The Second DCA rebuked Charlotte County courts for treating truancy court as a quasi-criminal court, something the judges are doubtful the Legislature intended.

Camille Sockwell appealed orders holding her in indirect criminal contempt. She was sentenced to six-months probation — the terms included a 10-day suspended sentence, 50 hours of community service and costs.

Sockwell’s case was moot by the time the Second DCA considered her case, but the court nevertheless wrote an opinion and conceded most of it was dicta. In its view, the opinion was necessary because truancy appeals are infrequent.

Under Florida Statutes section 984.151, truancy petitions are filed by the superintendent of schools. The proceedings are informal — the Second DCA couldn’t even identify any procedural rules governing truancy courts. In practice, neither the school or parents are represented by attorneys.

As such, the focus of truancy court is "therapeutic justice" where the judges "are often called upon to act more as stern social workers than as neutral arbiters of disputed legal issues."

The proper course in the event the parent fails to comply with a truancy court’s order is to initiate a child-in-need-of-services proceeding with a focus on statutory sanctions and services.

In Sockwell’s case, the truancy court prematurely initiated indirect criminal contempt proceedings. She was found to be in contempt after the court acted as the prosecutor and shifted the burden of proof.

"A willful violation of an order that requires a parent to ensure the student’s attendance must be established with proof beyond the student’s mere absence."