Boatwright is Dry-Docked
June 30, 2015 § 10 Comments
The legal travails of Toulman and Grace Boatwright have been chronicled here before.
To bring you up to date, this is the case in which: (1) a chancellor recused before ruling on a R59 motion; (2) the remaining chancellor refused to rule on the motion; (3) there was an appeal; (4) the COA reversed on the basis that the second chancellor should have ruled on the motion; (5) on remand the second chancellor recused, and a special chancellor took up the case and ruled on the R59 motion; (6) Toulman appealed again; (7) five (yes, 5) judges of the COA recused (if you’re counting, that’s seven recusals in this saga); and (8) the COA affirmed in Boatwright v. Boatwright, handed down June 23, 2015.
It seems a shame to draw the curtain closed on this epic, which arose in 2004, more than eleven years ago. (Of course, if cert is granted …)
Judges Carlton, Lee, and Irving would have granted a new trial, which would have kept this case going for perhaps an additional eleven years (optimistically speaking).
In case you’re trying to diagram this: McGehee wrote the prevailing opinion, in which Griffis, and Ishee joined; Carlton, Lee, and Irving dissented. Barnes, Roberts, Maxwell, Fair, and James did not participate. A 3-3 tie is an affirmance.
On the serious side, both the majority opinion, written by Special Judge McGehee, and the dissent, penned by Judge Carlton, address some weighty issues of judicial ethics arising out of the social relationships between attorneys and judges. This particular case came to grief when the chancellor accepted an invitation to go turkey hunting with one of the lawyers involved in the Boatwright litigation while the case was pending. Both opinions discuss the ethical considerations involved and their ramifications.
As with many ethical questions, there are not only murky areas, but different people in good faith can see things differently and draw different conclusions, as was the case here.
What is sometimes difficult to see is where to draw the line. In the Guardianship of McClinton case decided only last February by the COA, the court brushed aside attorney Michael Brown’s argument that the judge had an improper social relationship with another attorney in the case because the judge frequently had lunch with that attorney and they attended college football games together. For those of us here on the ground, it can be hard to draw distinctions so as to arrive at a firm idea of appropriate conduct.
The main thing is for us all to take to heart the serious ethical implications involved in the social interactions between lawyers and judges, and to be sensitive to them. It’s absolutely true that litigants, their families and friends, and passers-by are watching everything we do and drawing their own conclusions.
Where do we go from Here?
June 29, 2015 § 1 Comment
SCOTUS has spoken in Obergefell v. Hodges, handed down last Friday, making it unlawful for any state to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex marriage (SSM) to persons applying within the state, and making it unlawful for any state to refuse to recognize SSM that was performed legally in another jurisdiction. That pretty well wipes out Mississippi’s position on the issue.
There is a hiccup in Mississippi, however, in that the AG takes the position that, until the 5th Circuit lifts the stay imposed by US Dist. Judge Carlton Reeves in the litigation challenging Mississippi’s law that is on appeal in New Orleans, Mississippi may not issue marriage licenses for SSM.
After that is resolved, however, what impact will Obergefell have on family law in Mississippi? Here are a few of my own opinions:
- Ferguson will still govern equitable distribution, Albright will still govern child custody, the statutes and Huseth will still govern child support, and so on and so on. For the life of me, I do not see any substantive issues that will not be resolved by the familiar substantive rules that are already in place.
- Likewise, our procedures remain the same. Only the gender of the parties is different.
- I heard some lawyers Friday opining that chancery courts need to brace for a flood of divorces from SSM. I don’t get that logic. Oh, I am sure there will be some, but there have to be the marriages first, and my impression is that most gays in Mississippi have been awaiting this development rather than going to other states for SSM, since that other-state marriage would not be recognized under our law anyway.
I think this decision will have the same kind of aftermath as Roe v. Wade. That 1973 case (that’s 42 years ago, for the math-challenged) spawned legislation and litigation that continue to this day as opponents try to probe for a way around it or to ascertain its limits, and proponents try to enforce it. Both Obergefell and Roe v. Wade are substantive due process cases, and those just take longer people to accept, if they ever do.
As with Roe v. Wade, this latest case involves issues that sound in morality and religious teaching, rendering compromise and accommodation much less likely. the role of SCOTUS is to interpret the Constitution, not the Bible. We all know that, and I, for one, prefer for SCOTUS and the other two branches of government to stay out of the Bible-interpretation business. Still, when cases like this fall in that overlap area, they spawn a lot of consternation among the citizenry.
Oh, and as a chancellor, it is my role to apply the law as I am presented with it. That I will do. I have read the majority opinion and the dissents, so I know what is required of me.
As lawyers, you will represent your clients. Those who benefit from the decision whom you take on as clients, as well as those who challenge it.
I have to confess that I was a little surprised at the scope of the decision. I thought the court would say that states must recognize the legal marriages of other states, but that the rules of marriage would be left to the states. That proves, among other things, that I am no constitutional-law scholar.
So, these are my preliminary thoughts. It will be interesting to look back at this 42 years hence — in the unlikely event that I’m still around.
The Courthouses of Mississippi
June 26, 2015 § 3 Comments
Thanks, I now have them all.
Reprise: Lost Wills
June 25, 2015 § 2 Comments
Reprise replays posts from the past that you might find useful today.
January 5, 2011 § 3 Comments
Does it ever happen to you that an heir shows up in your office and says something to the effect that “Mom says you kept the original of dad’s will. All we have is this [dogeared, coffee-stained, footprinted] copy,” and hands you a bedraggled handful of papyrus? Well, if it hasn’t, it will.
Of course, you did not retain the original [for you younger attorneys: NEVER keep the original of your client’s will]. So what will you do with this forlorn sheaf?
You will probate it. Yes, probate it. But it’s only a copy, you say; and the original will is required to be produced (See, MCA § 91-7-5, -7 and -31). True. But it is possible to probate a lost or destroyed will.
In the case of Estate of Mitchell, 623 So.2d 274, 275 (Miss. 1993), the court said:
The law regarding admission into probate of a lost will is discussed at length in Warren v. Sidney’s Estate, 183 Miss. 669, 184 So. 806 (1938). Sidney’s Estate sets forth the elements necessary to probate a copy of a lost will are: (1) the proof of the existence of the will; (2) evidence of its loss or destruction; and (3) proof of its contents. Sidney’s Estate, 183 Miss. at 675-76, 184 So. at 807. A fourth element has been added: (4) that the testator did not destroy the will with the intent to revoke it. Robert A. Weems, Wills and Estates § 7-17, p. 216 (1983). This last element, which is most central to this case, arose from the theory that when a will cannot be found following the death of a testator and it can be shown that the testator was the last person in possession of the will, there arises a rebuttable presumption of revocation.
Where a will which cannot be found following the death of the testator is shown to have been in his possession when last seen, the presumption is, in the absence of other evidence, that he destroyed it animo revocandi … 57 Am.Jur., Wills, § 551. Adams v. Davis, 233 Miss. 228, 237, 102 So.2d 190, 193 (1958); Phinizee v. Alexander, 210 Miss. 196, 200, 49 So.2d 250, 252 (1950); Horner, Probate Prac. & Est. § 79 (4th ed.). This presumption extends to all duplicate copies, even executed duplicates. Adams, 233 Miss. at 237, 102 So.2d at 194; Phinizee, 210 Miss. at 199, 49 So.2d at 252; Horner § 79.
The proponent of the will must prove each of these elements by clear and convincing evidence. See Estate of Leggett v. Smith, 584 So.2d 400, 403 (Miss.1991); Estate of Willis v. Willis, 207 So.2d 348, 349 (Miss.1968); Adams, 233 Miss. at 237-38, 102 So.2d at 194. (“The intent to revoke must appear clearly and unequivocally.” Sidney’s Estate, 183 Miss. at 676, 184 So. at 807. “The policy of the law requires such contents to be established by the clearest, most convincing and satisfactory proof.” Robert A. Weems, Wills and Estates § 7-17, p. 216 (1983).
Your petition will have to recite on personal knowledge of the petitioner, or supported by affidavits on personal knowledge, all four of the required factors.
You should probate the lost or destroyed will in solemn form. To do otherwise gives an unfair advantage to the proponent of the missing document. Probate in solemn form also seals off the protests of other interested parties and, as a practical matter, takes you directly to the hearing with notice that you will likely wind up in anyway.
At hearing, you will need to prove your four elements by clear and convincing evidence.
- Proving the existence of the will is not usually much of a problem. You will have that copy, or, if no copy is available, someone with personal knowledge can testify that the will did exist. MRE 1001-1008 would appear to govern the issue. As Rule 1008 states, the issue is for the trier of fact to determine.
- Loss of the will can be proven by testimony that the decedent kept his or her papers in a particular place and that an exhaustive search has not turned it up, or that the cabinet where the will was kept was destroyed by fire, or that it was in a repository that has now vanished.
- The “Dead Man’s Statute” has been supplanted by MRE 803(3), so proof of its contents should not be a major obstacle, so long as there is a witness with personal knowledge.
- And the same hearsay exception would apply to the testator’s destruction or intended revocation.
An interesting wrinkle appears in an ancient case, Vining v. Hall, 40 Miss. 83 (Miss. Err. & App. 1866), that is still good law. In Vining, there was conflicting and inconclusive testimony about the contents of the lost or destroyed will, but no disagreement that it included a revocation clause expressly revoking all prior wills. The court held that the revocation clause was effective despite the fact that the dispositive terms of the will could not be determined. See, Weems, Wills and Administration of Estates in Mississippi, Third Ed., § 7.15.
Courthouses Yet to be Seen
June 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
We are in the final stretch of the courthouses project.
Here are the ones for which I still do not have a photo: Tishomingo; Prentiss; Pontotoc; Marshall; Tate; Panola at Sardis; Oktibbeha; Yazoo; Warren; Sharkey; Issaquena, Washington; Jefferson; Lincoln; Lawrence; Pike; Walthall; and Wilkinson.
If you have a photo, email it to lprimeaux@Comcast.net.
Does a Custody Decision Have to Pass Through Joint Custody?
June 22, 2015 § 2 Comments
We’ve talked here before about the principle that, where the parties have consented to allow the chancellor to adjudicate custody, the chancellor may award either party custody, and may award joint custody. That was decided by the MSSC in Crider v. Crider in 2012, and has been elaborated on in cases applying it since.
Does Crider, then, require the chancellor to consider whether joint custody should be awarded before awarding either party sole custody? That was the issue confronting the COA in the case of White v. White, decided June 16, 2015.
Maegan White and Christopher White consented to an irreconcilable differences divorce, with custody of their children, Garrett and Harley, as a contested issue. The chancellor accepted the recommendation of the GAL and awarded sole custody to Christopher, and her opinion made no mention of the possibility or consideration of joint custody. Meagan appealed, arguing that the chancellor’s failure to consider joint custody was error. She contended that Crider and Clark v. Clark, 126 So.3d 122 (Miss. App. 2013) required the judge to consider whether joint custody was in the best interest of the children.
Judge Roberts addressed her argument for the COA:
¶19. Maegan’s interpretation of both Clark and Crider is faulty. In Clark, this Court reversed and remanded a chancellor’s decision to award sole physical custody to the mother, requiring the court to consider the propriety of joint custody on remand. Both parents had requested sole physical custody of their child and submitted the issue to the court for determination. After hearing testimony of the parties, the chancellor had noted: “[In these] kinds of cases . . . it’s hard . . . to give the child to one or the other because everything here would support that. . . . [H]ow can you choose one over the other, but [this court] has to.” Clark, 126 So. 3d at 124-25 (¶10). In reversing the chancery court’s judgment, this Court noted, “Based on our reading of the transcript, it appears that the chancery court may have concluded . . . that it was required to order custody to one parent regardless of whether joint physical custody was in the best interest of [the child].” Id. at 125 (¶12). Noting our concern that the chancery court had incorrectly concluded it was not authorized to consider joint custody, as neither party had requested it, we reversed and remanded for further consideration.
¶20. Similarly, in Crider, parents in an irreconcilable-differences divorce each requested sole custody of their child. The parents submitted the issue of custody to the court for determination. After considering testimony presented and conducting an Albright analysis, the chancellor found that, even though neither parent requested joint custody, it was in the child’s best interest. Thus, she awarded joint custody to the parents for a two-year period. The mother appealed, noting that Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-5-24(2) (Rev. 2013) [footnote omitted] prohibited a chancellor from awarding joint custody unless specifically requested by the parties. This Court agreed and reversed the chancellor’s judgment, prompting the father to petition for certiorari with the supreme court. After a thorough analysis of the statute and its meaning, the supreme court stated:
It is logical and reasonable that “application of both parties” exists when both parties consent to allowing the court to determine custody. The fact that the parties request that the court determine which parent is to receive “primary custody” does not alter this. The parties are allowing the court to determine what form of custody is in the best interest of the child. If joint custody is determined to be in the best interest of the child using court-specified factors, i.e., the Albright factors, the parties should not be able to prohibit this by the wording of the consent.
Crider, 904 So. 2d at 147 (¶12). The supreme court further noted that the chancellor is in the best position to evaluate the “credibility, sincerity, capabilities and intentions of the parties,” and that it is “incumbent upon a chancellor not to award joint custody” unless in the best interest of the child. Id. at (¶13). The court ultimately held that “when parties consent in writing to the court’s determination of custody, they are consenting and agreeing to that determination and this meets the statutory directive of ‘joint application’ in [section] 93-5-24(2).” Id. at 148 (¶15). Finally, the court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment and noted that a “chancellor may award joint custody in an [irreconcilable-differences] divorce, when the parties request the court to determine custody.” Id. at 148-49 (¶17) (emphasis added).
¶21. Maegan incorrectly interprets both Clark and Crider to require a chancellor to consider joint custody when faced with an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The chancellor “is bound to consider the child’s best interest above all else.” Riley v. Doerner, 677 So. 2d 740, 744 (Miss. 1996). In both Clark and Crider, the chancellors found joint custody to be in the child’s best interest. In Clark, the chancellor incorrectly awarded sole custody to one parent despite the finding that joint custody was the child’s best interest; in Crider, the chancellor awarded joint custody because that was in the child’s best interest, and the supreme court affirmed that award. Crider and its progeny allow—not require—a chancellor to award joint custody when in the best interest of the child. In the present case, the chancellor found that it was in Garrett and Harley’s best interest to give custody to [Christopher]. Though the chancellor’s order makes no mention of joint custody, he is not required to do so. The chancellor’s primary duty is to consider the best interests of the children and make a determination of custody based on that concern. There is no evidence that the chancellor disregarded the children’s best interests when determining custody. The chancellor’s custody award to [Christopher] was not error.
Not much to add to that, except to cite you to this post on Easley v. Easley, and this one with some random thoughts on joint custody, which might make your collection of authorities on this point complete.
The Courthouses of Mississippi
June 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
Asking Permission Rather than Forgiveness
June 18, 2015 § 3 Comments
That old saw about it being easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission may apply in some aspects of life. It does not, however, apply in guardianships.
I wish I had a few bucks for every time I have seen a lawyer open a guardianship, qualify the guardian, and then go off and file a PI or wrongful death case “for the benefit of the ward.” Later, the attorney has to beg forgiveness, because he had no permission.
MCA 93-13-27 spells out specifically what is required:
All suits, complaints, actions and administrative and quasi judicial proceedings for or on behalf of a ward for whom a general guardian has been appointed shall be brought in the name of the general guardian for the use and benefit of such ward, be such general guardian that of his estate or that of his estate and person or that of his person only. And all such actions, suits or proceedings shall be commenced only after authority has been granted to such general guardian by proper order or decree of the court or chancellor of the county in this state in which the guardianship proceedings are pending, upon proper sworn petition and supporting oral testimony. A certified copy of said order authorizing such suit or proceedings shall be attached to the complaint or instrument or document originally filed as commencing such action, suits or proceedings. If such proceedings be commenced by act of said general guardian, then on request therefor a certified copy of said order or decree shall be submitted by said general guardian as evidence of his authority to the person or persons with or through whom the guardian may deal in performing any act commencing such proceedings. [Emphasis added]
So before you go crashing off into circuit, county, or district court, you must: (a) file a sworn petition in the guardianship case outlining what it is you propose to do; (b) set the matter for hearing; and (c) present oral testimony in support of your petition. It should go without saying that the petition can only by filed by a guardian who has been properly appointed by the court, has posted whatever bond was required, has taken the oath, and has been issued letters of guardianship.
When the lawsuit is filed, a certified copy of the order authorizing it must be attached as an exhibit to the complaint.
There can be some ramifications here. If I were a defendant, I think I might sit back and let the statute of limitations run on the claim, and then file to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of standing. How would you feel as the attorney for the guardian in that situation?
Semper Pactiones Quod Non
June 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
If the title of this post is not a legitimate Latin legal maxim, it should be, because it captures the essence of an important principle of extra-judicial modification. The above can be translated as “You don’t always get what you bargained for.”
That most certainly was true in the case of Patrick and Lesa Deckard, who were divorced from each other in 2003. The divorce judgment required Patrick to pay Lesa $1,200 per month as support for their two children.
Soon after the divorce one of the children went to live with the paternal grandparents. Patrick contended that he and Lesa agreed between them that the child support would be reduced to $800 a month, and then later to $600 a month. Yet another, later, agreement had Patrick paying child support of $700 a month, the amount of private school tuition. Lesa took the position that Patrick dictated what he would pay by claiming it was all he could afford; she pointed out also that Patrick never paid the amounts in question, anyway. Patrick did not produce any evidence of any extra-judicial agreements.
The chancellor found Patrick in contempt and awarded Lesa judgments totaling around $114,000 for unpaid child support, unpaid medical expenses of the children, and attorney’s fees. The judge also ordered Patrick to pay $800 in child support from that point on. Patrick appealed.
In the case of Deckard v. Deckard, decided June 2, 2015, the COA affirmed, Judge Ishee’s opinion laid out the rationale:
¶6. In the judgment of divorce issued by the chancery court on December 18, 2003, Patrick was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $1,200 per month. In the order dated March 6, 2014, Patrick was found to be in contempt for his failure to pay $107,013 in child support from 2005–2014. Patrick argues that the amount claimed is too high because their oldest son, Taylor, moved in with his paternal grandparents soon after the divorce.
¶7. Patrick asserts that allowing Lesa to collect child support from Patrick for Taylor’s benefit would be unjust enrichment because “for all practical intents and purposes he had never been in Lesa Deckard’s home and she never expended any monies for child support for his use and benefit.” However, the chancellor disagreed and found that Patrick owed the amount ordered by the original agreement to Lesa in unpaid child support. In doing so, the chancellor quoted the following from Smith v. Smith, 20 So. 3d 670, 674 (¶¶13-14) (Miss. 2009) (citations omitted):
The law remains firm that court-ordered child-support payments vest in the child as they accrue and may not thereafter be modified or forgiven, only paid. But this does not mean that equity may not at times suggest ex post facto approval of extra judicial adjustments in the manner and form in which support payments have been made. The noncustodial parent may be entitled to credit for any additional support which he/she has evinced by satisfactory proof to the trial court.
. . . .
In a contempt action concerning past-due child support, when the custodial parent introduces evidence that the noncustodial parent who is required to pay the support has failed to do so, a prima facie case of contempt has been made. At this point, the burden falls on the defending party, to avoid a finding of contempt, to prove that there was payment or other defense, and this proof must be “clear and convincing and rise above a state of doubtfulness.”
¶8. The chancellor found that while Taylor was living with Patrick’s parents, Patrick did not contribute any money or financial assistance in any manner to his parents for Taylor’s benefit. Accordingly, the chancellor found that there was not any evidence before the court that would allow Patrick to receive a credit for any child-support payments.
¶9. Although Patrick cites the case of Brewer v. Holliday, 135 So. 3d 117 (Miss. 2014), to support his position, the facts in this case are distinguishable from the facts in Brewer. In Brewer, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancellor’s finding that a man was not entitled to a credit for the amount of child support he had paid to his ex-wife for the period of time in which their son did not live with her. Brewer, 135 So. 3d at 121 (¶16). However, the chancellor only agreed to the credit because the son had been living with his father while his father was still paying the mother child support for him. Id.
¶10. In the instant case, Taylor was living with Patrick’s parents, and Patrick admits that there is no evidence that he contributed any money to his parents for Taylor’s expenses. “Whether or not a non-custodial parent should be given credit against his/her child support obligation is a matter left to the sound discretion of the chancellor.” Strack v. Sticklin, 959 So. 2d 1, 5 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). As such, we agree with the chancery court that Patrick is in contempt for his failure to pay $107,013 in child support.
Oh, and Patrick overlooked the fact that when child support is global (i.e., one amount for all children, as opposed to a specified amount per child), the fact that one child is no longer entitled to support (e.g., due to emancipation), it does not necessarily result in a reduction in the total amount of child support.
And on the issue of the enforceability of the extra-judicial agreements, the COA first pointed out that the evidence was in dispute as to whether there were ever any such agreements, and then made this observation:
¶13. “No party obligated by a judicial decree to provide support for minor children may resort to self help and modify his or her obligation with impunity.” Crow v. Crow, 622 So.2d 1226, 1231 (Miss. 1993) (citation omitted). “A party making an extra-judicial modification does so at his own peril.” Id. (citation omitted). Because there is no evidence of an extrajudicial agreement, we affirm the chancery court’s findings that Patrick is in contempt for $107,013 for unpaid child support.
An especially good lawyer will sit down with her client in the aftermath of a divorce, or custody, or child-support case and carefully explain that people quite often will try to reach all kinds of handshake agreements later — whether out of a desire to avoid more bloodshed and hard feelings, or to avoid the pain of more attorney’s fees, or from exhaustion — and those kinds of agreement are fraught with peril. Better to get some legal advice and a court order before changing what the court ordered.
Happy Birthday to BCPB
June 15, 2015 § 14 Comments
Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of this blog.
The birthday party was pretty wild, with cake, ice cream, punch, bubbly, clowns (always lurking around here), bouncy house, slip-n-slide, and a few sets by St. Paul & the Broken Bones. The crowd didn’t finally disperse until police broke it up around 2 am.
Not really. It was an ordinary dull (hot) Sunday around my house.
So, what is the sum of these past 5 years vis a vis this blog?
- This is the 1,411th post. I wondered when I started this whether I would still have anything to say after a few months.
- There have been 2,944 comments. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wanted from the start to generate some comments and helpful observations.
- There are now 480 followers by email. That’s a lot, as far as I am concerned, and I think there are many other readers who don’t follow via email.
- I hear from all areas of the state from lawyers, and even judges, who have used this as a resource.
The fundamental goal when I set out was to begin compiling material to which legal professionals could come to find answers to basic questions, practice tips, and ideas to improve representation of clients. I think I’ve been successful to a degree.
I’ve always saved major changes and new directions for anniversary dates, and this year will be no exception. On past anniversaries, I changed the name of the blog, changed its focus, and revamped its appearance.
I’ve also always used the anniversary as a re-commitment for another year.
So here’s what’s coming this time:
- I’m going to follow the lead of the saner bloggers who went before me and relax my regimen of a post a day, M-F, a pace that can get somewhat hairy at times with all of one’s other demands. So you might see anywhere from one to five posts in a given week, and, occasionally, none. I encourage to you to “follow” the blog via email by clicking on the window and entering your email address on the computer version; that way, you’ll get notice via email when there is something to read.
- All of the archived content will remain in place. Change in frequency of posts won’t affect that.
That’s all for now. I will continue into the foreseeable future. I hope this continues to be a useful resource.