Having adjudged a party in contempt, a district court has wide discretion in fashioning a remedy. However, this discretion is not unlimited. Because sanctions for civil contempt are designed to coerce the contemnor into compliance with the court's mandate and to remedy past non-compliance, they should be remedial and compensatory, not punitive. When it becomes obvious that sanctions are not going to compel compliance, they lose their remedial characteristics and take on more of the nature of punishment.
Appellant witness was subpoenaed to appear for deposition in a libel action. The district court referred appellant's motion to quash the subpoena to a magistrate, who denied the motion. Appellant testified and answered all but two questions on the basis that the information sought, mainly the name of appellant's benefactor, was privileged. Upon appellant's continued refusal to answer, the district court held him in contempt and ordered him incarcerated and directed him to pay $ 250 for attorney's fees. The district court ordered appellant's release, finding that his confinement will not achieve the purpose for which it was intended. However, it later ordered appellant to pay $ 50 per day for each day he continued to refuse to answer questions. Appellant's motion for reconsideration was denied. On appeal, the court affirmed the order denying appellant’s motion to reconsider but reversed that portion of the order imposing a $ 50 per day fine.
Was it proper for the court to impose a continuing daily fine on a contemnor after finding that imprisonment would be totally ineffective in bringing about the desired result?
The district court should not have imposed a fine, after finding that imprisonment would be ineffective in bringing about the desired result because the sanction was punitive rather than remedial and compensatory.