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Monday, October 8, 2012

Alabama Woman Winds Up In Jail Over a Divorce Settlement That Looks Shaky On Paper

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

An Alabama woman is about to finish her 11th week in jail, based on a handwritten divorce settlement that looks anything but official.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt challenged the validity of the agreement, but Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds denied her motion. We can find nothing in the court file that identifies the grounds Reynolds cited to uphold the agreement--and we certainly can find no formal version of the agreement. To top it off, the Final Order of Divorce was written by opposing counsel.

The bottom line? Bonnie Wyatt has been in jail for almost 11 weeks because of her efforts to end a marriage in which the parties lived together as husband and wife for only about 40 weeks. Will Ms. Wyatt's period of incarceration wind up being longer than her marital relationship with Harold Jay Wyatt? In Chilton County divorce court, it seems anything is possible.

According to the Final Order of Divorce, Ms. Wyatt was to pay Mr. Wyatt $165,000 to satisfy a debt on the marital residence to Regions Bank, and he then was to convey his interest in the real estate to her. Court records show the property belonged to Ms. Wyatt before the marriage, so it's hard to figure how she came to owe a large amount of money because of a husband-wife relationship that lasted such a short time.

Harold Wyatt told us in an interview that the house was in a state of disrepair when he entered the picture, and he invested a substantial sum to whip it into shape. Ms. Wyatt, however, disputes the amount in a Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate that is dated June 10, 2011, and was prepared by Prattville attorney Chip Cleveland, of the firm Cleveland and Riddle. (See document at the end of this post.) From the Motion to Amend:

Based upon representations made to (the Wife) during the discovery process and mediation negotiations, she opines she was not given legitimate proof of monies (the Husband) claims he spent on the marital home. Additionally, detailed documentation was not shown to her of how the loan proceeds against the marital home were used. Therefore, she objects to the payment of monies to (the Husband) as part of the purported mediated agreement as related to the equity issues in the marital property. 
(The Wife) feels information was withheld from her and (she) would never have agreed to any settlement or signed any papers at mediation if she had known the truth.

In a Motion to Enforce Final Decree and Mediated Settlement Agreement, prepared by attorney Chris Speaks, Harold Wyatt argues that nothing was concealed and the settlement was legitimate. (See document at the end of this post.)

Who is right? We can't give a definitive answer to that question. But Ms. Wyatt seems to have several  important points in her favor. In her Motion to Amend, she states the following:

Lastly, there was no meeting of the minds as evidenced by any document adopted and incorporated into the Decree by the Court. There is also no evidence of testimony provided by either party.

Based on our review of the case file, both of those statements are true. The Final Order of Divorce stands on its own; it does not include a settlement agreement. And we see no sign that the decree was based on testimony of any kind.

The only sign of a settlement agreement is the scribbled, one-page document that is attached to Harold Wyatt's Motion to Enforce as "Exhibit A." But based on his own words, Attorney Speaks apparently did not fulfill his duty to the court. From item "e" in the Motion to Enforce:

At the conclusion of the mediation, a Mediated Settlement Agreement was executed by the parties with a formal Agreement to follow. A copy of said agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit 'A.'

Speaks says a formal agreement is to follow, but we have one question: Where is it? Does that barely legible, handwritten note pass as a formal agreement in Chilton County?

What about the motivations of Judge Reynolds. Rule 58 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure allows judges to grant or deny motions with no explanation. That rule is one of many reasons our courts are riddled with corruption. Abuse of that rule is particularly troubling when one party or another winds up in jail for 10 weeks--and counting.

Is Bonnie Wyatt without fault in this matter? Based on our conversations with several individuals close to the situation, the answer probably is no.

Are there legitimate grounds for her incarceration, especially for almost 11 weeks? The answer to that question also appears to be no.

At the core of this curious divorce case seems to be this question: How did Bonnie Wyatt's property come to be in such a state of disrepair that Harold Wyatt felt a need to sink major dollars into it?

We will focus on that question as our investigation continues.


Wyatt Divorce--Motion to Amend

Wyatt Divorce-Motion to Enforce

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought we didn't have debtor's prisons in this country, but that's what this sounds like.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 8:41--

Agreed. And in this case, the court file shows no proof of a debt that is owed. If proof was presented during litigation, it's not apparent in the file.

Anonymous said...

Does she not have any family than can pay her bond?

This is a story that needs to be on national news.

TLR said...

This was done with no testimony before the court? Unbelievable.

Does due process apply in Alabama?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 8:51--

I've been told that contempt of court is a "non-bondable" charge, that bond does not apply.

Perhaps a reader can shine more light on this, but that is my understanding.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is one item I found on the Web about civil contempt:

Civil Contempt
Civil contempt occurs when a person refuses to obey a court order. Civil contempt can be "purged" by following the court order. A fine, confinement in jail, or both can be imposed for civil contempt. The sanctions are meant to coerce compliance with the court's order rather than to punish the person. If jailed, the person will be released from jail when he/she complies with the court order. The failure to comply with an injunction (a court order directing a person to do or not do a certain act) can be civil contempt.

legalschnauzer said...

From Code of Alabama:


http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/alcode/12/15/1/12-15-12


(a) Subject to the laws relating to the procedures therefor and the limitations thereon, the court may punish a person for contempt of court for disobeying an order of the court or for obstructing or interfering with the proceedings of the court or the enforcement of its orders.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, the court shall be limited in the actions it may take with respect to a child violating the terms and conditions of the order of protective supervision to those which the court could have taken at the time of the court's original disposition under subsection (a) of Section 12-15-71.

Anonymous said...

I've had the experience of being in a court case and motions were ruled on with "granted" or "denied." That was it. Drove me crazy. A monkey could do that. Why do these people go to law school if they don't have to give some explanation under the law for what they are doing.

Barb said...

I find this at a Web site for an Alabama law firm:

http://www.thebirminghamattorney.com/violations-of-divorce-decrees.php


What are Contempt of Court Proceedings?
Also known as a "Rule Nisi," Contempt proceedings, as stated above, happen when one party brings the other back to court when someone is violating a court order or judgment. Upon a finding of violation of an order, the violating party can be held in civil and/or criminal contempt. The violating party can be sentenced to up to 5 days in jail for violation, be forced to comply with the court's orders, and may have to pay the costs and attorney's fees associated with the action.

legalschnauzer said...

Barb:

That's a very interesting find. It says you can be held for no more than five days on a violation. Ms. Wyatt has been held for almost 11 weeks. I need to do some research on this, try to find the applicable code section. Thanks for sharing.

jeffrey spruill said...

@TLR

Due process applies nowhere in Virginia or for that matter the whole of the U.S. if a bankster needs to circumvent the FDIC.(A banker's & the Federal Bureau of Investigation interests always supersede everything & everybody- rule no.1.)

What is it about the 5th Amendment that Judge Henry Coke Morgan & the feds running dog-David W. Bouchard don't understand?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Legal giant Scott Horton- I'm sure his stomach would turn if he the knew origins of the Hyde Amendment:

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/09/hbc-90007663

Anonymous said...

Chip Cleveland will throw a case in a heartbeat... and smile in your face. His father is also an attorney in Prattville. Chip was so lowbrow that his own father could not tolerate him. That's why it's Cleveland & Riddle - not Cleveland & Cleveland.

I hear his father is a decent man. Sometimes apples do fall a LONG way from the tree.

Anonymous said...

Do not attempt to make sense of this ruling by Sibley Reynolds. The crap that emanates from his courtroom is indescribable. I live 100 miles from his majesty's kingdom, but I hear of his cruelty to his subjects.

Anonymous said...

Reynolds has never even gave this woman a bail. Thats why she has been in there all of this time. I feel like that is totally unfair. Especially when I look in the Clanton Advertiser and saw that the case that was just solved about the two men who killed that woman in 1998 was given a bail when they were arrested last week. I seriously pray that something can be done to help this woman.

Anonymous said...

Check into the complete background of Bonnie Sue Cahalane Edwards Knox Wyatt Plier. It will shed LIGHT on her & the situation.

Anonymous said...

IT HAS ALMOST BEEN 3 MONTHS. IS THIS EVEN LEGAL IN ALABAMA THE JUDGE HOLDING THIS WOMAN FOR THIS LONG OF A TIME WITHOUT BAIL. COULD SOMEONE PLEASE FIND THIS WOMAN ANOTHER LAWYER BECAUSE FROM WHAT I SEE HER LAWYER CANNOT BE DOING HER JOB....

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 3:37--

Based on my research, this seems to be highly irregular. One Alabama Web site says the usual penalty for violation of a divorce degree is no more than five days in jail. It appears that is the maximum if the judge determines it is a criminal contempt. If the judge determines it is civil contempt, the jail period can be longer. It appears Judge Reynolds has determined this is civil contempt, and he plans to hold Ms. Wyatt indefinitely. Technically, Reynolds might have the authority to do that, but like you, I find this to be abusive--and you do wonder what is going on with her lawyers.

The bigger issue, of course: Is this settlement agreement and the resulting order even valid? I see powerful signs that the answer is no.