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Vega v. Vega

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

August 22, 2019

ALFONSO VEGA, Appellant
v.
VONDIA VEGA, Appellee

          Submitted on April 1, 2019

          On Appeal from the 418th District Court Montgomery County, Texas Trial Cause No. 17-04-04179-CV

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES KREGER Justice

         Alfonso Vega[1] appeals the trial court's death penalty sanctions in his suit for divorce. In three issues before the Court, Alfonso argues that the trial court erred when it assessed death penalty sanctions against him by striking his pleadings, by not reducing its order to writing, and by not serving him with a copy of the "Trial Preparation Order." We affirm in part, and reverse and remand in part, the judgment of the trial court.

         Procedural Background

         Alfonso and Vondia Vega were married in January 2009. On April 3, 2017, Vondia filed for divorce. Alfonso filed a counter petition for divorce on April 17, 2017. On June 13, 2017, the trial court purported to notify Vondia's and Alfonso's counsel via letter of its scheduling order and trial preparation order. The court addressed the letter to both Vondia and Alfonso's trial counsel and listed each attorney's fax number. No address for either attorney appears on the cover letter.

         Attached to the letter was a scheduling order that notified the parties of discovery deadlines and when their case would be set for pretrial conference and trial. The scheduling order set the pretrial conference for October 20, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. In addition, the trial court attached a trial preparation order that stated, "DOCKET CALL-PRETRIAL CONFERENCE is set in this matter for 9:00 a.m. on Friday October 20, 2017." The trial preparation order required that both parties appear on that date for the pretrial conference and to be prepared to discuss all issues regarding the case, including settlement.

         The trial court attempted to fax copies of the scheduling letter and its attachments to both attorneys. Per the clerk's record, the fax number for Alfonso's attorney failed, showing "NO RESPONSE[, ]" prompting the trial court to mail a copy of the scheduling letter and its attachments to Alfonso's attorney.[2] Alfonso did not file any additional documents before the October 20th pretrial conference.

         On October 20, 2017, the date of the pretrial conference, Vondia and her trial counsel appeared, but Alfonso and his trial counsel did not appear. Vondia's attorney informed the trial court that they had attempted to reach Alfonso's attorney, but were not successful. Vondia's counsel also told the trial court that the parties had been scheduled for mediation, but it was cancelled. The following exchange occurred between Vondia's counsel and the trial court.

THE COURT: [Y]ou and your client are the only ones here. You are not asking me to do anything else?
[Vondia's Attorney:] Well, if you could nonsuit his pleadings that would be great, Judge.
THE COURT: Are you asking me to strike the Respondent's pleading for failure to appear at ...

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