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Note: The comments and questions on this page came from people who visited this website. Please feel free to send your comments and questions to Professor Brenner (brenner@udayton.edu). She will respond privately, and may ask permission to post your message on this page. No one's e-mail will be used without first obtaining their permission, and names and e-mail addresses are removed before a comment is posted. Starting in 2002, the responses posted to the site indicate which of us replied: The initials SWB mean Professor Brenner wrote the response; the initials LES mean Professor Shaw wrote the response. We are also putting the year down, to indicate when the response was posted. If no initials appear, Professor Brenner wrote the response.

What exactly is the law of contempt?

I saw that Susan Webber Wright, the judge presiding over the Paula Jones case, is considering holding the President in contempt for lying in his Jones deposition. But she apparently is only considering disbarring or fining him. My questions are:

Is contempt founded in particular law, like perjury? - or is it an assigned general authority to judges?

Response: There are two kinds of contempt, civil and criminal. Civil contempt is used to coerce someone into obeying a court order, like a grand jury subpoena. Susan McDougal was incarcerated for at least 18 months because she would not testify before a grand jury which had subpoenaed her to do so. Civil contempt is brought under a federal statute (28 U.S.C. sec. 1826). Civil contempt is not at issue here, because the judge does not want to coerce the President into doing something; instead, the judge wants to punish him for what he did.

When a court wants to punish someone for behaving improperly, it uses criminal contempt. There is a federal statute on this, as well (e.g., 18 U.S.C. sec. 401). Criminal contempt is a criminal offense, like any other. This means one facing possible criminal contempt is entitled to all the procedural protections (notice, hearing, counsel, presumption of innocence, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, etc.) one receives in any criminal proceeding.

What is the standard of proof and potential punishment?

(see above)

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