A debate regarding whether bankruptcy judges have the power to jail people has ignited following the jailing and sanctions of ten people, including two attorneys by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Olson in Florida. While Judge Olson has many critics and his temperament is a common topic for discussion for attorneys and litigants in the Southern District of Florida, he has been applauded as a brilliant jurist and his commitment to preventing bankruptcy abuse.
Questions about judicial ethics aside, these actions raise serious concerns about the authority of bankruptcy judges in the United States. Several circuits disagree as to the scope and extent of a bankruptcy court’s contempt powers. Bankruptcy judges have the authority to issue civil contempt orders and sanctions, but generally do not have the power to jail attorneys and litigants who appear before them without first submitting proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to a federal district court.
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