This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




State of Minnesota,



David Wayne Boomgaarden,


Filed June 2, 1998


Huspeni, Judge

Martin County District Court

File No. 97628

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Todd W. Schnell, Special Asst. State Public Defender, 1300 Pillsbury Center S., Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Suite 1400, NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; Elizabeth Bloomquist, Fairmont City Attorney, 100 Downtown Plaza, Fairmont, MN 56031 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.[*]



Appellant challenges the trial court's decision to hold him in direct criminal contempt of court. Because there is no evidence that appellant's conduct interrupted the business of the court, we reverse.


On September 6, 1997, appellant David Wayne Boomgaarden appeared in Martin County District Court to enter a prearranged guilty plea on charges of speeding and driving after suspension. After appellant had entered his plea and the court had imposed sentence, appellant was asked to turn around so that the court could read the back of appellant's tee shirt. The shirt, which depicted the Looney Tunes cartoon character "Tazmanian Devil" dressed in a basketball uniform, read in large letters across the front and smaller letters across the back, "Menace to the Court."[1] After viewing the shirt, the court held that it was contemptuous and violated the decorum of the courtroom. When appellant explained that all his other clothes were dirty, the court responded:

How do you suppose I should feel about that kind of message on a shirt this morning? I am going to find that that is a direct criminal contempt and I'm going to order as punishment for that you be confined in the county jail for 30 days. * * * After you have served a weekend in the county jail I'll have Court Services come down and talk to you and then we'll decide whether you should be released.

Before appellant commenced his sentence, his attorney sent the court a letter that explained the context of the shirt and included a typewritten apology from appellant. There was no response to the letter.


The court's decision to invoke its contempt powers is subject to reversal only upon a finding of abuse of discretion. Mower County Human Services ex rel. Swancutt v. Swancutt, 551 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Minn. 1996). Appellate courts have the "traditional power to review punitive contempt orders for arbitrariness, capriciousness, and oppressiveness." State v. Tatum, 556 N.W.2d 541, 547 (Minn. 1996).

Direct contempts are those occurring in the immediate view and presence of the court, and arise from one or more of the following acts:

Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding court, tending to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceedings;

A breach of the peace, boisterous conduct, or violent disturbance, tending to interrupt the business of the court.

Minn. Stat. § 588.01, subd. 2 (1996). Appellant argues that the court abused its discretion by finding him in contempt because his clothing was not contemptuous and it did nothing to interrupt the court's proceedings.

Regarding the contemptuous nature of appellant's clothing, there are cases in Minnesota that have held that a reviewing court should accept the trial court's finding of what constitutes insolent and contemptuous behavior. See In re Contempt of Cary, 165 Minn. 203, 206-07, 206 N.W. 402, 403-04 (1925) (giving deference to the trial court's finding of contempt because the trial court was in the best position to appreciate the tone of the attorney's remarks to the court). Though this case involves viewing a shirt instead of hearing contemptuous remarks, we still believe that the court should be given some deference in assessing contemptuous behavior. Wearing a "Menace to the Court" tee shirt to a sentencing hearing gives the shirt a meaning that could be considered offensive to the court. Although appellant explained that it was his only clean shirt, the court apparently believed that appellant intended the shirt to be a statement of disrespect. Though we question whether appellant's shirt was actually contemptuous, for the purposes of this appeal we will assume that the trial court's finding was correct.

Even if we were to assume that the shirt was contemptuous, however, appellant was punished by the court only after the hearing was completed and his sentence imposed.[2] Though it is unclear under which provision of Minn. Stat. § 588.01, subd. 2, the court charged appellant, both provisions require that appellant's conduct tend to interrupt the proceedings of the court. When the court asked appellant to turn around, his sentence had been imposed and the business of the court had been completed; nothing in the record indicates that appellant in any way interrupted the court's proceedings.[3] Without evidence that appellant's conduct interrupted the court's proceedings, we cannot sustain the trial court's direct criminal contempt finding against appellant.


[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The image on the shirt depicted the character in his role in the animated basketball movie "Space Jam."

[2] In State v. Hejhal, No. CX-96-876 (Minn. App. Dec. 10, 1996), this court addressed a similar issue. In Hejhal, the defendant was asked by her attorney to remove her jacket in order to preserve courtroom decorum. After completing the sentencing, the court noticed that the defendant's shirt depicted the cartoon character Calvin with his pants lowered, urinating on a clothing designer's logo, and found defendant in contempt of court. Hejhal, unpub. op. at 1. This court reversed the trial court's finding of contempt, holding that even if the attire was inappropriate, the court did not notice it until after the sentencing and therefore it did not interrupt the business of the court as required by Minn. Stat. § 588.01, subd. 2(1).

[3] We note that the lack of evidence regarding how appellant's conduct may have interrupted the proceedings is due in large part to the fact that the court failed to issue an order that recited the facts and explained its ruling. See Minn. Stat. § 588.03 (1996) (A finding of direct contempt requires an order "reciting the facts as occurring in the immediate view and presence of the court or officer, and adjudging the person * * * guilty of a contempt * * *.").