FROM THE MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 44JV-16-64-3]
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellant.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge.
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) appeals an order
finding County Supervisor Denise Gibson in contempt of court
and ordering her to complete 160 hours of community service,
imposing a suspended sentence of three days in the county
jail, and imposing a $200 fine to be paid by providing $200
worth of children's books to the court. On appeal, DHS
argues that (1) Gibson was not provided sufficient notice and
opportunity to defend the criminal-contempt charges in
violation of her due-process rights, (2) the circuit
court's finding of contempt is not supported by
substantial evidence, and (3) the fine of $200 worth of
children's books is not a proper sanction. We affirm.
September 2016, the Madison County Circuit Court exercised an
emergency seventy-two-hour hold on twelve-year-old A.H. as
part of an ongoing Family In Need of Services (FINS) case.
The order explained that A.H.'s parents and grandparents
could not meet her mental-health needs; that all placement
options had been exhausted; and that the parents agreed to
placement with DHS with the goal of reunification with the
family. The court's order was not followed, however, and
A.H. was returned to her family that night.
days later, on September 9, A.H.'s attorney ad litem
filed a motion for citation of contempt against DHS, alleging
that Denise Gibson, the DHS county supervisor, had authorized
caseworker Antoinette (Toni) Johnson to release A.H. to her
parents and that such action was in direct violation of the
court's order. The motion asked that DHS be ordered to
appear and show cause why it should not be held in criminal
contempt. DHS filed a general denial to the allegations in
court held a show-cause hearing on September 23. Niki
Rowland, the Madison County juvenile probation and FINS
officer, testified that after the court issued its order
exercising the seventy-two-hour hold, she contacted DHS
caseworker Toni Johnson and asked her to pick up A.H. at the
regional juvenile detention center (JDC). Rowland said she
left a copy of the court's order at JDC as well. Later
that afternoon, Rowland received a message from Johnson
asking for A.H.'s grandmother's phone number; Rowland
returned the call but got Johnson's voicemail. The next
day, Rowland contacted Johnson and found out that A.H. had
been returned to her parents. On cross-examination, Rowland
confirmed that it was her understanding that it was Johnson
who had returned A.H. to her family. According to Rowland,
Johnson said that she had spoken to her supervisor and with
the DHS attorney "and that's what they had advised
her to do."
Johnson testified that on September 6, at approximately 1:30
p.m., she was informed by Rowland that Judge Zimmerman had
taken a seventy-two-hour hold on A.H. and that the judge
wanted A.H. put into a group home or some other appropriate
placement. Johnson called Vantage Point about getting A.H.
assessed; she also called her supervisor, Denise Gibson, who
told her that "the Judge cannot take a hold on a
delinquent." Johnson said that Gibson instructed her to
call the DHS attorney, Rielle Parrish, to discuss it. Johnson
arrived at JDC around 5:00 p.m. and picked up A.H. along with
the court order. Johnson said she briefly looked at the order
but did not speak to Gibson or Parrish again; instead, she
drove A.H. to her grandparents' home, which is adjacent
to her parents' home. Johnson stated that Gibson never
asked to see the court order and that Gibson told her to
release the hold and take A.H. back to her parents. Johnson
also said that she was following her supervisor's
instructions and that she had no willful intent to disobey
the court order.
Gibson testified that she received a phone call from Toni
Johnson on September 6 regarding the emergency hold on A.H.
Johnson told her that the judge had placed a hold on A.H.,
and when Gibson asked why, Johnson said she did not know.
According to Gibson, she then said, "[W]ell, the Judge
can't just take a hold on a delinquent. There has to be a
reason. We need to find out what's in that Court
Order." Gibson told Johnson to call Ms. Parrish and ask
her what was in the order. A short time later, Johnson called
Gibson again and said that she had spoken to Ms. Parrish
"and Ms. Parrish did not have a copy of the Court Order,
but she [Parrish] stated that we could release the
hold." Gibson responded that they could not just release
the hold and asked to see the court order. Johnson told
Gibson that she would get a copy of the order, and Gibson
told Johnson to "let [her] know what it [said]."
Gibson said she did not speak to Johnson again that day,
however, and she "assumed since she [Johnson] was gonna
get the Court Order that she looked at it, figured out what
we could and couldn't do per the Court Order and had
followed through with that." Gibson explained that a
seventy-two-hour hold is not a disposition in a delinquency
case "without notice or a reason, " and that was
why she wanted to know what that reason was.
said that she found out the next day that the hold had been
released. When asked why she had not followed up with Johnson
to find out what the order said, Gibson explained, "I
trust my workers a lot." Again, she said that she
assumed Johnson had seen the order and followed it "or
she would've called me to clarify and ask
questions." She agreed that she was ultimately
responsible for the actions of her caseworkers.
cross-examination, Gibson stated that she would not authorize
the release of a hold without a court order and that she had
not authorized the release of the hold in this case. She also
said that Johnson had violated a court order approximately
two years ago by releasing a hold on some children. Gibson
denied that she had willfully violated the court's order.
She also agreed that the reasoning behind the court order was
irrelevant and that the order should have been followed
Ashurst, a family service worker who works with Johnson,
testified that she had seen several instances of Johnson not
following court orders or DHS policy, which she (Ashurst)
reported to Gibson. She also testified that on September 6,
she assisted Johnson in finding a placement for A.H., but
later "Toni told [her] she was releasing the hold on
[A.H.] to the family."
hearing arguments from counsel, the circuit court found DHS
in contempt of court and found that the "ultimate
responsibility" fell on Gibson. The court specifically
found Johnson's testimony credible. The court ordered
Gibson to perform 160 hours of community service to be
completed by December 25 and to pay $200 in the form of
coloring books and other books to the court. The court also
suspended her three-day sentence in the county jail "for
six months on the condition that court orders are
followed." In its written order filed ...