|Bill Upton, of Vulcan Steel Products|
William D. "Bill" Upton Jr. is president of Vulcan Steel Products, which is based in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham. Upton sued his wife, Linda S. Upton, for divorce in 2010 and received a stunningly favorable judgment, even though he admits in court papers to having an affair with a young woman who had called him "daddy" for years.
Bill Upton might not have technically committed incest, but his actions come close to meeting the description. When I contacted Upton yesterday and requested an interview, he said only that the Upton v. Upton case had been handled properly and quickly hung up.
Gincie Walker had grown up in an abusive home in Shelby County before settling into the Upton family when she was in her mid to late teens. Linda and Bill Upton have one biological son and had adopted or fostered a number of special-needs children over about a 20-year period. Court records state that Gincie Walker has multiple-personality disorder, and she was in her mid to late 20s when the affair with Bill Upton started; she now is in her early 30s.
The Uptons never officially adopted Walker, but they parented her throughout adolescence and well into early adulthood. Sources state that she was treated as, and seen as, the Uptons' daughter.
Court records describe Bill Upton as a multimllionaire, and the family home is in the exclusive Shook Hill Road section of Mountain Brook. In addition to his clout in the business community, Bill Upton also has ties to the conservative religious community. He once was a member of Briarwood Presbyterian Church and was active in the Pro-Life movement.
A review of public records indicate that Bill Upton's admitted affair with Gincie Walker was the precipitating event that broke up the Upton marriage. But Bill Upton initiated the divorce case, and despite flagrant marital misconduct. he received a largely favorable judgment in a Jefferson County domestic-relations court that has been riddled for years with what has come to be known as "hunting club corruption."
How bad was the outcome for Linda Upton? She lost custody of all her children. She is being forced to sell the marital residence on Shook Hill Road. She's had to sell a vacation home. Most of the maintenance and insurance expenses for the homes landed on her. She received little in marital assets, almost nothing from land and business assets that she and her parents had helped build and manage.
We have reported on a number of Alabama divorce cases that produced outlandish results, usually with wives and children coming away the "losers," with wealthy, connected husbands walking away as "winners."
That certainly was the case in Rollins v. Rollins, where Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins and her two daughters wound up on food stamps because of an unlawful judgment from Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson. The husband in that case, Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins, comes from one of the wealthiest families in the country (the folks behind Orkin Pest Control) and owns multiple private jets. For good measure, his company has received some $800 million in Wall Street support. How much does Ted Rollins pay in child support for two children? It's $815 a month, plus $500 in alimony.
It also was the case in Wyatt v. Wyatt, where Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane wound up in jail for five months last year for failure to pay a property-related debt in a divorce case. Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds ordered Ms. Cahalane's imprisonment and also ordered the sale of her house--even though black-letter Alabama law forbids both actions. Harold Wyatt, who was the opposing party, is not particularly wealthy. But Bonnie Cahalane's previous husband is Bobby Knox, president of Shelby Concrete and one of the wealthier individuals in Chilton County. Did Bobby Knox help engineer a cheat job against his ex wife, out of spite, that caused her to land in jail--and to lose her home? Our reporting strongly suggests the answer is yes.
Upton v. Upton is disturbing on multiple levels. The case originally was assigned to Judge Dorothea Batiste, but attorneys from both sides agreed to have it heard by a private judge. Gary Pate, who was retired at the time from the Jefferson County bench, issued the judgment in one of the first cases heard under the Alabama Private Judge Act, passed in 2012. Scott Vowell, then presiding judge in Jefferson County, signed off on moving the case to Pate--and Vowell later led the charge to file complaints against Batiste, resulting in her three-month suspension from the bench.
In another oddity, the case file was sealed, without Linda Upton's knowledge or consent. In fact, at one point, Upton v. Upton disappeared from public files altogether, with no record that it had even taken place. The case currently is on appeal before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
I've described the facts and the outcome of Upton to several individuals who are familiar with Alabama divorce law. The response has been an across-the-board expression of disbelief.
We long have described Rollins v. Rollins as the most flagrant cheat job we've encountered in a civil court case. It looks like Upton v. Upton might turn that into a close race.
(To be continued)