A central Alabama woman who was unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months now is on the verge of being thrown from her home.
Bonnie Wyatt, of Clanton, was released from the Chilton County Jail on December 18, but her freedom came with a major caveat. Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds issued an order on that date, giving Ms. Wyatt 30 days to be out of her home so it could be sold to satisfy an alleged debt from her divorce case.
That means Ms. Wyatt must exit the premises by this Thursday, January 17, so that it can be shown by Amber Darnell, an agent with RealtySouth in Clanton.
Are the fine folks at RealtySouth aware that Judge Reynolds' order is unlawful? Are they aware of how many ways it is unlawful? Do they care about the rule of law or only about the nice commission a court-ordered sale will bring?
We already have shown in a series of posts that Ms. Wyatt's incarceration--ostensibly because of her failure to pay former husband Harold Wyatt $165,000 for his equity in the marital residence--was contrary to law. That is readily apparent from reading an Alabama case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005), which makes it unlawful for a judge to subject a party to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.
Law doesn't get much more clear-cut than the Dolberry case, but Judge Reynolds ordered Bonnie Wyatt's arrest anyway. A reasonable person might conclude that Reynolds acted with an ulterior motive that had little, if anything, to do with Harold Wyatt's financial picture.
After all, Bonnie and Harold Wyatt lived together as husband and wife for only about 10 months, and she owned the house in question before the marriage. We have found nothing in the court file that proves Harold Wyatt spent roughly $165,000 on the residence during the time he lived with Bonnie Wyatt. And we certainly have found nothing that indicates Bonnie Wyatt authorized such expenditures.
So why is Ms. Wyatt being forced out of a home that she owned from the outset--one that was in the process of being rebuilt after it was destroyed in a fire that was investigated as a case of arson?
Judge Reynolds' orders in the Bonnie Wyatt matter clearly are not being driven by the rule of law. So what is driving them? Our research strongly suggests that Ms. Wyatt somehow came to be seen as a threat to powerful corporate and legal interests in Chilton and Shelby counties. Those issues probably originated with her protracted divorce from Bobby Knox, the wealthy and connected president of Shelby Concrete.
The Knox divorce case started in 2002, and court documents show that Bobby Knox, at one point, threatened to burn his wife's house to the ground. The case was resolved in 2005, and just weeks after that, the house was destroyed in a fire. (Issues associated with the Knox divorce continue to crop up, as recently as 2012, but the basic settlement was reached in 2005.) The house caught fire overnight, with seven people inside--Bonnie Knox, her four children, and two of the kids' friends. Somehow, everyone escaped without injury, but the house was a total loss.
Bobby Knox was not the only nasty character connected to the Knox v. Knox divorce case. Shelby County lawyer William E. Swatek represented Bonnie Knox, and we have shown in a series of posts that he has a 30-year history of ethical violations. Swatek engaged in serious misconduct at some point in the Knox matter, a source tells Legal Schnauzer. Does that mean Swatek, along with Bobby Knox, might somehow benefit from seeing Bonnie Wyatt unlawfully jailed and thrown from her home? We suspect the answer is yes.
Regardless of what is driving it, the forced sale of Bonnie Wyatt's house is every bit as unlawful as her earlier incarceration. Consider the following:
* The so-called settlement agreement in Wyatt v. Wyatt was reached via an unlawful mediation. Multiple sources have told Legal Schnauzer that Judge Reynolds, about an hour into the mediation, summoned the parties to his courtroom and engaged in the proceedings that led to settlement. That clearly is contrary to Alabama law, and it gives Bonnie Wyatt powerful grounds for having the settlement agreement set aside.
* Even if the settlement is considered valid--and we see clear signs that it is not--any agreement the parties reached regarding the marital residence almost certainly is invalid. A fundamental concept of contract law is this: Any agreement generally is considered void if it is reached while one party is under duress. Judge Reynolds' order of December 18 states that "by agreement of the parties," the marital residence would go up for sale, and Ms. Wyatt would be out of the house by January 17. Consider the conditions under which Bonnie Wyatt supposedly agreed to that: She unlawfully was in jail and was looking at returning to jail if she did not agree to sell the house; she was looking at spending the Christmas and New Year's holidays in jail if she did not agree to sell the house. If that does not qualify as duress, then it's hard to imagine what would--short of coming to an "agreement" at gun point.
* Angie Avery Collins, Ms. Wyatt's current attorney, appears to have several conflicts of interest--and we will be addressing those in upcoming posts. Are those conflicts the reason that Ms. Collins does not seem to be objecting to the unlawful forced sale of her client's home?
We recently named the story of Bonnie Wyatt's release from jail as our No. 1 post of 2012. But we knew at the time that the story was a long way from over. And now we know for sure that injustice in Chilton County has not gone away--it simply has changed to a new format.