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Winder v. Winder

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

September 25, 2019

DONALD EUGENE WINDER, III
v.
KARA ELIZABETH WINDER

          Assigned on Briefs September 12, 2019

          Appeal from the General Sessions Court for Meigs County No. D1738 Casey Mark Stokes, Judge

         This is an interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, from the trial court's denial of a motion for judicial recusal filed by the wife during the course of the parties' divorce proceedings. Having determined that the trial court made insufficient findings in denying the motion as required by Section 1.03 of Rule 10B, we vacate the trial court's order denying wife's motion to recuse-as well as any other orders entered subsequent to the filing of Wife's recusal motion-and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B Interlocutory Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Vacated and Remanded

          Rom Meares and Martha Meares, Maryville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kara Elizabeth Winder.

          Robert Jolley, Jr. and Emma M. Steel, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Donald Eugene Winder, III.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         Background and Procedural History

         On January 7, 2019, Donald Winder ("Husband") filed a Complaint for Divorce against Kara Winder ("Wife") in the Domestic Relations Court for Meigs County (the "trial court"). On January 8, 2019, Husband and Wife filed a Marital Dissolution Agreement and a Permanent Parenting Plan Order with the trial court. On April 3, 2019, Wife filed a pro se Notice of Withdrawal of Permanent Parenting Plan and Marital Dissolution Agreement and Objection to Venue. On July 19, 2019, Wife filed a lengthy pro se affidavit presumably in support of her earlier filed notice of withdrawal. On August 16, 2019, Husband filed his affidavit in response. Wife filed her Motion to Recuse on August 21, 2019, alleging that Husband-who is a licensed attorney-had deceived her into signing the MDA and the parenting plan and that Husband regularly appeared before the trial court judge-Judge Casey Stokes-as a practicing attorney. Additionally, Wife alleged, among other things, that she had witnessed Husband and Judge Stokes socializing together outside of the courtroom. Wife, in her sworn Petition for Recusal Appeal filed in this Court, stated that she had adhered to the provisions of the MDA and the parenting plan until filing her notice of withdrawal in the trial court proceeding in April 2019.

         At the hearing on Wife's motion to recuse, Judge Stokes made the following comments from the bench:

I think the language in the motion to recuse said that this is a friendly court, and it is a friendly court. We try to help, and that's why we let people file from out of county, you know, to help them out. At this point I don't see a need to recuse. I'll stay on it. If I feel like we get to a point, I may change my mind, but at this point I'm going to retain the case.

On August 22, 2019, Judge Stokes entered an order drafted by Husband's counsel, denying in a single sentence, without any factual or legal explanation, Wife's motion to recuse and ordering that the parties return to the established visitation schedule in the parenting plan. Wife objected to Judge Stokes' entry of the August 22, 2019 order and submitted her own proposed order, which provided that the parties return to the visitation schedule that had been in place following her repudiation of the MDA and the parenting plan. Judge Stokes initialed that order as well on September 3, 2019. Wife thereafter timely filed her Petition for Recusal Appeal in this Court. Having reviewed Wife's petition and supporting documents, we conclude that a response by Husband to the petition, additional briefing, and oral argument are unnecessary. As such, we now proceed to review Wife's petition in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B sections 2.05 and 2.06.

         Issue ...


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