The Price Tag for Dishonesty

April 15, 2020 § Leave a comment

An old saw among lawyers is that “It’s better to be hurt by the truth than by a lie.”

One could say that T.J. Anderson’s dishonesty cost him $14,000+ in his divorce case. In essence the COA said precisely that in its opinion affirming the chancellor’s order that he pay his ex, Carrie, that sum plus interest to replace his son Robert’s educational fund. Here’s how Judge Tindell’s March 31, 2020, opinion in Anderson v. Anderson addressed it:

¶29. On the issue regarding the depletion of Robert’s savings account, the chancery court found as follows:

During their marriage Carrie’s grandmother gave Carrie, T.J., and [Robert] $14,000 to put into a savings account for [Robert’s] college education. T.J.
placed this money in his name and in the name of the child. T.J. withdrew the money from this account. He claims that Carrie knew of the withdrawal. While the Court does not believe that Carrie knew that T.J. was withdrawing his son’s money, it would be of small consequence. Carrie knowing would not be justification for the withdrawal. T.J. withdrew and used his son’s money. T.J. will be responsible for replacing any funds he withdrew from his son’s account in the approximate amount of $14,000 together with any interest those withdrawals would have generated.

¶30. T.J. asserts that the chancery court committed manifest error when it ordered that T.J. be fully responsible for replacing the $14,000 removed from Robert’s savings account, in addition to any lost interest attributable to the missing funds. Citing McLaurin v. McLaurin, 853 So. 2d 1279, 1286 (¶24) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003), T.J. argues that the money taken from that account was used to pay marital debts, and thus Carrie “should be equally responsible for replacing the money from the account.”

¶31. We find no merit in T.J.’s assertions. As noted above, when Robert was two years old, Carrie’s grandmother gave Robert $14,000 as a college fund, and T.J. put this money into a savings account in T.J.’s and Robert’s names. The record reflects that T.J. withdrew sums of money on different occasions from this account until there was no money left in the account. At trial, T.J. testified that Carrie was “generally aware” that he had withdrawn the money. Carrie, however, testified that she did not know T.J. had taken this money until the parties separated and she found the passbook savings account showing that the money was missing. T.J. admitted at trial that he did not put the money in the couple’s joint account. He testified that he “paid bills with it,” but he could not specifically account for it.

¶32. We find relevant in this analysis that the record reflects a number of incidents reflecting T.J.’s lack of candor with the chancery court. “[T]he chancellor is vested with the sole authority and responsibility to assess witness credibility as no jury is present. The chancellor alone hears the testimony and sees the demeanor of the witnesses.” Culumber v. Culumber, 261 So. 3d 1142, 1150 (¶24) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). In this case, the chancellor stated on the record that T.J. was “among the most dishonest individuals that [he had] had on the stand” in the chancellor’s nearly thirty years as a judge. Particular incidents at trial included T.J. substantially misstating his employment history and earnings and T.J. denying that he posted messages on social media berating Carrie and calling her inappropriate names. As described in the chancery court’s opinion and final judgment,

In Exhibit 43 Carrie was berated and called vile names. T.J. swore that he knew absolutely nothing about this posting. Several months later, after Carrie’s attorney had arranged for a police computer expert to testify, T.J. confessed that he had in fact sent the posting and had lied to the Court about it.

¶33. In light of these circumstances and our limited standard of review, we find that the chancery court’s order that T.J. replace the funds withdrawn from Robert’s account, plus interest that would have been generated on those withdrawals, was based on substantial, credible evidence. We therefore find that T.J.’s assignment of error on this issue is without merit.

A point or two:

  • If you really expect the chancellor believe that your client spent funds on marital debts as T.J. claimed here, you’d best come up with some credible corroborating proof such as receipts or testimony, particularly when your client has already damaged his own credibility in his testimony.
  • Vague testimony, such as T.J.’s general claim about the marital debts not only lacks credibility, it also is most unhelpful to the court. What bills? When? How much was paid? To whom?

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