Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Could Political Affiliation Be A Deciding Factor in Divorce Cases?

A litigant in an Alabama divorce case--we will call him Party A--recently was held in contempt of court and threatened with jail time if he did not catch up on his alimony.

A litigant in another Alabama divorce case--we will call him Party B--essentially was encouraged to skip his alimony and child-support payments. In fact, the same judge who dealt harshly with Party A, ignored the fact that Party B had an outstanding warrant for failure to pay alimony/child support in South Carolina.

What's the difference between the two cases? Party A has ties to Democratic politics; Party B has ties to Republican politics. Could party affiliation actually determine the outcome of divorce cases? Sure looks like it--at least in Shelby County, Alabama.

Party A is Steve Sayler, who served as finance director under former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, who is serving a federal prison sentence for his conviction on Bush-era corruption charges. Party B is Ted Rollins, a member of the family behind Orkin Pest Control, Rollins Inc., and other enterprises. The Rollinses are one of the wealthiest families in the country, and they have a long history of support for the Republican Party.

The judge in both cases is D. Al Crowson, who has served on the bench in deeply conservative Shelby County since 1988.

According to an article in The Birmingham News, Sayler was $7,204.10 behind on his alimony payments when Crowson issued a warrant for his arrest.

According to court documents, Ted Rollins was $20,410 behind on his alimony/child support after being sued for divorce by Sherry Carroll Rollins in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple had lived. On top of that, Ted Rollins had failed to pay $50,000 in attorney fees that had been ordered against him in South Carolina.

In short, Ted Rollins was in arrears to the tune of $70,410--almost 10 times the amount that Steve Sayler was behind. But did Judge Crowson see to it that Ted Rollins was arrested and turned over to South Carolina authorities? Not exactly.

With the help of a Birmingham attorney named G. John Durward, Ted Rollins filed a lawsuit against Sherry Carroll Rollins in Alabama, where she and the couple's two daughters had fled after being kicked out of their home when Ted Rollins failed to pay the mortgage--even though a court had ordered him to pay it.

There was a slight problem, however, with Ted Rollins' lawsuit in Alabama. It could not be done--at least not if actual law means anything. You see, Ted Rollins had a fundamental jurisdictional problem, one that is governed by all kinds of procedural, statutory and case law. Perhaps the easiest way to understand it comes from a clearly worded Alabama case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (Ala. Civ. App., 1993):

Once jurisdiction has attached in one court, that court has the exclusive right to continue its exercise of power until the completion of the case, and is only subject to appellate authority.

Multiple lawyers for Sherry Carroll Rollins pointed out to Crowson that he had no jurisdiction over the case and it could not proceed in Alabama. But Crowson ignored clear law and let Ted Rollins have his way.

Did that pay off for Ted Rollins? Oh, yes. A South Carolina judge had issued a temporary finding, ordering him to pay $8,355 a month in combined alimony/child support. But when D. Al Crowson took over the case in Alabama, Ted Rollins wound up having to pay $1,315 a month--$815 in child support (that's total, for two children) and $500 a month in alimony.

That's a monthly savings of $7,040 for Mr. Rollins. And he surely needs that cash. One of his companies, Campus Crest Communities, recently issued an IPO on Wall Street that is estimated at $380 million. Court documents in South Carolina indicate his family is worth billions, with a "b."

How did Ted Rollins and his attorney, Mr. Durward, get away with this scam? That question will be the subject of many more posts here at Legal Schnauzer. But it's interesting to note that Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings (BABC), one of our city's largest and most influential law firms, long has been handling real-estate and construction matters for Ted Rollins. In fact, BABC attorneys Dawn Helms Sharff and Walter Sears have been particularly active on the Rollins account.

If Steve Sayler is behind on his alimony, he certainly needs to pay it. But one wonders why Judge D. Al Crowson did not hold Ted Rollins to the same standard.


Robby Scott Hill said...

Tax tip time. The first thing a wronged woman with children should do after the split & before the divorce becomes final is to 1) file her return "married filing separately," itemize deductions & claim them before the husband can. He won't be able to utilize the deductions. 2) Child support is not reportable income on income tax returns & child support/alimony payments get special tax treatment. For tax purposes, any alimony payments received before all the back child support that is due, but unpaid may be counted as child support & is not taxable income.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Makes me want to emigrate to Canada where law school student loan debt can be discharged in bankruptcy court. Think I'll hire BABC to represent me. This judge & the BABC lawyers won't be disciplined, but if I moved to Canada to avail myself of their bankruptcy laws & avoid my student loan debt, the Alabama State Bar would see my forum shopping as a character deficiency, but yet they allow Canadian lawyers who aren't US citizens to come here & take the bar exam or register as house counsel for "too big to fail" banks & corporations.

MaxShelby said...

Excellent points by the always illuminating RSH.