Criminal contempt for skipping school?

Is there any legal authority for a judge to order a dependent child to attend school and then hold her in contempt when she skips? I’ve heard that a child is currently sitting in juvenile detention over the weekend under those exact circumstances.

(Note: not one of my clients.)


A quick Westlaw search of “section 39 & contempt” gave the first result as A.A. v. Rolle, 604 So.2d 813 (Fla. 1992), which specifically holds:

The acts of contempt committed by the dependent children in this case constituted running away from home and refusing to go to school. These acts are ones that the legislature deems a sign of children in need of services, not children in need of punishment. See § 39.01(8)(a), Fla.Stat. (Supp.1990). It is inconceivable that a system of justice that has removed these children from their parents or guardians, ostensibly “[t]o provide … care, safety, and protection,” section 39.001(2)(b), would instead incarcerate them because of resultant behavior attributable to neglect or abuse.

We therefore hold that, under chapter 39, juveniles may not be incarcerated for contempt of court by being placed in secure detention facilities.

That seems clear enough to me.

Fathers get to see adoption files too

A father, who was challenging his consent to adoption, was denied access to the pleadings that were being used against him because adoption files are “confidential.” The Fourth DCA disagrees:

We fail to understand how he would not be entitled to see the pleadings and papers filed in the proceeding to take away his rights. … While we appreciate that the court should find good cause before allowing access to persons who are not parties to the suit or to give access to the proceedings after a final judgment is entered, we doubt that a “good cause” requirement applies to the parties to the proceedings in the midst of prosecuting and defending the petition. They must have access to the pleadings and filed documents in order to conduct the proceedings to conclusion.

D.M. v. Elizabeth R. Berkowitz, PA, 2013 WL 1438253 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013)

Contested reunification orders need findings too

In this case, the trial court made a finding only as to the parents’ compliance with the case plan. The court failed to address the other statutory factors [in 39.621(10)]. Moreover, there was no competent, substantial evidence to support a finding as to any of the factors because the Department was not on notice that reunification was a possible result of the hearing and no evidence regarding this issue was presented to the trial court. The lack of notice and the lack of an evidentiary hearing on reunification violated the Department’s right to due process.

Department of Children and Families v. W.H., — So.3d —-, 2013 WL 1316966 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

Well, this is a change. Normally it’s DCF springing permanent guardianships on un-noticed parents. It seems DCF doesn’t like it any more so when courts surprise them with reunification.

The First District makes no comment about the 39.522/39.621 standards conflict and directs that the 39.621(10) factors be considered. It has always seemed clear to me that 39.621(10) was meant to apply to situations in which the case had been closed in some manner other than reunification or adoption. But, the outcome is the same here: DCF gets a chance to respond, either proving endangerment under 39.522 or the best-interesty factors of 39.621(10).