|G. John Durward|
An Alabama attorney committed multiple violations of ethics and procedural rules when he filed a divorce complaint on behalf of Ted Rollins in Shelby County Circuit Court.
G. John Durward Jr., from the Birmingham firm Durward and Cromer, filed the complaint against Sherry Carroll Rollins, even though she already had filed for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina. Sherry and Ted Rollins lived in Greenville with their daughters, Sarah and Emma, at the time Ms. Rollins initiated divorce proceedings, citing infidelity as one of the grounds. South Carolina indisputably was the proper venue, and the ongoing case had been litigated there for three years at the time Durward filed a complaint in Alabama. (See document at the end of this post.)
Durward's actions violated multiple provisions of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct (ARPC), which theoretically govern the actions of lawyers in our state. Durward also violated at least one provision of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure (ARCP).
Why has Durward never been held accountable for flagrant misconduct? It's probably because he represented a moneyed client who has ties to one of Alabama's most powerful law firms. It also probably helped that Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson went along with the charade, issuing a judgment that was so one sided in Ted Rollins' favor that his ex wife and two daughters wound up on food stamps.
All sorts of procedural and case law states that Durward could not lawfully file a divorce action on Ted Rollins' behalf in Alabama. A case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (Ala. Civ. App., 1993) perhaps says it best:
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.
This is the kind of fundamental material that is taught in Law School 101. If John Durward is unaware of this concept, he has no business having a law license. So why did he file a bogus divorce complaint in Alabama, a state that had no authority under the law to hear the case?
Perhaps we can answer that question with another question: Does money talk in Alabama courts? The answer appears to be yes, and G. John Durward Jr. surely knew it. Ted Rollins is CEO of Campus Crest Communities, and he belongs to one of America's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, and RPC Inc. (formerly Rollins Energy Services). Ted Rollins corporate law firm is Birmingham-based Bradley Arant.
Is that why John Durward felt free to take unlawful actions on his client's behalf? That's how it looks from here.
Durward trampled at least two provisions of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct. Let's take a closer look:
ARPC Rule 3.1--Meritorious Claims and Contentions
The rule states in part: "In his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not file a suit, assert a position, conduct a defense, delay a trial, or take action on behalf of the lawyer's client when the lawyer knows or when it is obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another."
Were Sherry Rollins and her daughters "maliciously injured" by the unlawful outcome of Rollins v. Rollins in Shelby County, Alabama? Ms. Rollins' on-camera statements to us clearly indicate the answer is yes.
The comment section to Rule 3.1 makes this succinct statement: "The advocate has a duty to use legal procedure for the fullest benefit of the client's cause, but also a duty not to abuse legal procedure."
Did Ted Rollins have a cause, under the law, in Alabama? No, he did not. Did John Durward abuse legal procedure by bringing such a groundless complaint? Yes, he did.
ARPC Rule 3.3--Candor Toward the Tribunal
The rule states in part: "A lawyer shall not knowingly fail to disclose a material fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client."
Let's check out the complaint that Durward filed on Ted Rollins' behalf. (See document below.) Nowhere does it state that the two parties already are engaged in a divorce proceeding, initiated by Ms. Rollins, in South Carolina. Is that a material fact? Given that the South Carolina case precludes action in Alabama, it's hard to imagine a more material fact. Did Durward's failure to disclose this material fact assist a fraudulent act by the client? Ted Rollins was facing a bench warrant for his failure to pay child support for almost three years in South Carolina, and filing of the Alabama case helped him escape possible arrest. That tells us that Durward did assist his client in committing an unlawful and fraudulent act.
ARCP Rule 11--Signing of Pleadings, Motions, Or Other Papers
This rule is a building block of courtroom procedure in all jurisdictions, at all levels. It's equivalent is present in all states and in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The concept is simple: A lawyer is required to sign every motion or paper he files, and his signature "constitutes a certificate . . . that the attorney has read the pleading, motion, or other paper" and "that to the best of the attorney's knowledge, information, and belief, there is good ground to support it." The rule goes on to state that if a paper is signed "with intent to defeat the purpose of this rule," it may be stricken as "sham and false," and the action may proceed as if the paper had never been served.
Consider some of the statements in the complaint that John Durward filed on Ted Rollins' behalf. In the interest of clarity, we will substitute the names of the parties where the complaint uses the terms "Plaintiff" and "Defendant." (For the record, Ted Rollins was the plaintiff in the Alabama case, with Sherry Rollins as defendant; the reverse was true in the original complaint that was filed in South Carolina.)
4. (Ted Rollins) states that he is a fit and proper person to have the care, custody and control of said minor children. . . .
6. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins) support and maintenance for the minor children of the parties herein.
7. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins) alimony herein.
8. (Ted Rollins) states that (Sherry Rollins) is financially able to pay (Ted Rollins') attorney a reasonable amount for his representation of (Ted Rollins) in this cause.
Perhaps John Durward was using the complaint to test material for his future career as a stand-up comedian. If so, he produced some real knee-slappers.
Ted Rollins is the "fit and proper person" to have care and custody of two minor children? Ted Rollins illustrated this by failing to pay court-ordered child support for almost three years in South Carolina. Hah!
Sherry Rollins is to pay child support to Ted Rollins, the man who had a bench warrant for his arrest because he failed to pay court-ordered child support for three years? Snort!
Sherry Rollins is to pay alimony to Ted Rollins, even though she was a stay-at-home mother during most of the marriage and he was president/CEO of at least two corporations and owned multiple private jet craft? Guffaw!
Sherry Rollins is to pay Ted Rollins' attorney fees? Snort, snort--milk coming from nose!
John Durward had to know there were no grounds to support Ted Rollins complaint, given the case could not lawfully be heard in Alabama. Under Rule 11, the complaint should have been dismissed as "sham and false."
Do you want to read more of John Durward's comedic efforts? Check out the complaint he filed in Rollins v. Rollins. And ask yourself: How on earth is this guy a "member in good standing" of the Alabama State Bar?
Rollins Ted's Complaint