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In re Richardson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

May 26, 2017

IN RE: THOMAS MARK RICHARDSON, RELATOR

         AN ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN HABEAS CORPUS

          Before McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.

          OPINION

          YVONNE T. RODRIGUEZ, Justice

         Thomas Mark Richardson (Thomas) has filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a contempt order issued by the Honorable Francisco X. Dominguez, Judge of the 205th District Court of Hudspeth County, Texas. Pending review, this Court issued an order setting bond. Finding that the contempt order is supported by a valid finding of contempt, we deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus, order his bond revoked, and remand him to the custody of the Hudspeth County Sheriff.

         FACTUAL SUMMARY

         The Court is familiar with some of the facts giving rise to the current dispute because we heard Thomas's appeal from the divorce decree. See Richardson v. Richardson, 424 S.W.3d 691 (Tex.App.--El Paso 2014, no pet.).[1] Thomas and Julie purchased a Palm Harbor mobile home shortly before they married on November 29, 2002. Richardson, 424 S.W.3d at 695. Thomas had two significant debts which he incurred prior to marriage: a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan debt and student loan debt. Id. The evidence showed that community funds were used to pay off the student loan debt and the FSA loan was significantly reduced. Id. Thomas filed for divorce on February 16, 2011. Id. The parties resolved certain issues through a mediated settlement agreement, and at the final hearing, the only issues remaining to be resolved pertained to the debt of the parties. Id. More specifically, Thomas contended that the debt related to the purchase of the Palm Harbor mobile home was a community debt, and Julie sought reimbursement of the community funds expended to reduce Thomas's separate property debts (the FSA loan and his student loan). Id.

         In the nunc pro tunc divorce decree, signed on February 2, 2012, the court awarded Thomas the 2003 Palm Harbor mobile home as his sole and separate property, and ordered him to pay the balance due on the promissory note.[2] The trial court ordered Thomas to maintain a life insurance policy through his employer, Dell Telephone Cooperative, in the amount of $350, 000 with Julie as the beneficiary, until the last child reaches the age of 18.

         The court also found in favor of Julie on her reimbursement claim based on the following findings: (1) community funds were used to reduce Thomas's separate property debts by $84, 729.33; (2) Thomas sold community livestock at auction and retained the sale proceeds in the amount of $1, 527.19; (3) Thomas acquired farm equipment using community funds, but he placed the equipment on his father's property to the detriment of the community estate in the sum of $25, 101.43. For purposes of making a just and right division of property, the court awarded judgment to Julie in the amount of $55, 678.98 ($1, 527.19 $84, 729.33 , 101.43 = $111, 357.95 divided by 2 = $55, 678.98). Further, the court awarded Julie attorney's fees in the sum of $14, 079.23, finding that she incurred them in connection with conservatorship and support of the children. The judgment also ordered Thomas to sign a note for $69, 758.21 ($55, 678.98 $14, 079.23 = $69, 758.21) payable to Julie with 6 percent interest per annum amortized for ten years.

         Thomas appealed, raising two issues: (1) the trial court erred by ordering him to pay the entire mortgage debt on the Palm Harbor mobile home; and (2) the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the reimbursement award to Julie. Richardson, 424 S.W.3d at 695. The Court rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Richardson, 424 S.W.3d at 697-702.

         In August 2014, Julie filed a motion to enforce alleging numerous violations of the decree, including refusal to pay her a share of sale proceeds from the sale of community property, failure to turn over property awarded to her, and refusal to designate her as the primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy. The motion also alleged that Thomas had failed to pay the judgment in the amount of $55, 678.98. Following a hearing held on August 28, 2015, the trial court held Thomas in contempt for nine separate violations of the divorce decree, including failure to make payments on the judgment awarded to Julie, failure to sign a promissory note to Julie, failure to make any payments on that unsigned promissory note, failure to turn over receipts and other documents confirming the sale of livestock, failure to pay attorney's fees, failure to turn over a handgun, failure to turn over a hard drive containing family photos, failure to turn over 50 percent of a retirement account, failure to maintain a life insurance policy in the amount of $350, 000 with Julie as the beneficiary, and failure to pay an additional award of attorney's fees. The court held Thomas in civil contempt, and ordered him confined in the El Paso County Jail for 18 months or until he purged the findings of contempt by: (1) paying to Julie the sum of $774.46 on the third day of each month beginning September 3, 2015, and continuing until the judgment in the amount of $69, 751.21 including accrued interest is paid; (2) delivering to Julie copies of all sale receipts confirming the sale of livestock; (3) paying to Julie attorney's fees in the amount of $14, 079.23 for attorney's fees rendered in connection with conservatorship and support of the children; (4) delivering to Julie the .9mm handgun awarded to her in the divorce decree; (5) delivering to Julie fifty percent of Thomas's savings in the NTCA Savings Plan arising out of his employment with Dell Telephone Cooperative, Inc.; (6) naming Julie as the primary beneficiary for the benefit of the children on Thomas's life insurance policy and provide Julie with written proof from Dell Telephone Cooperative, or the life insurance company, confirming life insurance coverage of not less than $350, 000 within thirty days from the date of the order and thereafter annually on the anniversary date of the divorce decree; and (7) paying the sum of $3, 000 to Julie for attorney's fees.

         The trial court suspended the commitment and placed Thomas on unsupervised community supervision for ten years so long as Thomas complied with each of the following terms and conditions: (1) timely pay the sum of $774.46 on the third day of each month beginning September 3, 2015 and continuing thereafter until the judgment and accrued interest is paid in full; (2) pay to Julie, as part of the judgment and promissory note, the sum of $14, 079.23 for attorney's fees rendered in connection with conservatorship and support of the children; (3) deliver to Julie fifty percent of the NTCA Savings Plan within thirty days from the date of the order; (4) name Julie as primary beneficiary for the benefit of the children on Thomas's life insurance policy in an amount not less than $350, 000, and provide Julie with written proof from Thomas's employer or the insurance company confirming the life insurance coverage within thirty days from the date of the order; (5) pay the sum of $3, 000 for attorney's fees to Julie within thirty days from the date of the order; and (6) pay to Myer J. Lipson attorney's fees in the amount of $9, 296.68 within thirty days from the date of the order.

         On March 17, 2016, Julie filed a motion to revoke the suspension of the contempt order alleging that Thomas: (1) failed to make the monthly payments on the judgment/promissory note; (2) failed to name her beneficiary on the life insurance policy in the sum of $350, 000; (3) failed to pay her attorney's fees in the amount of $3, 000; (4) and failed to pay attorney's fees in the amount of $9, 296.68 to Julie's attorney, Myer Lipson. Thomas responded by filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition and listing the debts owed to Julie and her attorney as non-priority, dischargeable debts. Consequently, Julie filed a motion asking the trial court to find that the judgment and attorney's fees owed by Thomas under the divorce decree were in the nature of a domestic support obligation under the Bankruptcy Code's definition. The trial court granted that motion, finding that the sums Thomas was ordered to pay were in the nature of a domestic support obligation. Thomas subsequently dismissed his bankruptcy proceeding.

         The trial court conducted the contempt hearing on October 20, 2016, and granted the motion to revoke community supervision, finding that Thomas had failed to comply with the order suspending the commitment signed on October 27, 2015. More specifically, the court found that Thomas: (1) failed to timely pay $774.46 on the third day of each month beginning on September 3, 2015; (2) as part of the monthly payments on the judgment, Thomas failed to pay to Julie the sum of $14, 079.23 for attorney's fees rendered in connection with conservatorship and support of the children; (3) failed to name Julie as primary beneficiary of the life insurance policy; (4) failed to pay to Julie attorney's fees in the amount of $3, 000; and (5) failed to pay attorney's fees in the amount of $9, 296.68 to Myer J. Lipson. The trial court ordered Thomas committed to the custody of the Hudspeth County Sheriff until Thomas has: (1) paid the sum of $10, 842.44 which is the total of the monthly payments on the judgment from September 3, 2015 to October 3, 2016; (2) paid to Julie the sum of $14, 079.23 for attorney's fees incurred in connection with conservatorship and child support; (3) provided written proof from Dell Telephone Cooperative or the life insurance company confirming that Julie has been named as primary beneficiary of the life insurance policy in the amount of $350, 000; (4) paid the sum of $3, 000 to Julie for attorney's fees; and (5) paid to Myer J. Lipson the sum of $9, 296.68 for attorney's fees.

         On November 4, 2016, Thomas filed a motion to clarify the order revoking suspension and committing him to jail. The trial court signed an amended order on November 18, 2016. In that order, the trial court stated the following:

         FINDINGS OF CONTEMPT

         The Court finds that THOMAS MARK RICHARDSON failed to comply with the following terms of this Court's orders:

1. Pay the sum of $774.46 on the third day of each month, beginning September 3, 2015, and continuing regularly thereafter on the third day of each month until August 3, 2021, when the entire amount of the Judgment and Promissory Note in the amount of $69, 751.21, including accrued, unpaid interest, be payable in full, and at that time, pay the full balance due on the Judgment.
2. Pay to JULIE ANNA [sic] RICHARDSON, as part of the Judgment and Promissory Note the sum of $14, 079.23 for attorney's fees, expenses, and costs for services rendered in connection with conservatorship and support of the children for and on behalf of JULIE ANA RICHARDSON.
3. Name JULIE ANA RICHARDSON as primary beneficiary for the benefit of the children on THOMAS MARK RICHARDSON's life insurance policy in an amount not less than $350, 000.00 on or before August 28, 2015, and provide to JULIE ANA RICHARDSON written proof from Dell Telephone Cooperative, Inc. or the life insurance company, confirming the life insurance coverage on Respondent in an amount not less than $350, 000.00.
4. Pay by cash, cashier's check, or money order the sum of $3, 000.00 for attorney's fees, expenses, and costs to JULIE ANA RICHARDSON.
5. Pay by cash, cashier's check, or money order, as attorney's fees, expenses, and costs in the sum of $9, 296.68 to Myer J. Lipson at Lipson & Dallas, P.C., 1444 ...

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