Rob Gilbreath Argued in Supreme Court of Texas on Criminal Contempt Finding

October 12, 2010
Austin, Texas

On October 12, 2010, Rob Gilbreath presented argument to the Supreme Court of Texas on a novel issue: May a civil court exercise its contempt power to punish a party for committing perjury during a deposition?  A threshold issue in the case was whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to grant mandamus relief from the contempt judgment when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the only court with habeas corpus jurisdiction over this type of contempt judgment. 

Rob urged the Texas Supreme Court to embrace the United States Supreme Court's view that perjury is punishable as contempt only when it obstructs the administration of justice in a manner other than being a lie.  The U.S. Supreme Court has explained that sifting truth from falsity is the job of a court, so that perjury does not necessarily obstruct the administration of justice.   There must be something more, such as obstreperous behavior or an outright refusal to answer questions.  More recently, Justice Antonin Scalia has written that courts' contempt powers should be restricted as a separation of powers matter -- courts exercise the judicial power; it is the job of the executive branch to prosecute crimes. 

A video of the argument may be viewed by clicking here.  The Texas Supreme Court will issue its decision in the case in the coming months.   

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