|Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt|
A central Alabama woman has been in the Chilton County Jail for more than seven weeks on an official charge of contempt of court. But a Legal Schnauzer investigation indicates she might be unlawfully incarcerated because of corruption connected to one or more divorce cases.
Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, 46, of Clanton, was jailed on July 26, and a source says she has not had contact with family members since that time.
Ms. Wyatt is incarcerated--at least on paper--because of actions related to a divorce case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt, which she initiated on October 5, 2009, and led to a Final Order of Divorce on May 11, 2011. Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley G. Reynolds heard the case, and multiple sources have been telling Legal Schnauzer for months that Reynolds has a tendency to handle divorce cases in a highly irregular fashion.
Is Reynolds part of the hunting-club culture that has caused gross corruption in divorce courts in Jefferson and Shelby counties? That is not clear at this point. But his actions--and those of several lawyers and parties connected to Ms. Wyatt's case--are emitting a foul smell.
The Wyatt story is particularly troubling because it involves some sketchy characters, besides Judge Reynolds. One is Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek, who played a leading role in my own legal difficulties that started in Shelby County. Swatek has been disciplined by the Alabama State Bar at least three times, including a suspension of his license for acts of "fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit." Our post titled "Here's Why Americans Hate Lawyers" provides a good summary of the sleaze in Swatek's background.
Another curious character in this story is a man named Bobby L. Knox, who is one of Ms. Wyatt's former husbands. Knox is the president of Shelby Concrete, and court records indicate he possesses a substantial income that allows him to sometimes throw his weight around. Documents also indicate that Knox possesses a nasty disposition when it comes to interactions with women; he has been sued twice in federal court for sexual harassment of former female employees--and both cases were settled.
Then we have Harold Jay Wyatt, who was the defendant in the divorce case that led to Bonnie Wyatt's incarceration. What kind of person is Harold Jay Wyatt? Reviews seem to be mixed. A source tell us that Mr. Wyatt gives the impression of being a fine fellow who genuinely cared for his wife and sunk quite a bit of money into their marital residence. Court records, however, show that Harold Wyatt has been married and divorced three times, and that Ms. Wyatt took out a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against him during the course of their marriage. He has worked as a cattle rancher and for International Paper in Selma, and his most recent address in court documents is for W V Wyatt Farm Service in Selma.
Is Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt in jail for a legitimate reason or is she being held because someone has come to see her as a threat? Has an Alabama court become so corrupt that it would hold a woman in jail, even though it has no lawful grounds for doing so?
Ms. Wyatt has been in touch with me off and on since March 2012, discussing apparent irregularities in Chilton County divorce cases via e-mail, and I started seriously investigating her situation in late August. It wasn't until then that I discovered, via court records, that she was in jail. Her story is long and winding; it will take a number of posts to explain, and my research is ongoing. But I've learned enough to strongly suspect she is in jail because someone wants to go outside the law to punish her--or someone sees her as a threat.
The central issue in the Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt story appears to be this: In the Final Order of Divorce in Wyatt v. Wyatt, Ms. Wyatt was ordered to pay her husband $165,000 on or before June 7, 2011. The order states that upon payment, Harold Jay Wyatt "shall satisfy the debt owing to Regions Bank on the marital residence, in the approximate amount of $108,000 and shall execute a deed conveying his interest in the marital home and real estate to the Wife.
"The Husband shall make all payments due on the above referenced debt, as well as the insurance on the home, up and until June 7, 2011, or until Wife makes payment as stipulated herein, whichever occurs first. The balance received by the Husband, over and above the payoff of the debt, shall settle all other equity issues related to the marital property."
How did Bonnie Wyatt come to owe Harold Wyatt $165,000? That's hard to understand, particularly when you consider that court documents indicate the marital home belonged to her before the marriage. Also, records show that the couple married on December 1, 2008, and separated on September 9, 2009. They lived together as man and wife for less than a year, but Bonnie Wyatt owes Harold Wyatt $165,000? How did that happen?
A hand-written document that came out of mediation in Wyatt v. Wyatt indicates Ms. Wyatt agreed to a deal paying Harold Wyatt $165,000. But we can find no copy of a formal agreement that she has signed. Ms. Wyatt sought to alter the divorce order on the grounds that new evidence showed Mr. Wyatt had made misrepresentations during the proceedings and that she had never received documentation of alleged improvements to the marital home or the use of loan proceeds against the marital home.
Judge Reynolds denied the motion to alter, and various attorneys apparently failed to follow through on Ms. Wyatt's efforts to appeal the order to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Documents show that Ms. Wyatt failed to pay the $165,000, leading to her arrest for contempt of the divorce order.
Does Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt actually owe $165,000? Do any documents prove she owes the debt, and is there any formal settlement agreement in the divorce? Has Ms. Wyatt been deprived of her freedom on bogus grounds?
Here is one oddity about the Wyatt case, at least in my experience: Most divorce cases I've seen end with a document called "Final Judgment of Divorce" or "Final Divorce Decree." The equivalent document in Wyatt v. Wyatt is styled "Final Order of Divorce," and it seems to be based on a settlement agreement--but I can find no formal agreement in the file, nothing official that Bonnie Wyatt has signed.
Why was the word "order" used in the decisive document for the Wyatt case? Did that set up Bonnie Wyatt for a criminal finding that she had violated a court order? Is that language commonly used in Alabama divorce cases or is that peculiar to Judge Sibley Reynolds?
We might discover a valid reason for Bonnie Wyatt's jail time. But at the very least, her case presents this question: Why is a seemingly civil matter being treated in a criminal fashion? If Ms. Wyatt does owe a certain sum due to her divorce, how is she supposed to pay it while incarcerated? And why does documentation regarding the alleged debt seem to be absent from the court file?
We will examine these questions, and more, in a series of upcoming posts as our investigation continues.
(To be continued)