|Opinion:||In Re The Marriage of Mitchell, 2021 OK CIV APP 17|
|Subject matter:||Family Law|
|Date Decided:||April 2, 2021; Mandate Issued April 28, 2021|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Delaware County (Denney, J.)|
|Route to this Court:||Appeal of trial court final order assigned to COCA Division II|
|Facts:||Petitioner and Respondent were parties to a divorce decree entered in April 2012. As part of the decree, Petitioner was awarded a mobile home park. A portion of the park consisting of seven acres was on the market to be sold at the time the decree was entered. The decree provided that the Petitioner would not, without written approval of the Respondent, enter into a contract to sell the seven acres for less than $700,000. Further, should the property be sold, the Respondent was to receive 50% of the profit on the sale, up to a maximum of $150,000.|
In late 2016, without notice to or the approval of the Respondent, the Petitioner sold the seven acres for $500,000. Respondent became aware of the sale after the fact and asked the trial court to order the Appellant to deposit $150,000 into the Respondent’s attorney’s firm trust account. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Petitioner from disposing of the funds from the sale and ordering her to immediately deposit $150,000 into the trust account of the Respondent’s attorney’s firm. Subsequently, the trial court (1) found the Petition guilty of indirect contempt for failing to comply with the divorce decree, (2) awarded the Respondent attorney fees and costs in the amount of $7,241.64, (3) awarded the Respondent interest on the $150,000 in the amount of $17,004.78, and (4) ordered the file to be sealed.
Petitioner appealed the contempt order and the order awarding attorney fees and costs.
|Standard of Review:||In contempt proceedings, questions of fact will not be reviewed. The appellate court will review questions of law de novo.|
|Analysis:||Petitioner/Appellant in her appellate pleadings complains of the trial court’s disqualification of her counsel, exclusion of evidence, and allegedly improper sealing of the record. |
The reasoning behind the disqualification of Petitioner/Appellant’s attorney is unclear from the record. The Court of Appeals will not speculate about the trial court’s reasoning. “Legal error may not be presumed in an appellate court from a silent record. The opposite is true. Absent a showing otherwise, this court presumes that that the trial court did not err.” Hamid v. Sew, 1982 OK 36. With respect to the complained of exclusion of evidence, the Court of Civil Appeals is not persuaded “that the exclusion of evidence here resulted in a miscarriage of justice or consituted a substantial statutory or constitutional violation mandating reversal of the trial court’s decision.”
It is unclear why the trial court entered an order sealing the record in this case. “Based on the record before us, the order sealing the file does not comply to any degree with either the letter or the spirit of the Oklahoma Open Records Act, 51 O.S. § 24A.1 et seq., in particular, § 24A.30 governing sealing court records.” “Overbroad sealing orders without judicial oversight run counter to the public policy behind the ORA’s mandate to allow public access in all but very limited situations, thus fostering public scrutiny of governmental actions and promoting public confidence in the courts.” However, there is nothing in the record indicating that the Petitioner/Appellant asked the trial court to correct its errors regarding the sealing of the file. The Court of Civil Appeals will not reverse the trial court on a matter that the trial court had no opportunity to correct before the appeal was launched.
With respect to the Petitioner/Appellant’s complaint that the trial court erred when it found her in contempt because there was no clear showing that she willfully failed to follow the terms of the divorce decree, the Court of Civil Appeals found fully sufficient evidence for the trial court to conclude that she willfully failed to do something that the divorce decree required her to do with respect to the sale of the seven acres of property.
Finally, with respect to Petitioner/Appellant’s claim of error by the trial court in awarding Respondent/Appellee attorney’s fees, there is nothing in the record to show that Petitioner/Appellant presented her arguments to the trial court. Regardless, 43 O.S.2011 § 110 authorizes the court to award attorney fees in divorce actions.
|Vote:||3-0. Opinion by Wiseman, P.J.; Barnes, J. and Rapp, J. (sitting by designation), concur.|