CHARLESTON - Justice Spike Maynard of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals wisecracked that courts will dismiss any divorce that lasts longer than the marriage.
He invented the rule at oral arguments Oct. 9, as Justices sought to close an expensive eight-year court contest over an 11-year marriage.
The Justices must decide whether Georganne Landis or Beckley orthopedic surgeon A. E. Landis should pay her bill of $333,442.86 for legal fees and expert services in their divorce.
Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside ruled last year that Mrs. Landis should pay her own bill.
Mrs. Landis appealed, arguing she can't afford it because he owes her about a million dollars that he agreed to pay in 2005.
She claims that although he agreed pay $880,996.35 in two months, two years later she hasn't seen a cent.
Her attorney, Lyne Ranson of Charleston, told the Justices that Mrs. Landis filed three contempt petitions against Dr. Landis.
Justice Joseph Albright asked if Dr. Landis owned liquid assets when he agreed to pay Mrs. Landis.
Ranson said he owned a million-dollar farm and close to a million in profit sharing. She said he earned more than $600,000 a year. She said her client was a stay at home mother with no income.
Maynard said the 2005 agreement provided Mrs. Landis about $1,500,000 in assets. He asked if the assets generate income, like stocks.
"There are no stocks," Ranson said. "Stocks are gone."
She said they owned a home in Maryland worth $475,000 with a $260,000 mortgage. She said they owned a home in Massachusetts worth $700,000 with a $167,000 mortgage.
She said Dr. Landis was directed to keep electronic trading accounts and pension accounts intact but he started spending from them the next day.
"That won't work," Maynard said.
"It has worked," Ranson said.
Chief Justice Robin Davis asked if Dr. Landis agreed to pay Mrs. Landis's legal bill. Ranson said no.
"Then shouldn't she pay?" Maynard asked.
For Dr. Landis, Elton Byron of Beckley said his client no longer performed surgery and mostly examined workers compensation patients.
Maynard asked the doctor's age. Byron said 65. Maynard asked Mrs. Landis's age. Byron said mid 50s.
Davis asked Byron why Dr. Landis did not make the payment as agreed.
"He has paid some," Byron said, noting that Dr. Landis offered to transfer an annuity but she didn't agree.
Albright said Dr. Landis owed $881,000 and interest. He asked why he didn't pay.
Byron said he had other debts. He said Mrs. Landis sought attorney and expert fees over seven years. He said it was a 1999 case.
"Any time a divorce lasts as long as the marriage, we're just going to dismiss the whole thing," Maynard said.
Byron said something about taxes and Albright said, "I don't understand. He agreed to pay. He must have taken taxes into account before agreeing. He agreed to deliver, not if I can get it out of my account."
Byron said he had a farm. Albright said, "He didn't agree to sell the farm."
Davis said there was no contingency. She said, "Sixty days, eight hundred and eighty thousand dollars. How do you get out of that?"
Byron said one of the court orders mentioned selling the farm.
He said, "Some of that money has been paid."
Maynard said with interest it would be over a million. He asked Byron if he agreed his client owed that plus legal fees for enforcing the payment.
Byron said Dr. Landis would not pay fees for enforcing the payment unless the court found him in contempt.
"He is in contempt," Maynard said.
"They both are," Byron said, adding that Mrs. Landis won't carry out her part of the agreement.
Justice Larry Starcher said, "She is probably holding assets hostage. Don't agree to orders that you can't comply with."
Byron sat. Ranson rose and said, "My client has not really done anything wrong here."
She said the 2005 agreement was very clear.
Maynard said if he tried to sell the farm he probably wasn't in contempt.
Ranson had argued in briefs that Dr. Landis should pay legal fees and expert fees because he caused the divorce.
At oral argument, she did not raise the point and neither did the Justices.