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Contempt — Remedial, § 785.04(1) – Basis for Tuberculosis-Treatment Confinement

City of Milwaukee v. Ruby Washington, 2007 WI 104, affirming2006 WI App 99
For Washington: Wm. Tyroler, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate; Karl Otto Rohlich, SPD, Milwaukee Mental Health
Amicus: Colleen Ball, ACLU


¶66      Moreover, we agree with Washington that remedial contempt was not an appropriate sanction in this case. A contemnor may be imprisoned “only so long as the person is committing the contempt of court.” Wis. Stat. § 785.04(1)(b). Once a contemnor complies with the prior court order, or “purges” the contempt, the person must be released. “The purge provision must clearly spell out what the contemnor must do to be purged, and that action must be within the power of the person.” State ex rel. N.A. v. G.S., 156 Wis. 2d 338, 342, 456 N.W.2d 867 (Ct. App. 1990) (citingSchroeder v. Schroeder, 100 Wis. 2d 625, 638, 302 N.W.2d 475, 482 (1981)). “Thus, it is often said that contemnors ‘hold the keys to their own jails.'” Id. (quoting State v. King, 82 Wis. 2d 124, 137, 262 N.W.2d 80 (1978)).¶66      Of course, no express purge provision was provided in this case because the circuit court declined to proceed under the remedial contempt statute. Thus, there was no reason for the court of appeals to reach this issue.[21]

¶67      Additionally, the legislature specifically addressed confinement for noncompliant and drug-resistant persons with tuberculosis in Wis. Stat. § 252.07. As Judge Kessler noted in her dissent:

The legislature . . . developed an elaborate and detailed system to protect the public from, provide treatment for, and protect the civil liberties of, individuals with contagious tuberculosis. The legislature has concluded that the statutory system of regulation, and enforcement, provides adequate tools to protect the public and to treat the infected.

Washington, 292 Wis. 2d 258, ¶31 (Kessler, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part).

¶68      We therefore disavow the court of appeals’ discussion of remedial contempt under Wis. Stat. § 785.04(1) as a separate basis for confinement to jail in this case. Washington, 292 Wis. 2d 258, ¶¶16-19.


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