JIMMY C. REED JR., APPELLANT
GAIL GILLESPIE REED, APPELLEE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAFAYETTE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/20/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. EDWIN H. ROBERTS JR. TRIAL COURT DIVORCE GRANTED TO APPELLEE ON THE GROUND OF DESERTION.
DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED AND REMANDED IN PART.
FOR APPELLANT: JOE D. PEGRAM.
FOR APPELLEE: PAUL CHINICHE.
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., ISHEE AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, CARLTON, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. ROBERTS, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
¶1. Following a March 2013 trial, the Lafayette County Chancery Court granted a divorce to Gail Gillespie Reed from Jimmy C. Reed Jr. on the ground of desertion. Due to a variety of circumstances, Jimmy and his attorney, Joe D. Pegram, did not appear at the trial. Hence, a hearing was held without them and a judgment was entered against Jimmy as to the grant of divorce, as well as the division of marital assets and financial obligations. Jimmy now appeals, claiming the judgment should be set aside, but only with regard to his financial obligations, and the case should be remanded to the chancery court for a hearing where both parties may present their financial conditions to the chancery court. Finding error as to the division of property, we reverse and remand this case for a new trial.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
¶2. Jimmy and Gail were married in 1980. During their marriage, they had three children, all of whom had reached the age of majority and were emancipated by the time the instant proceedings began. At some point prior to 2012, the parties separated. On January 6, 2012, Gail filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, desertion, and, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. In his answer to Gail's complaint, Jimmy denied that Gail was entitled to a divorce on any ground except for irreconcilable differences. Jimmy also counterclaimed that he was entitled to a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. However, he agreed to move forward only on the ground of irreconcilable differences.
¶3. After a contentious discovery period, Jimmy requested that the case be set for trial on May 20, 2013, which the chancery court allowed. However, due to extenuating circumstances, Jimmy and Pegram did not attend the trial. In his brief on appeal, Pegram notes that Chancellor Edwin Roberts had been diagnosed with multiple serious medical conditions. Pegram explains that he was under the distinct impression that Chancellor Roberts would not be able to attend the trial on May 20, 2013. He asserts that he was told by numerous sources that Chancellor Roberts
was being treated for his medical conditions out of the State and that Chancellor Roberts's cases had been reassigned to Chancellor Glenn Alderson. The record indicates that on April 30, 2013, Pegram visited Chancellor Alderson's office to have him sign an order of continuance, as the new judge on the case. However, while Chancellor Alderson had been assigned many of Chancellor Roberts's cases, he indicated to Pegram that a substitute judge may be assigned to his case but to wait on the order of continuance. Pegram so firmly believed that Chancellor Roberts would be unable to attend ...