The Dallas Court of Appeals yesterday GRANTED two writs of habeas corpus that I filed on behalf of a Dallas family law client in a contempt/enforcement case on temporary orders.  The Dallas Family Court judge confined the client for alleged violations of several court orders to pay various amounts of money, even after payment was made.  The contempt orders failed to run the punishment on each separate count concurrently to all of the other counts, which violated the sacred right to a jury trial.  The client’s trial lawyer demanded a jury trial and paid the required fee, but the Judge denied him that right.

The right to a jury trial in the United States remains inviolate.  A party is entitled to a jury trial in a criminal or quasi-criminal case (such as a contempt proceeding, even in a civil court) when the possible punishment could exceed a total for all counts of 6 months in jail and a total of $500 fine on all counts.  When a case will have a period of confinement of less than 6 months and fine of less than $500 it is considered a "petty" offense, for which a jury trial is not an option.  However, when the punishment exceeds that limited amount, the allegations are considered "serious" and invokes the right to jury trial.

The Dallas Court of Appeals stated, "The orders signed by the trial court did not clearly state that the jail terms imposed by the court were to be served concurrently.  Accordingly, relator was sentenced to more than 6 months in jail and was entitled to a trial by jury".  As a result the Dallas Court of Appeals granted the writs of habeas corpus in favor of relator, released him from confinement (he has been out on bond), and vacated the orders made the basis of the commitment.  This decision by the Court of Appeals attaches jeopardy, which is a legal concept that prohibits retrying a person for alleged violations where the court of appeals finds the law was violated in the first trial.

Read the full opinion at Legale.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.