West Virginia Record

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Former Kanawha family lawmaster accused of mishandling family law case

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 8, 2009

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County woman is alleging the procrastination of her attorney, a former family lawmaster, left her on the hook for over $55,000 in child support overpayments.

Charleston attorney C. Page Hamrick III, 65, is named as a defendant in a legal malpractice lawsuit filed by Tammi Ray. In her complaint filed on Sept. 30, in Kanawha Circuit Court, Ray, 50, a Charleston resident, alleges Hamrick failed to appeal a family court judge's 2006 decision retroactively reducing her ex-husband's child support payments.

According to court records, Ray on an unspecified date hired Hamrick to represent her in arguing for child support from her ex-husband, James. Following their divorce, the state Supreme Court reinstated an order from the Kanawha Circuit Court requiring James to pay $3,894.93 a month in child support.

After the case was remanded to Kanawha Family Court, the judge, who is not identified in court records, refused to attribute income to James, contrary to the Supreme Court's earlier opinion. In fact, the judge went so far as to reduce James' monthly child support payment from $3,894.93 to $130.29 a month.

Furthermore, the judge made the child-support reduction retroactive to when it was first enforced. This, Ray alleges, caused a judgment against her for $55,677.24 in overpayments effective Dec. 15, 2006, the date of the judge's order.

Ray, records show, asked Hamrick to file an appeal of the family law judge's order to Kanawha Circuit Court. Though he did file an appeal, Hamrick didn't file it until Jan. 25, 2007, eight days past the 30-day deadline.

On Feb. 9, the case was dismissed citing Hamrick's failure to timely file the appeal.

Later, on a date not specified in court records, Ray filed a pro se appeal of the dismissal to the Supreme Court. After the Court initially agreed to hear the appeal, it later dismissed it on Nov. 20, 2007, on a motion filed by James' attorney arguing the Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear it because of Hamrick's first untimely appeal to circuit court.

The family law judge's "erroneous rulings" were allowed to stand as a result of Hamrick's failure to timely file her appeal, Ray alleges. Because of that, Ray maintains she not only lacks the proper funds to support her children, but also is still stuck with paying the judgment.

Ray seeks unspecified damages, court costs and interests. She is represented by former Kanawha County Prosecutor Michael T. Clifford.

Prior to passage of a 2000 constitutional amendment creating family law judges as part of a unified judicial system, family lawmasters handled most domestic relations matters, including child custody and support. In 2001, then-Gov. Bob Wise appointed the first batch of family law judges with the understanding they would first run for a six-year term in 2002, and later for an eight-year term starting in 2008.

Hamrick was first appointed family lawmaster on May 5, 1991, by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, and was paid $35,000, according the Supreme Court He served in that capacity until Sept. 30, 1999, earning a salary of $40,500.

The case is assigned to Judge Irene C. Berger

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 09-C-1842

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