A judge is scheduled today to hear arguments about the incarceration of an Alabama woman who has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce case.
Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, at least in theory, could be freed in time for the Christmas holidays. But a review of court records raises serious doubts about whether Wyatt is receiving vigorous legal representation in the case.
Angie Avery Collins, Wyatt's Clanton-based attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider Incarceration on December 6--and it is due to be heard, along with a number of other cases, on a motion docket beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Collins' motion, however, might be described as "watered down" (at best) and "ineffectual" (at worst).
To muddy the waters even further, Collins is engaged in her own divorce, in the same circuit court. Might she be tempted to go soft on Bonnie Wyatt's defense in order to gain favor for her own divorce battle? Does that represent a conflict of interest that threatens Bonnie Wyatt's fundamental rights to due process?
A reasonable person could conclude that the answer to both questions is yes, especially after reading the motion that Angie Collins prepared in advance of today's hearing. It calls for Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds to reconsider his decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bonnie Wyatt. But it includes no mention of clear-cut Alabama law--best stated in Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App, 2005)--that makes it unlawful for a judge to subject a party to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage.
Collins' motion includes no citations to law. Her primary argument is that Wyatt would be better able to secure the funds to pay her alleged debt if she was freed from jail. The motion also states that Wyatt's "health is failing due to cancer." We've seen at least one other court document that states Wyatt has been battling cancer, but we have not been able to confirm that with sources close to her family.
We have, however, established that Reynolds violated black-letter Alabama law by ordering Wyatt's incarceration. If it turns out that she is a cancer patient, her jailing becomes not only unlawful, but inhumane.
Collins, in her motion, seems to perform all sorts of contortions to avoid stating the obvious--that Judge Sibley Reynolds violated his oath to uphold the law when he order Bonnie Wyatt's arrest. The facts are these: Alabama law says Bonnie Wyatt never should have been jailed in the first place, and any demand for her release has nothing to do with her health status or her ability to pay an alleged debt to her former husband for his equity stake in the marital home.
Based on her motion, Angie Collins seems more interested in not offending Sibley Reynolds, a demonstrably corrupt judge, than she is in achieving justice for her client. Why might that be?
Well, Collins is in the midst of her own divorce case, which also is being heard in the 19th Judicial Circuit (covering Chilton, Elmore, and Autauga counties). Angie Collins filed for divorce from James Thomas Collins on September 11, 2012. The case originally was assigned to--guess who--Sibley Reynolds. It then was assigned to Ben Fuller, another judge in the 19th Circuit. When James Collins moved that all judges in the circuit recuse themselves--citing the fact that Angie Collins regularly practices before all of them--the case was assigned to District Judge George N. Sims, of Talladega County.
Collins v. Collins apparently could involve some fireworks. Angie Collins' divorce complaint cites the usual language found in such documents--the parties have grown "incompatible," the marital bonds are "irretrievably broken," etc.
But James Collins' counterclaim hints at something deeper. The document states: "Because of the course of conduct by the Plaintiff [Angie Collins], there has grown between them an incompatibility of temperament."
It goes on to state that "the bonds of trust have been severed."
What does that mean? Perhaps we will find out soon. But it seems safe to say that Angie Collins' attention is not fully on Bonnie Wyatt--a client who has serious legal needs of her own.