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Odom v. Zamata Odom

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 5, 2019

GARY LEE ODOM
v.
RACHEL LEA ZAMATA ODOM

          Session December 5, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 15D-195 Phillip R. Robinson, Judge

         Two days before the parties' divorce trial, wife discharged her attorney. Her attorney then moved to withdraw. One day before trial, wife moved pro se for recusal of the trial judge. On the morning of trial, the court denied the wife's recusal motion and granted her attorney's motion to withdraw. Wife was not present. After confirming that wife had notice of the date, the court proceeded with the trial. In the final decree, the court granted husband a divorce, classified and divided the marital property, and awarded husband a portion of his attorney's fees. On appeal, we conclude that the trial court did not err in denying wife's recusal motion, allowing her attorney to withdraw, or conducting the trial in her absence. But the court did err in awarding husband attorney's fees as alimony in solido. So we reverse the court's award of attorney's fees as alimony in solido. In all other respects, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

          Martin Sir and Ellison M. Berryhill, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rachel Lea Zamata Odom.

          Jacqueline B. Dixon, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Gary Lee Odom.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         A.

         After almost seven years of marriage, Gary Lee Odom ("Husband") sought a divorce from Rachel Lea Zamata Odom ("Wife") in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee. This was Husband's second marriage and Wife's first. The union produced no children.

         At the time of trial, Husband was 66 and Wife, 33. Husband was employed as executive director of two medical associations. Wife owned a law practice with offices in Tennessee, New York, and Washington, D.C. Wife obtained her law degree during the marriage; Husband paid for Wife to attend law school.

         This divorce proceeding was characterized by ongoing discovery issues. Obtaining even the most basic information from Wife proved difficult, if not impossible. Husband's first two motions to compel were resolved by agreed order. But after Wife failed to comply with the agreed orders, Husband filed another motion to compel and/or for sanctions. This time, the court ordered Wife to produce the requested information, but reserved the issue of sanctions for trial. After Wife also refused to answer questions at her deposition, the court ordered Wife to answer the questions at her reconvened deposition. Again, the court reserved the issue of sanctions for trial. When Wife remained uncooperative, Husband filed a fifth motion to compel and/or for sanctions and/or for civil contempt.

         On August 4, 2017, the court held another discovery hearing. As the hearing progressed, the court became increasingly frustrated with Wife's responses. The court summarily held Wife in criminal contempt and sentenced her to three days in jail. Wife sought an interlocutory appeal of the criminal contempt finding. And this Court affirmed, concluding that the evidence supported "the trial court's determination that Ms. Odom willfully disobeyed the directive of the court." Odom v. Odom, No. M2017-01702-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL 3532080, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 23), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Dec. 6, 2018).

         Also at the August 4 hearing, the court scheduled the divorce trial for three days in December. Wife was also ordered to provide additional documentation about her law practice within thirty days. The court again reserved the issues of discovery sanctions and attorney's fees until the final hearing.

         On November 22, 2017, Wife moved to continue the trial until after her interlocutory appeal was resolved. At an emergency telephone conference on November 30, 2017, the court denied her request. The divorce trial remained scheduled to begin on December 5 at 9 a.m.

         B.

         On Sunday, December 3, at 6:40 p.m., Wife, acting pro se, faxed a notice to the circuit court clerk captioned "Notice of Attorney Notice to Withdraw." In her filing, Wife stated that her attorney "was very rude and unprofessional" during a telephone conversation that day and "will be, upon his request and the necessity of the situation, relieved of his duties as Attorney for Wife in this divorce matter going forward."

         Both parties filed pretrial briefs on December 4. Wife filed her pretrial brief pro se. It is apparent from Wife's filing that she was aware of the pending trial date, but expected the trial to be postponed because of ...


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