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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Alabama Woman Is In Jail Based On a Divorce Order That Was Written By Her Ex Husband's Lawyer

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

A central Alabama woman has been in the Chilton County Jail for more than nine weeks because of an order that was written by the opposing attorney in her divorce case.

I'm not making this up. And because the notion is so outrageous, I will repeat: Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, age 46, of Clanton, has been deprived of her freedom for more than two months--and it's based on an order that was written by the other side's lawyer in her divorce case.

How do we know? Well, the first clue came when an alert Legal Schnauzer reader noted that the "Final Order of Divorce" in the case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt looks like it came from an IBM Selectric typewriter out of the early 1980s. (See document at the end of this post.) My reader was right; the document does not look like it came from a judge's office in the semi-modern era. And that's when I realized the document didn't come from a judge's office at all.

Upon closer inspection of the handwritten scribbles that pass for a "settlement agreement" in Wyatt v. Wyatt, I realized the truth. (See document at the end of this post.) Near the bottom of the agreement, right above the signatures, is this sentence:

Husband's attorney will draw up the warranty deed and final order.

To borrow a phrase from the culture of online chats . . . WTF? And you might want to blurt out a double  "WTF" when you realize that this order had profound consequences: It landed Bonnie Wyatt in jail for nine-plus weeks--and her ex husband's lawyer wrote it!

Sibley Reynolds was the judge in Wyatt v. Wyatt, and a reasonable citizen might assume that he writes all orders for his cases. But it appears the citizen would be wrong. And that raises a veritable plethora of troubling questions:

* Why does Sibley Reynolds allow lawyers from either side to write orders for him?

* Did Judge Reynolds even review the order in Wyatt v. Wyatt before it was issued under his name?

* Do other judges engage in this practice?

* If so, why are certain judges sitting on the bench when they aren't willing to do work the position requires?

* If an order has Sibley Reynolds' name on it, but it was written by someone else, why is that not a fraud on the court?

In a recent post, we unveiled one of the legal profession's innumerable ugly secrets--that clerks often write opinions for federal judges. Now we learn that one side's lawyer--a decidedly partial individual--can write an order for a supposedly impartial state judge. And I strongly suspect this nasty practice is not limited to Chilton County--or even Alabama.

Who was the "husband's attorney" who apparently wrote the order that landed Bonnie Wyatt in jail? That would be Chris Speaks, of the Clanton firm Speaks and Speaks. Mr. Speaks was duty bound in this case to zealously represent his client, Harold Jay Wyatt. He had a duty to achieve as strong an outcome as possible for his client--at the expense of the other party, Bonnie Wyatt.

How would you like to be in jail because of an order the other guy's lawyer wrote? Would you consider that to be a fair outcome? Would you take on faith that the order was accurate and correct under the law? I sure wouldn't, and that's based on lots of personal experience. Heck, I wouldn't trust my own lawyer in a case like this, much less the other guy's.

Speaking of Ms. Wyatt's own lawyer, it was a woman named Amanda Baxley, of Clanton. She supposedly was looking out for Ms. Wyatt's best interests at the time this so-called settlement agreement was reached--and opposing counsel Chris Speaks was writing the final order. Did Ms. Baxley object to any of this, did she speak up at all, was she stupefied from an overdose of Xanax?

And what about the mediator, Clanton lawyer Wayne Cordery? Does he think it's fair that one party's lawyer could write an order that helps land the other party in jail? Was he stupefied from an overdose of Xanax on mediation day?

Are Chris Speaks, Amanda Baxley, or Wayne Cordery at all concerned about what has happened to Bonnie Wyatt? Is such an absurd result considered part of "the way things are done" in Chilton County, Alabama?

We will be examining those questions as our research continues on the story of Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt.

Wyatt Divorce Decree
Wyatt Divorce Settlement

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's done all the time this way. Be in the courts and listen very carefully, the judge says to the licensed at the B.A.R. with the tribe: "Submit your Order, I'll sign it, bring it on so and so day." Who signs the orders, really? The lawyers make 'em up.

I am almost certain many real judges are not the signatory, from one Order that a judge ? signed in one of my cases that the "other side" wrote. The clue was when the real judge I had been before did not allow the rule of law to be "justa GD piece of paper," and the "real judge" refused to acknowledge the order and even had some very sharp words for the lawyer - made him go back to the "beginning" and "due process," it was wonderful.

My discovery now is how the Sheriff's office is abused and U.S. Marshals are too, to break the law for the creditors.

The creditors are giving the orders, in reality.

How do we as citizens and certainly this is a U.S. Constitutional government so we the people are government ...

.... how do we have those arrested that we know without a shadow of a doubt are breaking the law?

In other words, how does "Alabama Woman" go to the Sheriff or U.S. Marshal and fill out the same paper work that was allegedly the paper work that landed her in an unlawful incarceration?!

Our family is owed from the creditors' for their treason to our "good law," a lot of money for the unlawfulness against us and so is "Alabama Woman!"

/rk

legalschnauzer said...

RK:

Thanks for sharing your personal experience with these kinds of bogus orders.

I had not considered the possibility that the judge doesn't even sign this stuff, but you might be right on target.

That sounds an awful lot like forgery, to go along with fraud on the court.

Anonymous said...

Outrageous!

Anonymous said...

I had no idea this kind of stuff goes on. Are judges too lazy to do their own work?

Spasmoda said...

We elect a judge, and then he has a lawyer do his work for him.

How much are we paying these con men, with taxpayer dollars.

Anonymous said...

I believe it happens all the time. judges leave this menial work to the lawyers who are supposed to agree in the order before bringing it to the judge. In some case I believe that it is an opportunity for the lawyer(s) to insert favorable terms into the order for their client. Maybe the opposing lawyer is overworked and signs off on the order without really reading it. Maybe the lawyers have common interest that leads to a bogus order being generated and signed by the judge. I don't know what happened, if anything, in this case.Just my opinion based on my experience in the family law court room in small town Alabama.

I've had my ex wife's lawyers, 3 at last count and climbing, all submit orders that were in error, patently incorrect &/or deliberately ambiguous including:
1. Property settlement that was never discussed in court or outside of court
2. Complete lack of diligence, wrong assets being assigned to parties, plaintiff/defendant swapped...exwife was listed as paying me child support. That was quickly corrected. :)
3. Previous order guidelines being "revised" without judges direction
4. Legal fees being taxed to plaintiff (me) and the judge directing me to pay attorney directly. The lawyer wrote to order in an ambiguous manner so that the payments are now actually being made to my ex wife. This despite the judges direction and there was no discovery showing payment to her lawyer, aside from the 3500 retainer that represented 23% of the total bill. So apparently my ex side is enjoying another "property settlement". Remember, never question an unethical lawyer of being unethical or expose their schemes. They have mechanisms in place to deal with people who are not sheep. Of course most for us common folks aren't intelligent enough to realize what some of these lawyer do, they are so much more intelligent than us. Right???
Many more examples, just a few listed. Its a con game for many of the family law lawyers to make money,improve their career (by playing along)and gain political power. The honorable attorneys should put a stop to their ethically challenged colleagues practices that harm everyone except themselves. family law courts in Alabama have degenerated into cesspools of incompetence and corruption,imo...

Anonymous said...

I told you Reynolds is a POS. Thank you for exposing him!

Anonymous said...

Read LS and learn. Not a fun education but too important to ignore.

Rhenny said...

It isn't uncommon at all for attorneys to draft orders for Judges to sign. Nothing wrong with it except where one party is given unfair latitude over the other. What I don't get is why the isn't her attorney making noise over this and getting her out of jail. Someone needs to file ethics complaints against the Judge and his lawyer, ASAP.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 10:02--

Thanks for sharing insights from your personal experiences. It really gets scary when they let lawyers determine who will pay their fees and how much those fees will be.

Anonymous said...

LS: I wonder if Ms. Wyatt's divorce decree was called an "order" because the opposing lawyer who wrote it wanted it that way.

Is it possible that this whole thing is a set up to land her in jail on a bogus contempt charge, set up by the opposing lawyer and a clueless judge?

Ms. Wyatt is in jail for violating a court order--on what normally is called a divorce decree or divorce judgment. Who made this an order and who wrote it that way? The other side's lawyer!

This smells to high heaven. Even if she owes the ex husband some money, it still smells to high heaven because of the way it's been done.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 10:36--

Thanks for making a profound point, one I had not thought of.

You are right: Ms. Wyatt didn't really violate a court order. She violated an order that was concocted by the opposing lawyer.

legalschnauzer said...

Rhenny:

Good questions. A few thoughts from this end:

* Ms. Wyatt has had a revolving cast of lawyers, which in my experience can be a sign that a party is being jostled around by the legal system.

* Amanda Baxley, Ms. Wyatt's lawyer during mediation and the one who signed off on the "agreement," withdrew from the case not long after that. Curious.

* Another lawyer, Chip Cleveland, filed a Motion to Amend and an appeal on Ms. Wyatt's behalf--then he withdrew.

Perhaps Ms. Wyatt is hard to work for and with, and that might explain this. But it's also possible that she has legit gripes that her own lawyers aren't representing her best interests. She probably has been labeled a "disgruntled litigant," a term that is affixed to anyone who challenges the system.

Her current attorneys are the firm of Naylor & Collins. In a small town like Clanton, it probably is hard for any lawyer to stand up to the legal establishment. The same can be true in a big city like Bham. Fighting too hard can ruin your career and practice.

Anonymous said...

Roger
What's scary is when lawyers can intentionally protract proceedings pile on hours and turn around and seek payment of legal fees as a means of retribution. Of course if you have an incompetent, unethical, or combination thereof, judge you can end up in a pretty tight spot. Of course the judge makes the final finding of "fact".

Anonymous said...

@Rhenny
I don't have problem with lawyers drafting orders, as long as the order aligns with the judges instructions, testimony and/or agreed upon terms. However I believe that the process is being abused and the results can be intentionally punitive to one of the parties.

jeffrey spruill said...

I never could quite put my finger on it- but one can only imagine obstacle course one must navigate if the criminal lawyer that has railroaded you picks the JUDGES:

David Wayne Bouchard, Esq.
Member at Large

http://www.vsb.org/site/about/judicial-nominations/

*

When Bouchard said "jump" the judge would say "how high" so writing a court order would be par for the course.

This post has answered some of the questions about the corrupt nature of the law in the USofA.

Anonymous said...

Roger
Can you obtain a copy of the Divorce petition filed by Ms Wyatt. That may shed some light on things.

Anonymous said...

@10:27
Example of not so small town politics, judges and attorneys:

http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/alabama_gop_committee_to_consi.html

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 11:17--

Not sure if I have a copy of the divorce complaint in my files. Will have to check. I do recall seeing it, and my memory is that it was fairly brief and contained pretty standard language--the relationship is "irretrievably broken," "no hope for reconciliation," that kind of thing.

My experience has been that divorce complaints tend to be pretty vanilla. The real meat, if it comes, often comes later, in other documents.

Anonymous said...

Also, the intimidation to not represent oneself. This is the true failure of our U.S. Constitution's "good law."

There is no way the system is to function, other than for a very select few that operate "it," when the absolute NONtransparency of: how do the ? legal professionals ? become so rich, "fat cats," in not following the law?

A. "Lawyers" attend a school that is not an education of what the rule of law and due process is for our genuine system of "checks and balances," but
B. "Creditors" are the law;
C. JAILS advertise "sustainable."

We majority Americans aren't just discouraged to represent pro se, it is as the anon 10:02, 10/2, says and then some.

Rigging of white collar crime, R.I.C.O., is an agreement amongst the B.A.R. "members," et al.

People should en mass file against the criminals, demand arrests of the lawyers in contempt of the law.

What else can we begin as a first step in ridding our fear of self representation.

Tx LS for your journalism coupled with the legal experience and of all places, in Alabama.

/rk

Publius IX said...

Not only is it common for judges to tell an attorney (usually the "prevailing" attorney on whatever was in dispute) to draw up an order, the AlaFile electronic filing system has an option for a lawyer filing a motion to submit a proposed order at the same time as the motion. Most judges I know of take the time to edit the more egregious biases out of such orders. But not every judge is so cautious.

Although you stated the order looked like it was done on a 1980's IBM, it's a computer product. Notice that the ordinals (e.g., 23rd) are superscripted; typewriters didn't do that. It's the same error that revealed the red herring Bush "Killian documents" that ended Dan Rather's career at CBS. (I have always suspected Rove planted those, hoping CBS would not detect the superscripts and the attacks on Bush's AWOL/desertion would be discredited.) The use of the old Courier New font that gives it the "old" look is just a sign that the lawyer doesn't realize the readability advantages of more recent fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond.

The Alabama appellate courts require Courier New, but for a more sinister motive. Letter for letter, it's one of the largest conventional fonts. In the mandated size 13, you can fit fewer words in per page, and the courts limit the pages in a brief. The bigger the font, the less the poor judges have to read.

e.a.f. said...

A woman is in jail because her husband's representative sent her there. Was this is Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan? No, the U.S.A. Very interesting.

I don't understand why the lawyer for the other side got to write an order which sent the other person to jail. I thought only judges got to do that. Oh, well I guess the taliban or whatever finally made it to the U.S.A. & is running the justice system.

I can only hope the woman makes some contacts in jail & finds herself a "jail house lawyer". Of course I do wonder where the women's organizations in Alabama are. Don't they assist women in these situations. Where is the local civil liberties organization in all of this? I would suggest the local women's organization start a protest outside the court house & get a bit of publicity on this. If this can happen to one woman, no woman is safe.

Thank goodness I live in Canada. Women don't get sent to jail over divorce decrees here. Of course we don't have jails for profit (yet). Why would the "justice system?) even send a person to jail over a divorce. Just the money involved in sending someone to jail has to be questioned.

I can only hope the woman gets out of jail & the judge gets fired.

Anonymous said...

Why jump to conclusions until all the facts are known? The order states the house is to be sold and the funds paid by a certain date. Did the house sell? Did the wife provide the amount stated once sold? Did the wife participate in selling the home? In almost EVERY divorce case the laws favor women over men, especially in financial settlements. Working at a jail within the last 6 months we had a woman incarcerated for failing to pay her court ordered support. She was a licensed professional yet was unable to hold any type of employment. There was an entire block of men solely there for failing to pay ordered support. One told me it was as well to sit in jail as work all week and receive nothing.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 8:18--

I believe you are misreading the order. It says the wife owed husband $165,000 by a certain date regardless of whether the house sold. In fact, I don't see anything in the order regarding the sale of the house. It's about the husband conveying his rights to the house once he has been paid.

Scratching my head at ignorance. said...

Orders are drawn up for the court all the time. As for "what would the mediator think of this Process". The mediator has no further function in the case once it is mediated. The mediator should have no reason to know or care who the author of the order was. If you knew anything about the law you might have figured this out. The thought that someone else signed it for the judge is simply ignorant.

Scratching my head at ignorance. said...

No knowledge of the law, the process, or the roles of the parties makes for a blogger that is in the wrong business.