In 2009 a local Indiana county court was doing some very bizarre things when it came to debtors. Apparently the local court was threatening debtors with contempt if they did not make payment arrangements to pay judgments against them, even if they were exempt from paying.
It is reported that the Indiana judge had this exchange with one consumer.
The Court: So we’re here today for you to explain what you’re going to do to pay this off.
Mr. Button: I can’t.
The Court: Okay, but you‟re going to.
Mr. Button: I can’t do it.
The Court: Okay, Mr. Button.
Mr. Button: Yes, Ma’am.
The Court: For some reason we’re not communicating. Alright, you’re not hearing me for some reason. I am telling you that, yes, you will. You’re going to tell me how you’re going to go about doing that. And I’m not going to accept I cannot, and if the next words out of your mouth are I cannot, Mr. Button, then you’ll set with Mr. Glenn at the Sheriff’s Department until you find a way that, yes, you can. So what kind of payments can you make to pay this down?
Mr. Button: Five dollars ($5.00) a month.
The Court: Five dollars ($5.00) a month is—I’m going to be an old woman before this is ever paid off.
Mr. Button: That’s what I can afford, ma’am. I live on social security disability. I’ve got to pay my rent and my lights and my gas.
The Court: I’m going to order you pay twenty-five dollars ($25.00) a month until this is paid off. I’m going to show that we are to come back March 12, at 1 o’clock, at which time Miss James is going to tell me that she has already received fifty dollars ($50.00) towards this. Okay. – Source
The good news is that the Indiana Court of Appeals has struck down the county court rule that allowed them to do this.
From the appeal:
In June 2009, Grace Whitney Properties caused a writ of attachment to be issued against Carter. Even though Carter told the court that she was disabled and had no money, the small claims court ordered Carter to serve thirty days in jail.
The Vanderburgh County Local Rules appear to contemplate the use of contempt to enforce an obligation to pay money even where, as here, the debt does not involve child support or fraud. This threat of contempt and imprisonment has been repeatedly used against Carter. To the extent these local rules have been used as a basis for contempt proceedings for Carter‟s failure to pay the judgment for Grace Whitney Properties, this process is in direct conflict with numerous decisions of our supreme court and this court. – SourceIndiana Closes Debtors' Prison in Vanderburgh County by Steve Rhode