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Civil Practice – Contempt – Trusts & Estates – Production of Estate Property

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//May 8, 2023

Civil Practice – Contempt – Trusts & Estates – Production of Estate Property

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//May 8, 2023

Where the circuit court’s contempt order awarded plaintiff, as personal representative of an estate, $70,000 in fees and costs as compensatory contempt, the award of compensatory contempt was intended to indemnify the estate, not as a punishment. As a sanction for failure to pay the compensatory contempt, defendants would be held in custody until they purged themselves of the compensatory contempt or for no longer than 90 days. The circuit court’s finding of contempt was thus civil in nature.

We affirm the contempt order as to defendant Chris Combis but reverse it as to defendant George Combis. We remand the issue of the determination of fees appropriate for compensatory contempt only as to Chris

According to plaintiff, defense counsel told her that Chris possessed a single Rolex that had belonged to the estate’s decedent (Pop). When she subpoenaed Chris for “the Rolex watch,” plaintiff was only aware that Pop had owned a gold Rolex watch. Chris produced an obviously fake silver “Rolex” watch. Given that Chris possessed the gold Rolex watch, which was genuine, it was reasonable to expect Chris to know the language in his subpoena referring to an “original Rolex” was not in reference to a fake Rolex watch.

Furthermore, because Chris knew the silver Rolex was fake, his production of the gold Rolex at the rule to show cause hearing was clear and convincing evidence of his specific intent to willfully disobey the motion to compel order. Chris testified the gold Rolex had been in his possession ever since Pop gifted it to him, meaning Chris had the gold Rolex at the time the circuit court filed its motion to compel order. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding Chris in contempt.

In response to a subpoena demanding that George produce “any and all firearms allegedly received from or gifted to [him] by [Pop],” George produced a “low quality” handgun. In drafting the subpoena, plaintiff relied on representations by defense counsel suggesting that George possessed two pistols owned by Pop. Plaintiff admitted she did not have any identifying information about the two pistols George allegedly possessed, and she had no direct knowledge that Pop did not own the pistol George produced. Although plaintiff suggested that George possessed an engraved silver pistol with pearl grips, since plaintiff failed to present clear and convincing evidence showing the pistols George produced were not responsive to the subpoena or that he possessed additional firearms owned by Pop, we reverse the circuit court’s contempt finding against George.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

Ballard v. Combis (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-030-23, 10 pp.) (Letitia Vinson, J.) Appealed from Lancaster County Circuit Court (Brian Gibbons, J.) Briand Scott McCoy and Ty Kimmel McTier for appellants; Douglas Neal Truslow and Neal Douglas Truslow for respondent. South Carolina Court of Appeals

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