Monday, November 26, 2012

Alabama Woman Spends Thanksgiving In Jail On A Corrupt Judge's Order That Is Contrary To Law

Bonnie Wyatt

If you were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, perhaps you will be especially thankful when you hear how one central Alabama woman spent the holiday.

Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, a 46-year-old mother of four, spent Thanksgiving in the Chilton County Jail, where she has been since July 26--even though black-letter state law says her incarceration is unlawful.

How could such an outrage take place? The answer is simple: In way too many jurisdictions across the country, at both the state and federal levels, America is a land "of men, not of laws." That, of course, turns the maxim of Founding Father John Adams--that we are "a government of laws, not of men"--on its head. But a distracted public and a somnolent press allow it to happen.

The case of Bonnie Wyatt is a prime example. Alabama law plainly states that no citizen is subject to a finding of contempt--and possible incarceration--because of failure to pay a property-related debt connected to dissolution of a marriage.  To hold otherwise, would return us the days of debtors' prisons.  (Actually, debtors' prisons never have totally gone out of style; more than a third of U.S. states allow debtors to be jailed under certain circumstances.)

No such circumstances apply to Bonnie Wyatt's case. But Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds has ordered her jailed for four months, and counting, even though the law says he cannot do that. John Adams must be spinning in his grave.

On paper, Bonnie Wyatt's path to jail started when she apparently signed a settlement agreement in her divorce case, stating she would pay Harold Jay Wyatt $165,000 to satisfy a debt on the marital residence--even though she owned the house in the first place, and they lived together for only 10 months.

Court documents show that the settlement agreement was written on a hand-scribbled sheet of paper that looks anything but formal, and the amount in question appears to be based on little in the way of evidence or testimony. But even if the agreement is ironclad, and the amount is right on the money, Bonnie Wyatt still cannot be subject to contempt--and jail--for failure to pay. Harold Wyatt and his lawyer have a number of civil remedies at their disposal, but those do not include incarceration.

This is not new or complicated law. It is grounded in Sec. 20 of the Alabama Constitution (1901), which holds that "no person shall be imprisoned for debt." Case law expanded on that with Ex parte Thompson, 210 So. 2d 808 (Ala., 1968), which held:

Because the payments were not for the sustenance and support of his former wife, (Sec.) 20, Ala. Const. 1901, applied, and Thompson could not be imprisoned for the failure to pay a debt.

A case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala., Civ. App., 2005) spells out the law even further. It states that a party who fails to pay alimony, which involves "sustenance and support" for a former spouse, can be jailed for failure to pay. But, per Dolberry, "a property settlement upon dissolution of a marriage" is considered a "debt ex contractu"--and it is not subject to a finding of contempt, much less incarceration. From Dolberry:

This ordinary money obligation is not attended with any of those peculiar equitable considerations which attach to alimony. Therefore, the debt created by the agreement of the parties hereto is within the ambit of Section 20, supra, and is not subject to enforcement by contempt proceedings.

Why, then, is Bonnie Wyatt incarcerated, in flagrant violation of Alabama law? In our view, it clearly has nothing to do with her divorce case from Harold Wyatt; that is mere pretext for some other agenda. Judge Sibley Reynolds, it appears, has jailed Ms. Wyatt because someone wants her punished for a reason that has nothing to do with the law--or someone has come to see her as a threat.

Judges, in my experience, only do that kind of thing for people with connections to money, power, or the justice system--or perhaps all three.

What kind of person would stoop so low as to have a woman unlawfully incarcerated? The evidence points in the direction of at least two individuals. And public records suggest they are capable of stooping quite low.

We will begin following that path in an upcoming post.


Sharon said...

This case gets more sickening every time I read about it.

Anonymous said...

You can forget about the SPLC or ACLU doing anything. One prominent liberal attorney in Montgomery has a wife that is a counselor. She's got a pretty sweet deal getting cases appointed to her by Sibley Reynolds.

They've also been overturned in appellate court for having communications about a pending case on which the counselor was appointed by Reynolds.

Things are too cozy in the 19th Circuit. It needs to be investigated by the feds and busted up.

Anonymous said...

Where is Luther Strange? I guess this woman didn't make a big campaign contribution, so she doesn't matter?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 11:13--

I'm starting to think the SPLC and ACLU have very limited use. If a case like this does not attract their attention, what purpose do these organizations serve?

Anonymous said...

Schnauzer, I would suggest that you keep in mind this simple fact: The SPLC and ACLU both tend to be headed by lawyers--or at least have lawyers way up in the chains of command. If they know a situation is going to reflect poorly on members of the legal community, especially judges, they don't want to touch it.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 1:04--

Good point. You might have nailed it.

Spasmoda said...

I probably couldn't get into any law school in the country, but this sounds like a no brainer to me. As I read it, the law says this is a contract dispute, and that's a civil matter. You don't throw people into jail over a contract dispute. Isn't it pretty simple?

legalschnauzer said...


You should be a judge. Rock on.

Anonymous said...

Where are the feds?

Anonymous said...

So then does this woman have no recourse? Is this the sort of thing we all have to look forward to now? Wtf?

Anonymous said...

What are they saying she's being held on? Charges? Is the Patriot Act where they are wielding this power?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 2:24--She needs an honest judge and a legit attorney. She's not likely to find an honest judge in central Alabama, but a real attorney would have filed an interlocutory appeal (writ of mandamus) to make sure this incarceration never happened. All of the attorneys in Chilton Co area apparently are afraid to stand up to this judge.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 2:34--She's being held on a contempt of court charge, for failure to pay the alleged amount called for in her divorce judgment. But the law is very clear that a party is not subject to contempt on a property contract from dissolution of a marriage. Contempt is lawful when alimony is not paid, but not on a property-related agreement.

Anonymous said...

"Contempt is lawful when alimony is not paid, but not on a property-related agreement."

THEN WHY IS DEAD BEAT DADS NOT IN JAIL? A Friend of mine ex husband owes her around 80 grand child support.. NOTHING IS BEING DONE OR HAS BEEN DONE IN YEARS!

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 10:12--

Under the law, the dad probably should be in jail. But if his lawyer is cozy with the judge, and they all are cozy with the sheriff, he might not ever be held accountable. The actual law often never matters in court cases; it's who knows who and who scratches whose back.

Anonymous said...

As to why the State does not go after REAL deadbeats, Roger could be right, but it could also be due to the federal Title IV-D law which is the main factor behind child support collection across the country, but most nefariously enforced in Alabama. The State is graded on five levels, the last of which is cost-effectiveness. It is not cost effective for the State to go after the real deadbeats because at the end of the day, if he has no job or money there is not much they can do short of throwing em in jail - which costs the State money as does any other unsuccessful collection action they take.

Accordingly as their cost-effectiveness goes down, so too does the incentive payment the State receives from the federal govt (see 42 USC 658a). So often you see real deadbeats get out of supporting their children, yet the ones that work and try to provide for the children are harassed and abused which I believe is to make up for the real deadbeats they take no action on. Alabama courts are cesspools of corruption, and it is no surprise that this case of unlawful imprisonment originated in a family court.

It breaks my heart.

Anonymous said...

judges receive federal social credit, FSC ~ digital credit.

Sold to we the majority people as debt credit.

Off shore accounting for the dead beat judicial is also about the hidden market hand job to we the people, all not on FSC.