a witness or party to an action or proceeding pending before such court, while going to or remaining at the place where the action or proceeding is thus pending, after being summoned, or knowingly assisting, aiding or abetting any person in evading service of the process of such court.

6. Any other act or omission specially declared a contempt by law.
So which one of these subsections does posting a filthy bond come under? The only ones it might conceivably be stretched to fit under would be 1 and 2. But then there is the problem of intent, which the statute requires in its plain terms: who deliberately keeps a box of yucky money around, just in case they want to express their displeasure at having to post a trial bond? And if you charged with contempt every single person who comes into the court clerk's office with bad hygiene or a complicated, time-consuming problem, you'd have to let all the real criminals out of the jails to make room for them.

I remember, when I was eight or nine years old, my parents bought a Chevy pickup, and made the down payment almost entirely in singles they'd saved and kept in an old wine jug. Lucky for them the auto dealership didn't have contempt powers.

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