TOULMAN D. BOATWRIGHT, JR. APPELLANT
GRACE BONDS BOATWRIGHT APPELLEE
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/11/2013.
MARSHALL COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. ROBERT L. LANCASTER TRIAL JUDGE.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: HELEN KENNEDY ROBINSON.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: AMANDA WHALEY SMITH, KENT E. SMITH.
MCGEHEE, S.J. 
¶1. This domestic case was originally heard by Chancellor Edwin Roberts, who is now deceased. While presiding over the Boatwrights' case, Judge Roberts accepted an invitation from Grace Boatwright's attorney to participate in a turkey hunt. On the day of a scheduled hearing, Toulman Boatwright's attorney inquired about the hunt; Judge Roberts then continued the case. Thereafter Judge Roberts entered two orders relating to matters heard by him prior to the turkey hunt. Then Judge Roberts recused on his own motion. Toulman requested a new trial based on his allegation of bias by Judge Roberts; or, in the alternative, he requested an order altering or amending certain relief granted by Judge Roberts. Ultimately, Toulman's motion was heard by a special judge, who granted Toulman some relief but denied his motion for a new trial and all other relief. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
¶2. This Court recognizes the ultimate importance of the integrity of the judiciary. Judicial integrity is vitally important to the bench, the bar, our society as a whole, and especially to litigants. To that end, judges must always conduct themselves in ways that promote the integrity and independence of the judiciary. The high standards of judicial integrity and independence do not operate as a complete bar to a judge's acceptance of social invitations. Timing is critical. Clearly a judge may not accept an invitation of any kind that might call into question his independence or integrity in any matter over which the judge is presiding. An invitation to turkey hunt, or any other similar social invitation, extended by one of the attorneys who is then appearing in a contested matter, is one that must be refused. Judge Roberts's voluntary recusal on his own motion reflects his acknowledgment of this principle. The ideal course for a sitting judge is to avoid the potential conflict in the first place. There are occasions when a judge sees a conflict in retrospect, then recuses. Judge Roberts recused; nothing more was required.
¶3. Judge Roberts's entry of two orders after the turkey hunt and prior to recusal was not error. Judge Roberts's entry of these two orders, addressing issues heard prior to the turkey hunt, was not only proper, it was required as a part of the completion of his duties in this matter.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶4. This matter is before the Court a second time. Toulman's motion for a new trial was initially denied by Judge Glenn Alderson, who was appointed after Judge Roberts's recusal. Toulman appealed. Boatwright v. Boatwright, 155 So.3d 777 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011). On appeal, this Court reversed and remanded because Judge Alderson admittedly had not reviewed the record, but simply deflected the matter to the appellate court to make a decision. Id. at 779-80 (¶13). The Court directed the chancellor to review the record and render a decision. Id. On remand, Judge Alderson immediately recused. Judge Robert L. Lancaster was appointed. He reviewed the record and denied Toulman's motion. Toulman now appeals a second time.
¶5. The facts and procedural history were set out in this Court's first opinion and are restated here.
On May 12, 2004, Judge Edwin Roberts of the Marshall County Chancery Court granted Grace Bonds Boatwright and Toulman D. Boatwright Jr. a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Grace was awarded primary physical custody of the couple's three minor children, Wynne, Hannah, and Dunn. Toulman was ordered to pay $320 per month in child support, as well as $80 per month for health insurance, one-half of the out-of-pocket medical expenses, and a portion of the children's school tuition. Toulman was also ordered to maintain a life-insurance policy with the three children as beneficiaries.
Since the divorce decree, the relationship between Grace and Toulman has deteriorated such that the parties have been unwilling to communicate, resulting in the filing of numerous motions and petitions over the years.
The instant case stems from a petition for contempt and modification filed by Grace on October 19, 2007. An agreed temporary order was entered that, among other things, gave Toulman additional visitation with Hannah and appointed Jennifer Shackelford as guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children. On May 20, 2008, Grace filed a motion for emergency relief alleging that recordings between Toulman and Hannah, who was sixteen years old at the time, evidenced that Toulman's visitation with his minor children should be restricted. These recordings indicate a desire on Toulman's behalf and a willingness on Hannah's behalf that Hannah engage in violent activities against Grace and her older sister, Wynne. Judge Roberts subsequently suspended Toulman's visitation with Dunn, who was approximately five years old at that time. The day after Grace filed her motion for emergency relief, L. Anne Jackson, Toulman's counsel since November 2007, filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. On May 23, 2008, Helen Kennedy Robinson was substituted as Toulman's counsel.
At some point after this, Hannah went to live with her paternal grandparents. Per Toulman's request, Judge Roberts entered a temporary order allowing Toulman to pay Hannah's portion of his child-support payment to the paternal grandparents.
On October 6, 2008, Toulman filed a motion for Judge Roberts to recuse. In response, Grace filed a counter-motion for sanctions. After a hearing on the matter, Judge Roberts took the matter under advisement. On October 28, 2008, Judge Roberts denied Toulman's motion to recuse, delivering a lengthy opinion in which he found that Toulman was unable to substantiate any of the allegations made in support of his motion. It was determined that Grace's motion for sanctions would be heard at a later date. Toulman subsequently filed a petition with the Mississippi Supreme Court to review the denial of his motion to recuse. The supreme court denied Toulman's petition by order dated December 10, 2008.
A hearing on the merits of all pending motions and petitions was held for three days in mid-February 2009. Judge Roberts heard Grace's motion for sanctions on March 10, 2009, and ultimately awarded Grace $4, 305 in attorneys' fees and $733.11 in expenses. Toulman was also ordered to pay $900 to Shackelford, the GAL, for a total of $5, 938.11. The order imposing sanctions was executed on April 14, 2009, nunc pro tunc to March 10, 2009.
In regard to the original petition for contempt and modification filed by Grace, Judge Roberts found Toulman to be in contempt and ordered him to pay a fine for each instance of contempt. Judge Roberts also ordered Toulman to pay Grace's attorneys' fees in regard to the contempt proceeding, but he further directed a writ of inquiry to determine the amount of attorneys' fees attributed to the contempt action. Judge Roberts further found that it was in Hannah's best interest to remain living with her paternal grandparents until the end of the school year. Judge Roberts also set visitation, ordered the parties to attend counseling sessions, and modified the child support. This order was executed on April 9, 2009, nunc pro tunc to March 10, 2009. However, Judge Roberts determined that issues regarding Hannah and her custody, visitation, and support were temporary and would be reviewed on August 14, 2009.
On the morning of April 9, 2009, the parties presented for the scheduled writ of inquiry regarding attorneys' fees. Toulman's attorney, Robinson, requested a conference in chambers, wherein she informed Judge Roberts that she had received information which required her to file another motion to recuse. The issue of attorneys' fees was never resolved. On April 16, 2009, Judge Roberts granted Toulman's motion to file a sealed motion to recuse. That same day, Toulman filed a motion to alter or amend or for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Robinson had discovered that Judge Roberts had gone turkey hunting with one of Grace's attorneys, Kent Smith, on April 8, 2009. Grace's other attorney is Kent Smith's wife, Amanda Whaley Smith.
On April 20, 2009, Judge Roberts, on his own motion, recused himself from the case. The case was then assigned to Judge Glenn Alderson, who conducted a hearing on Toulman's motion for a new trial. Judge Alderson decided that rather than conduct a new trial on the merits, the most economical decision would be for the parties to appeal and allow the appellate court to determine whether there was any wrongdoing. Judge Alderson ultimately denied the motion.
Boatwright, 155 So.3d at 777-79 (¶¶2-10).
¶6. On remand, Judge Lancaster, the third judge in this matter, considered the issues raised in Toulman's motion for a new trial and/or to alter or amend orders entered by Judge Roberts. Toulman's motion argued that newly discovered evidence-the turkey hunt-revealed bias on the behalf of Judge Roberts and necessitated a new trial. The motion requested the two orders entered after the turkey hunt but prior to Judge Roberts's recusal be vacated. The two orders entered after the turkey hunt and prior to the recusal are: (1) the April 9, 2009 order finding Toulman in contempt and fining him $1, 000; and (2) the April 14, 2009 order sanctioning Toulman and his attorney in the amount of $5, 938.11 for filing the initial motion to recuse. Both orders were signed nunc pro tunc to March 10, 2009, the day the motions were heard. Toulman alternatively argued that if his motion for a new trial was denied, the following judgments against him should be altered or amended: the award of sanctions, the finding of willful contempt, the order to attend counseling sessions, the award of attorneys' fees for contempt, and the order of child support.
¶7. On June 26, 2013, Judge Lancaster denied the motion for a new trial and/or to alter or amend, with the exception of the fine of $1, 000, which he vacated. In altering the April 9, 2009 judgment to omit the $1, 000 civil-contempt fine, Judge Lancaster took issue not with the fine itself, but that Judge Roberts had ordered the fine to be payable to the county. Judge Lancaster found that this was inappropriate, stating that a fine payable to the county "is a punishment for criminal contempt and not shown to be a means to coerce compliance under civil contempt." As to Toulman's argument for a new trial based on Judge Roberts's bias, Judge Lancaster found no evidence of bias against Toulman or his counsel. Judge Lancaster held that the sporadic social relationship between the chancellor and Smith would not cause an objective, fully informed person to doubt the chancellor's impartiality. On December 16, 2013, Judge Lancaster entered a final judgment on the "remaining issue to conclude this litigation." The remaining issue was the motion for attorneys' fees for contempt. The chancellor ordered Toulman to pay $2, 100 toward Grace's attorneys' fees. Toulman appealed.
¶8. Toulman raises three issues on appeal: (1) Judge Lancaster erred in denying his motion for a new trial since Judge Roberts should have initially recused in this matter; (2) Judge Lancaster erred in finding that Judge Roberts properly imposed sanctions for Toulman's initial ...