|Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt|
A central Alabama woman has been in the Chilton County Jail for more than nine weeks because of an order that was written by the opposing attorney in her divorce case.
I'm not making this up. And because the notion is so outrageous, I will repeat: Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, age 46, of Clanton, has been deprived of her freedom for more than two months--and it's based on an order that was written by the other side's lawyer in her divorce case.
How do we know? Well, the first clue came when an alert Legal Schnauzer reader noted that the "Final Order of Divorce" in the case styled Bonnie Sue Wyatt v. Harold Jay Wyatt looks like it came from an IBM Selectric typewriter out of the early 1980s. (See document at the end of this post.) My reader was right; the document does not look like it came from a judge's office in the semi-modern era. And that's when I realized the document didn't come from a judge's office at all.
Upon closer inspection of the handwritten scribbles that pass for a "settlement agreement" in Wyatt v. Wyatt, I realized the truth. (See document at the end of this post.) Near the bottom of the agreement, right above the signatures, is this sentence:
Husband's attorney will draw up the warranty deed and final order.
To borrow a phrase from the culture of online chats . . . WTF? And you might want to blurt out a double "WTF" when you realize that this order had profound consequences: It landed Bonnie Wyatt in jail for nine-plus weeks--and her ex husband's lawyer wrote it!
Sibley Reynolds was the judge in Wyatt v. Wyatt, and a reasonable citizen might assume that he writes all orders for his cases. But it appears the citizen would be wrong. And that raises a veritable plethora of troubling questions:
* Why does Sibley Reynolds allow lawyers from either side to write orders for him?
* Did Judge Reynolds even review the order in Wyatt v. Wyatt before it was issued under his name?
* Do other judges engage in this practice?
* If so, why are certain judges sitting on the bench when they aren't willing to do work the position requires?
* If an order has Sibley Reynolds' name on it, but it was written by someone else, why is that not a fraud on the court?
In a recent post, we unveiled one of the legal profession's innumerable ugly secrets--that clerks often write opinions for federal judges. Now we learn that one side's lawyer--a decidedly partial individual--can write an order for a supposedly impartial state judge. And I strongly suspect this nasty practice is not limited to Chilton County--or even Alabama.
Who was the "husband's attorney" who apparently wrote the order that landed Bonnie Wyatt in jail? That would be Chris Speaks, of the Clanton firm Speaks and Speaks. Mr. Speaks was duty bound in this case to zealously represent his client, Harold Jay Wyatt. He had a duty to achieve as strong an outcome as possible for his client--at the expense of the other party, Bonnie Wyatt.
How would you like to be in jail because of an order the other guy's lawyer wrote? Would you consider that to be a fair outcome? Would you take on faith that the order was accurate and correct under the law? I sure wouldn't, and that's based on lots of personal experience. Heck, I wouldn't trust my own lawyer in a case like this, much less the other guy's.
Speaking of Ms. Wyatt's own lawyer, it was a woman named Amanda Baxley, of Clanton. She supposedly was looking out for Ms. Wyatt's best interests at the time this so-called settlement agreement was reached--and opposing counsel Chris Speaks was writing the final order. Did Ms. Baxley object to any of this, did she speak up at all, was she stupefied from an overdose of Xanax?
And what about the mediator, Clanton lawyer Wayne Cordery? Does he think it's fair that one party's lawyer could write an order that helps land the other party in jail? Was he stupefied from an overdose of Xanax on mediation day?
Are Chris Speaks, Amanda Baxley, or Wayne Cordery at all concerned about what has happened to Bonnie Wyatt? Is such an absurd result considered part of "the way things are done" in Chilton County, Alabama?
We will be examining those questions as our research continues on the story of Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt.
Wyatt Divorce Decree
Wyatt Divorce Settlement