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Contempt Procedures in Iowa
Contempt is often defined as willful disobedience. "Willful disobedience requires evidence of conduct that is intentional and deliberate with a bad or evil purpose, or wanton and in disregard of the rights of others, or contrary to a known duty, or unauthorized, coupled with an unconcern whether the contemner had the right or not.” McKinley v. Iowa Dist. Court for Polk County, 542 N.W.2d 822,824 (Iowa, 1996). Contempt is sufficiently shown if some of the default was willful.
Since contempt is quasi-criminal, contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The contemnee (person raising the contempt charge) has the burden of proof to show that the contemnor (person allegedly in contempt) had a duty to obey a court order and failed to do so. The burden then shifts to the contemnor to show that he did not willfully violate the order.
There are two recognized defenses to contempt: (1) the order was indefinite and uncertain, and (2) there was not a willful disobedience (often an inability to pay). An order may be void if it is vague due to uncertainty or indefinite. While a decree generally cannot be attacked collaterally, a void judgment remains subject to collateral attack. The order must be clear and definite so that the alleged contemnor is clearly informed of what is required.
The contemnor must also be allowed to purge the contempt by performing the act required or by undoing or reversing the acts constituting the alleged contempt. If the contemnor has done all he can do to obey the order, he is entitled to discharge even if he is unable to comply.
In Iowa two sections provide for contempt. Chapter 665 regulates contempt power and regulates the contempt of any court order. Section 665.4 authorizes specific periods of incarceration as punishment for past acts of contempt, while Section 665.5 authorizes incarceration to forcefully coerce compliance with a court order. 665.4(2) provides that punishment for contempt shall be by "a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment ... or by both...." Section 598.23 regulates contempt based on disobedience of dissolution case orders. “If any party against whom any temporary order or final decree has been entered shall willfully disobey the same, or secrete his property, he may be cited and punished by the court for contempt and be committed to the county jail for a period of time not to exceed thirty days for each offense.” A court can have the authority to utilize the procedures under 665 and penalty under 598.23. Section 598.23 is interpreted to be primarily punitive in nature, and only indirectly coercive. When incarceration is used to coerce, the statutory limits in the Iowa code do not apply since the contemnor “carries the keys to their prison in their own pockets.”
Except for contempt of court committed in the courtroom in front of the judge ruling that behavior in the courtroom is contemptuous, the contemnor has the right to be informed of the charges, right to counsel, right to testify and call witnesses, and present a defense or explanation.