Session December 5, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 15D-195
Phillip R. Robinson, Judge
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part
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.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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."
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 ...