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A hearing for EVERY contempt matter?

by merlin on August 12th, 2012
  • Sumo

It seems counter-intuitive that the Court would have to hold a hearing on every contempt matter that comes up – in the modern economic climate, Courts are in a terrible budget-crunch, and some things are necessarily willful.  There is no valid defense that can be offered, and it is egregious to drag one’s feet when it serves no good purpose except to waste time and money.

Recognizing the foolishness of a lock-step approach to the issue, and perhaps presciently anticipating how dire the financial circumstances facing Georgia courts would become, in 1998 the Court of Appeals decided the case of Toles v. G & K Services, Inc., 230 Ga.App. 452.  This very relevant pronouncement comes from pages 453-454:

“The trial court is not required to hold a hearing on the issue of wilfulness in every case. “ ‘Such a requirement serves no purpose where the trial court(, as here,) can otherwise determine wilfulness on the part of the party against whom the sanctions are sought.’ [Cit.]” Champion Mgmt. Assn. v. McGahee, 227 Ga.App. 895, 896(1), 490 S.E.2d 215 (1997).”

This is a restatement and clarification of the important Uniform Superior Court Rule 6.3(a) that, “[u]nless otherwise ordered by the court, all motions in civil actions, including those for summary judgment, shall be decided by the court without oral hearing, except motions for new trial and motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.”

This is contrary to the rules that tend to govern matters of criminal contempt (involving punishment), which always require a hearing on the issue of “willfulness” – otherwise, it is a violation of Due Process rights to incarcerate someone without first giving notice and an opportunity to be heard.  In civil matters, though, the motions can be decided without a hearing being required at all if the issue can be decided by the Court without recourse to other sources.

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