Contempt of Court: Woman Sentenced to 30 Days for Texting in Court


Author: Lowell Steiger

Published On: May 3, 2009

The unthinkable has finally happened – Susan Henwood appeared in court for a debtor’s hearing in an effort to ask the judge to continue the hearing because her husband was sick and could not attend and she was sentenced for 30 days in jail for texting him the updates of the hearing!!! According to an article in the Journal of the American Bar Association

Susan Henwood, a mother of four, started serving the sentence in the Tooele County Jail on Monday, according to KSL.com. Henwood’s husband, Joshua Henwood, told KSL that his wife went to court to ask for a continuance in his case because he was sick and couldn’t attend. He also asked her to keep him updated.

Susan Henwood sent two messages from the courtroom, according to the story. The first read, “It doesn’t look good for you.” The second said, “They’re coming for the Polaris Ranger.”

In California, in order to be jailed for contempt of court the following elements must be met: (1) the making of a valid court order, (2) knowledge of the order by respondent, (3) ability of the respondent to render compliance, and (4) willful disobedience of the order. Warner v. Superior Court (1954) 126 Cal. App. 2d 821, 824.

I would imagine that the rules in Utah are similar and, if so, did Ms. Henwood’s act of texting her husband as described above satisfy these elements? I think not. To start, there is nothing indicating that a valid order existed which means that elements 2-4 would be moot.

The judge let Ms. Henwood out of jail after only a few days ostensibly because she’s a mother and her kids needed her, not because his ruling was wrong. Well, you be the judge.

As you know, I continually rail against texting while driving – that’s a danger to the driver and everyone on the road. But texting in court? Do we leave our First Amendment Rights at the courtroom door?

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