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In re R.F.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

May 3, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF R.F.

          Submitted on February 27, 2018

          On Appeal from the 1st District Court Jasper County, Texas Trial Cause No. 28319

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEANNE JOHNSON Justice .

         M.F. and J.F. had one child, R.F.[1] M.F. appeals the trial court's Order on First Amended Motion to Disqualify Attorney and Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship. On appeal, M.F. argues (1) the trial court abused its discretion in denying her First Amended Motion for New Trial; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in ordering M.F. to pay R.F.'s attorney $16, 729.00 in attorney's fees;[2] (3) the trial court erred in issuing a withholding order for payment of attorney's fees; (4) the trial court abused its discretion in denying M.F.'s Motion to Disqualify Attorney; and (5) the trial court abused its discretion in finding that J.F. did not unlawfully intercept M.F.'s electronic communications. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         Background Facts

         J.F., R.F.'s father, filed a First Amended Petition to Modify Parent-Child Relationship and pleaded that R.F.'s circumstances had materially and substantially changed since the date of rendition of the prior order. J.F.'s petition requested that, among other things, the trial court terminate the parental rights of R.F.'s mother, M.F., and name J.F. as R.F.'s sole managing conservator. M.F. filed a Counter-Petition to Modify Parent-Child Relationship. On July 6, 2015, M.F. also filed an amended motion to disqualify J.F.'s attorney, and alleged that J.F.'s attorney "used and disclosed illegally intercepted electronic communications in violation of Federal and State laws[.]" The trial court considered the motion and signed an order denying the motion on August 26, 2015.

         At a pretrial hearing on March 11, 2016, the trial court adjourned to allow the parties to continue their mediation from the previous day. The trial court was then notified that an agreement had been reached, the agreed terms were read into the record, and the trial court orally ruled on the remaining disputed terms. The court approved the agreement:

[THE COURT:] So, I'm telling you this: I'm approving of your agreement. I've resolved in my mind the two outstanding issues that were left. I'm going to grant [M.F.] the overnight on Tuesday on the fourth weekend -- of the fourth week. I'm not going to do a specific allegation as to [M.F.'s sister]. . . .
Does everyone understand my order?
[J.F.'s counsel]: Yes, your Honor.
[R.F.'s attorney]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Who's going to draft it?
[R.F.'s attorney]: I am.
THE COURT: How long do you think it will take you to draft and disseminate?
[R.F.'s attorney]: Well, two weeks is Good Friday. So, maybe the following week. I think it's the 1st of April.
THE COURT: There's no way we could do it by the 21st?
[R.F.'s attorney]: Yes.
THE COURT: Well, okay. Today is the 11th. The 25th will be two weeks. I will be back -- so, let's do it April 4th. I am back in the country then.
And what we'll do is disseminate it. If everybody doesn't sign off on it, then we all have to come back down here on the 4th. . . .
At this time I approve the orders. I've made my rulings as to the two disputed issues. I find that these orders are in the best interest of the child, and I will set this for entry of judgment on April the 4th.

         M.F.'s counsel then asked to be able to question her client on the record:

[M.F.'s counsel]: You and I had an opportunity to talk about this agreement that the Court has adopted and put into an order; is that correct?
[M.F.]: Yes.
[M.F.'s counsel]: Has anyone attempted to influence you or force you into signing this agreement?
[M.F.]: No.
[M.F.'s counsel]: And you do believe that after consulting with me and having counsel go through each step, that this is in ...

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