Delayed Ruling Criticized in Memphis, Tennessee Divorce: Byrd v. Byrd

November 14, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband and Wife separated after 34 years of marriage. Contentious and expensive litigation ensued because Husband repeatedly failed to produce discovery as ordered.

The adverse outcome for Husband that followed was predictable and entirely of his own making, resulting in Husband being ordered to pay the attorney’s fees and expenses on both sides.

The only thing I find notable is the lengthy delay between the trial’s end and the court’s decision.

The divorce trial occurred over four days in October 2019. The parties submitted their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in December 2019. The case sat dormant for the entirety of 2020.

Wife filed a motion for a status conference in January 2021. At a hearing in April 2021, the trial court apologized and acknowledged that its ruling was “long overdue.” A 50-page final judgment of divorce was entered on May 18, 2021, over 1 ½ years after the proof concluded.

Husband appealed, arguing that the 1 ½ year delay resulted in the trial court “not valuing the assets at a point in time close enough to the entry” of the final judgment.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-9-506 says:

When any judge of any district tries a case without the intervention of a jury, whether the judge is required to reduce the judge’s findings of fact to writing or not, the judge shall be required to render the judge’s decision and have judgment entered in the case within 60 days from the completion of the trial.

Despite the word “shall,” Tennessee caselaw recognizes the statute to be “directory only and not mandatory.” The caselaw recognizes that

[a]ttorneys are understandably reluctant to ask a busy trial judge to decide the issues in their case. However, after a reasonable lapse of time, attorneys should file a joint motion with the trial court asking for a judicial determination of their case. Zealous representation requires attorneys to take all reasonable steps to bring about a timely resolution of the clients’ disputes.

When a trial judge takes too long in deciding a case, the caselaw says the parties’ lawyers “must bear some responsibility for the long delay” when they don’t move for a status conference.

Here, the Court found that Husband’s counsel bore some responsibility for the lengthy delay:

Wife’s counsel asked Husband’s counsel if he would agree to filing a joint motion for a status conference after year, and Husband’s counsel responded, “Why kick a sleeping dog?” When pressed further as to whether Husband’s counsel objected to a joint filing, he said, “How can I object? If I do, it looks like I’m dragging my feet. For the record: I don’t object, but I don’t like it either.” Wife then filed a motion for a status conference and motion for a ruling on her own, rather than submitting a joint filing with Husband. Given Husband’s failure to take whatever action was reasonably available to prevent or nullify the harmful effect of an error, he is not entitled to relief on appeal.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) Husband was questioned about $250,000 paid to a woman he identified as his business partner’s girlfriend. He claimed the payments related to a business venture to salvage scrap metal in Nigeria. Husband testified he and his brother traveled to Nigeria to meet with a king there about their business idea. Wife’s counsel asked, “Are you going to be the only person in history to actually make money with dealing with a [member of] Nigerian royalty?” Husband replied, “It doesn’t look like it.”

(2) When Husband was cross-examined about his tax returns and whether he committed tax fraud, his attorney advised him to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which Husband did. Magic 8 Ball says, “Outlook not so good.”

Byrd v. Byrd (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, October 31, 2022).

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Delayed Ruling Criticized in Memphis, Tennessee Divorce: Byrd v. Byrd was last modified: November 13th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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