The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the abuse of civil contempt in this country including the story of H. Beatty Chadwick, a former Philadelphia-area lawyer, who has been behind bars for nearly 14 years without being charged. I have handled civil contempt defenses and it is one of the most abused areas by prosecutors and courts. This article shows how this power can be used to punish rather than its purpose to coerce cooperation.
In Chadwick’s case, there was a dispute over $2.5 million in a divorce proceeding. When ordered to put the money in a court account, he insisted that he had lost it in bad investments. Neither his wife nor the court believed him. Perhaps for good reason. However, this is longer than the sentence he would receive in such a case if charged as a criminal matter. It raises compelling claims under due process and cruel and unusual punishment in my view. While it is supposedly not a form of punishment, it is clearly being used in that fashion here.
For the full story, click here.