Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Alabama Woman Remains Incarcerated In the Wake of a Curious Divorce Case

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt

A central Alabama woman remains in the Chilton County Jail from the fallout of a divorce case that appears to have been handled in an irregular fashion.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, 46, of Clanton, has been incarcerated on a contempt-of-court charge since July 26. That means Ms. Wyatt has been in jail for more than eight weeks from her efforts to end a marriage where the parties lived together as husband and wife for less than a year.

A hearing was scheduled yesterday on a motion to set aside the contempt order. But the most recent inmate list at the Chilton County Jail's Web site (posted at 7:50 a.m. on 9/25/12) still includes Ms. Wyatt.

On a related subject, Ms. Wyatt appears on a Web page titled "Autauga County's Most Wanted Worthless Check Writers." Autauga County District Attorney Randall V. Houston sponsors the page, and it states that Ms. Wyatt is wanted for writing one bad check in the amount of $3,048.23.

A check of state court records several days ago showed no bad-check charge has been brought against Ms. Wyatt. The official charge in such cases usually is "negotiating a worthless negotiable instrument," under Code of Alabama 13A-9-13.1

Why is Bonnie Wyatt's picture splattered all over a Web page for writing one bad check when we can find no such charge against her in court records? Is it the usual practice in Autauga County to prosecute someone for writing one bad check? If so, does the county have a jail/courthouse complex the size of Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Under Code of Alabama 12-17-224, a DA can establish a "worthless check unit," which requires a holder of a worthless instrument to file a complaint with the unit. That means someone filed a complaint against Bonnie Wyatt for writing one bad check, which was in a pretty substantial sum. The obvious question: Who was it, and did he or she give Ms. Wyatt a chance to correct the problem?

Those are just a few of many questions surrounding the Bonnie Wyatt story. For now, here is the biggest question: How does a woman wind up in jail for more than eight weeks after filing for divorce from a man she only lived with for roughly 10 months?

The simple answer is found in the divorce decree for a case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt. (See document at the end of this post.) The decree, actually titled "Final Order of Divorce," states that Ms. Wyatt was to pay Mr. Wyatt $165,000 on or before June 7, 2011. Mr. Wyatt then was to satisfy the debt on the marital residence and convey his interest to Ms. Wyatt.

Ms. Wyatt sought to have the order amended before trial judge Sibley Reynolds, stating that misrepresentations were made in settlement negotiation, and also tried to appeal the order to a higher court. Both of those efforts failed, and when she did not pay the $165,000, Reynolds issued a warrant for her arrest.

How did Bonnie Wyatt come to owe her ex husband so much money in the aftermath of a brief marriage? How did one party wind up in jail over a divorce case that, on its face, should have been quick and simple?

I contacted Harold Wyatt recently in an effort to answer those questions. Mr. Wyatt clearly was unhappy with some of his wife's actions during the course of their marriage, but he did not come across as an unreasonable person. He initially said that I needed to speak with his lawyer, but he wound up talking rather freely about issues in the marriage. Mr. Wyatt said he had sunk a lot of money into the marital residence, and that left him in a strapped financial condition after the divorce.

In my review of the court file, I did not find documentation--invoices, canceled checks, etc.--regarding funds he allegedly spent on the home. In our conversation, Mr. Wyatt made reference to about 40 pages of material he had produced in discovery. Materials from discovery do not always show up in court files,  so perhaps the documentation exists, even though I haven't seen it.

Court records show that Bonnie Wyatt obtained a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order during the course of the marriage, but Mr. Wyatt denied that any abuse took place. The court ultimately dismissed the PFA and instituted a joint restraining order during the divorce proceedings.

Here perhaps is the most troubling issue I've seen in the court file: The "settlement agreement" in Wyatt v. Wyatt consists of a one-page, handwritten document that came out of mediation and looks like something a third grader might produce. (See document at the end of this post.) Signatures are affixed, but I see no sign that the document was notarized or made official in any way.

Has Bonnie Wyatt been in jail for more than eight weeks based on the scribbled document you see below?

This might be the bigger question about Wyatt v. Wyatt: Why was Harold Wyatt in a position where he felt the need to sink substantial money into the home that Bonnie Wyatt owned? Mr. Wyatt told us the house was in a state of major disrepair at the time he came on the scene. Why was that the case?

Our research on that question is ongoing.

Wyatt Divorce Decree

Wyatt Divorce Settlement


Anonymous said...

Very sad story. I wish I could say that I am shocked or surprised to read about another corrupt domestic case in our neck of the woods but I can't. Who are the lawyers and mediator involved? 8 weeks in jail??? I don't understand.

legalschnauzer said...

I don't understand it either. My research is ongoing.

The mediator was Wayne Cordery, a lawyer from Clanton. Mr. Wyatt's lawyer is Chris Speaks, of Clanton. Ms. Wyatt has had several lawyers, most recently the firm of Naylor and Collins, of Clanton. Chip Cleveland, of Prattville, and Amanda Baxley (Clanton, I think) were involved at various points for Ms. Wyatt.

Anonymous said...

A source told me that she was in the hospital that week that she was suppose to go to court. Why they didn't consider that? How is a person suppose to go to court if they are in a hospital. And from my understanding she had just gotten home when the police picked her up and took her to jail. So this is just pathetic.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 1:59--

I've seen a document regarding the hospital stay. I believe there is a document that says Ms. Wyatt has received treatment for cancer. If that's the case, the Chilton County Jail probably is not the best place for her to be.

Anonymous said...

How can you hold someone on a hand written document that is not even notorized? This is making me wonder what the real deal is with this situation. From my divorce my husband and myself signatures were on the final divorce decree.So this whole story is starting to get make me wonder for real.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that Bonnie Wyatt saw that handwritten agreement, never received an official version, and just assumed the money wasn't actually due?

I still don't see how she could owe that much money for such a brief marriage. But if I saw that agreement, and nothing else, I would probably ignore it and assume it wasn't legit.

Sharon said...

That settlement agreement looks like a joke. In fact, I thought it was a joke until I started reading it.

Anonymous said...

No telling how much the lawyers charged the parties in this divorce, and yet they can't even figure out how to type up a settlement agreement in any sort of professional format?

The judge in Chilton Co. actually accepted this as an official document? Good grief!

Barb said...

This is kind of scary that they can plaster your photo all over the Web for writing one bad check.

I noticed everyone else on the "wanted poster" had written multiple bad checks--most of them three or more.

How can they put her picture on this wanted poster if they haven't brought a case against her.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the order was typed on a selectric typewriter circa 1982, then scanned in to file via alafile. Who said Chilton county wasn't progressive???
Did this order originate from the judge's office or from one of the attorneys involved in the case? That may explain a few more things...

legalschnauzer said...

"How can they put her picture on this wanted poster if they haven't brought a case against her?"

Barb--This is a very good question, and I don't have the answer. Bad check cases usually involve state law, so they should show up on the state-court data base. I checked a few days ago and didn't see anything--under any of the names that Ms. Wyatt has had.

She's listed as Bonnie Sue Cahalane on the wanted poster, so the charge should be under that name. But it wasn't there when I looked.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 5:04--

You make a great point. The order does look like it originated with a typewriter from another place and time.

You also ask a great question about where the order came from. It's hard to read, but if you look at the last paragraph on the handwritten page, right above the signatures, it says:

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

Mr. Wyatt's attorney is Chris Speaks of the Clanton firm Speaks & Speaks. It looks like he drew up the final order and did not produce a settlement agreement in any sort of official format.

Why would either side's attorney draw up the final order for the judge? Sibley Reynolds can't do his own work? Did Reynolds even review this?

I'm starting to think Chilton County would have to improve to reach the status of "kangaroo court."

Anonymous said...

Its been my experience that the judge prefers for the attorneys to handle that sort of menial task. You can the judge to prepare the order himself, although you risk making him angry.

legalschnauzer said...

You know, if Sibley Reynolds finds it beneath him to do the actual work of a judge, I'm sure someone would be glad to take the job off his hands.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Ironic - the 26th of July, 1953 is the day Fidel Castro was thwarted by Batista. After Castro escaped from Cuba, he met Che Guevara & two years later they turned the tables on Batista. I pray that Mrs. Wyatt meets her Che Guevara.

legalschnauzer said...


As a guy with a lot of legal knowledge, what do you make of that scribbled settlement agreement? And isn't it interesting that judges ask lawyers to write their orders for them? I bet most citizens have no idea that goes on. And in federal court, it's well established that clerks write many of the opinions. Why do these people become judges if they don't want to do the work of a judge?

Anonymous said...

I so agree with you on long it took for them to get a divorce... yes they were only married less than a year so why should he have to pay for her a house. He has paid all the payments even after she remarried Mr. Darryl plier because she was ordered to pay for the house which she resides in. Harold pays the payments because he is a man of his word to the Morgage holder. And I also think he should of stop making payments the day he moved out. That is what most people would of done but no he does not want his credit ruin... The house was not finished when Harold came into herlife. There are picture to prove so and also a list of contractors she owes money to.

Anonymous said...

How would you like to receive a 3,000 bad check?

Anonymous said...

Harold Wyatt has been in jail since he met Bonnie~ Meaning he does not have a life... He goes to work so he can pay her house payment. Is that fair?

Anonymous said...

The Mediation Agreement is typical of most every mediation agreement. The Mediation Agreement is legally binding when signed by the parties. Notarization adds nothing to the legality of the Agreement. The Mediation Agreement is binding when signed - see signatures of both parties, both lawyers, and the mediator, all of whom are available to testify as to its proper execution.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Roger - While the settlement agreement lacks an acknowledgment, it is likely in that gray area where the judge can uphold it, but also throw it out at any time thereafter. Legally sufficient documents in Alabama are increasingly whatever judges want them to be. In the old days, everything had to be completed according to law to survive appellate review, but today's appellate judges frequently uphold incorrect lower court rulings & accept legally insufficient documents with the infamous no opinion affirmation. If the lawyers who complain about the system are lucky, they will be appointed to the bench themselves so the powers that be can kill two birds with one stone by getting a thorn in their side out of the way & promoting a corrupted circuit judge to an appellate court. The ones who aren't so lucky will just lose their licenses. I'd like to personally thank Keith Norman for not letting me take the bar exam yet. I'm pretty much free to speak my mind on all of these issues which trouble licensed attorneys. It's loads of fun watching Bar Commissioners sweating out all the bad publicity and spending thousands of times the money I owe on my law school loans to run TV & radio ads to counteract what we're doing on this blog. We have personally cost the Alabama State Bar hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and I'm always proud to point that out!

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 3:32--

Mr. Wyatt's attorney (Mr. Speaks)filed a "Motion to Enforce Final Decree and Mediated Settlement Agreement" which states the parties reached an agreement on March 9, 2011, "WITH FORMAL AGREEMENT TO FOLLOW." I see no formal agreement in the file, and I see no formal agreement that has been signed. Furthermore, the language in Mr. Speaks' motion indicates this handwritten note is not a formal agreement. And yet, an individual is in jail because of it. I find that troubling and makes me wonder what kind of justice system is being operated in Chilton County. It also makes me think Ms. Wyatt was railroaded.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you need to do more research on the incarcerated. She used & abused Mr Wyatt in many ways.

Anonymous said...

AL has a very strict policy on worthless checks. It has to do with amounts not just number written.

Anonymous said...

It's sad because Mrs Wyatt told me out of her ownouth that the judge told her he would see her in orange so it sounds like to me the judge had it out for he