Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Judge Byrd of Lebanon, Tennessee: a Quick Review of Reversals

Last week, Mark Rose at Right Minded posted that he had been sent information from unnamed sources complaining about the conduct of 6th Circuit Court Judge Clara Byrd, who is up for re-election. Those complaining alleged that Byrd conducted her courtroom in a manner that was abusive toward litigants that she found disagreeable and that her decisions have frequently been overturned. Rose also posted a list of appellate court cases that had originated in Byrd's court, with almost half of those cases being overturned, at least in part. Rose passed this along as information, but added that he did not have the time or resources to do any follow up research that would be necessary to verify the information he had received. Those who worry about bloggers not having editors should applaud Rose's restraint, as I am fairly certain, given the level of indignation by some of his commenters, that he was given much alleged and incendiary information about Byrd that he refused to post without having verified it.

Because I enjoy reading case law, I decided to read some of the cases in the list that Rose posted in order to see if some conclusions could be drawn about Byrd's capability as a judge. Those appellate court opinions do not in any way verify the complaints made about Byrd's conduct of her court room. However, they would not be expected to, as that is not usually the subject matter for a successful appeal. In the opinions I read, only two references were made to Byrd's conduct. In Halliburton v. Larson, the Court of Appeals, while ruling that Byrd had misapplied laws related to grandparent's rights, said that comments made by Byrd prior to the trial did not constitute bias, though they were "close to the line." In Fain v. CNA, a workers' compensation case, the court criticized Byrd for personally examining the plaintiff's hands and declaring that she saw swelling that she attributed to the compensable injury; however, the court also emphasized that this action was not determinative in its decision to reverse the ruling of the trial court.

Perhaps the most controversial of the appellate cases that have originated in Byrd's court has been Keisling v. Keisling, a nasty divorce and custody case that has continued on for years and from which Byrd ultimately recused herself. Parties in that case appear to be behind much of the present campaign to defeat Byrd. During and after the divorce proceedings, Mr. and Mrs. Keisling exchanged numerous charges and countercharges of child abuse and parental misconduct. At a custody hearing requested by Ms. Keisling during which she alleged that her former husband had sexually abused their children, Byrd evidently decided, based on contradictory evidence, that the children were being manipulated by their mother and maternal grandparents to bring those charges, and she gave custody of the children to Mr. Keisling. The problem was that Mr. Keisling had not filed a petition for custody(his attorney said that he "intended" to) and Ms. Keisling had no notice that this would be an issue in the hearing. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Byrd did not have sufficient cause to deny Ms. Keisling her right to due process of law.

In other cases in which appellate courts determined that Byrd made mistakes in applying the law:

In Nipper v. Axtrom, the court found that Byrd had incorrectly ignored the statute of limitations for the issuing of a summons of an amended complaint.

In Pykosh v. Earps, the court found that Byrd denied the defendant's right to "fundamental fairness" by refusing to order a physical examination in order to make a determination about which of two accidents caused the injuries in question. The plaintiff had already obtained an examination.

In Lourcey v. Estate of Scarlett, the court ruled that Byrd had improperly dismissed the case for lack of a cause of action. The case involved a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress brought by a postal worker who had been flagged down by a man who proceeded to shoot his partially nude wife and then kill himself.

In Engel v. Young, the court said that Byrd had "no authority" to violate a mother's rights by awarding visitation to her child's stepsisters in the absence of any finding of significant emotional harm.

In Sanford v. UMC, the court ruled that Byrd should have sustained a motion for a directed verdict because the plaintiff had not properly qualified its expert witnesses. The court said that Byrd had correctly outlined the elements of qualification, but she had not applied them properly.

In H&M Enterprises v. Murray, the court held that Byrd had improperly held a husband responsible for the embezzlement of funds by his wife from her employer, absent any evidence that he had any knowledge of her activities (the husband is presented more or less as a deadbeat who drank and remained unaware of life around him).

In Adams v. The Tennessean, the court ruled that Byrd improperly issued a protective order denying access to public information of a settlement by the city of Lebanon that had never been before her court. Many will remember the background of this case, which resulted from the shooting by police of a homeowner after they had entered the wrong house on a drug bust.

In Milliken v. Crye-Leike, the court ruled that Byrd had erred by refusing to award discretionary costs to the prevailing party without stating any reasons for doing so.

In Brenneman v. Brenneman, the court ruled that Byrd erred by not awarding any alimony to the divorcing wife, who had dropped out of high school to have their child. In their over 30 years of marriage, she had never made more than 12k per year, while he made over 50k.

These are not the only cases on which Byrd was reversed; they are merely the ones I had time to read that I also found interesting and that, in my judgment, revealed serious errors by the trial court. Are these errors sufficient to show a pattern of incompetence significant enough to remove a judge from her position? In Tennessee, judges are elected (not a good thing in the opinion of this Oracle), so I suppose that will be up to the voters to decide.


Blogger John H said...

kudos for putting in the time to do this.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:13 AM  
Blogger MCO said...

Everyone, I apologize that I have deleted a comment and have felt a need to turn on comment moderation. The comment I deleted may have been totally correct; however, I have no way of verifying the information, and, if it turned out not to be correct, the information could be regarded as libelous. I want to provide wide latitude for discussion, but I feel I have certain responsibilities to try to uphold regarding serious allegations against people who don't have the opportunity to defend themselves.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Karen E said...

To blog administrator: Why was this post removed? I would like to know, and I would hope that you would respond to me.

7:36 AM  
Blogger MCO said...

Karen, I regret the necessity of removing your comment. Your statements contained serious charges of crimes by a party to one of the cases and serious charges of dubious conduct by the civil court judge. Your statements for all I know were completely correct, but the fact is that I don't know. Because of this self-admitted ignorance on my part, I feel a responsibility to err on the side of caution.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Sherri said...

Thank you for taking the time to put this together. If you don't mind I have included a link to your blog from mine. If you have time I would love to chat in email.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Chyrie said...

Anyone who has seen Judge Byrd in action, knows she has some serious problems. I have personally witnessed her defy the law, overstep her powers, intimidate for no reason, openly be in favor of one party over the other, show partiality to her attorney friends and more. I question her knowledge of the law, adherence to it, her ethical behavior and the status of her mental health. A closer examination of her rulings need to be reviewed by superiors and whomever runs against her next election I will be voting for them.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched Judge Byrd to see for myself why there is so much bad blood surrounding those who appear before Judge Byrd. I saw for myself for 2 weeks of her "Kangaroo Court". She is totally disrespectful of most everyone who comes before her. She appears to have serious emotional and/or personality disorder issues, yet she is wearing a rob and making decisions that effect peoples lives for a long time. She is intimidated by smart lawyers and smart litigants. She tries to act "so cute" in court and acts very inappropriate by constantly making snide comments and talking very disrepectful to lawyers and witnesses. She is not very bright and I have no respect for her either as a jusge or as a woman. It's time to get her out of office and I for one will be leading the march.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Judge has no reason to be deciding the fate of any individual. The low life allow my ex-wife to leave the state with our child before the custody issue was even dealt with. I do not see how she is still on deciding the fate of children.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone has a right to their opinion and righfully so. I'm very familiar with Judge Byrd and have much respect for her. All judges have their enemies. There is NEVER a winner in the courtroom. What parents put their children through in these cases is nothing but abuse. There are several that are true cases and need help. But when a spouse is scorned or bitter toward the other one, it just makes for an ugly case. Judge Byrd has been ridiculed and people questioning her intellect, et cetera. Let's not forget she went to Law School, passed the Bar Exam, and was duly elected by the people in Lebanon that believed in her and what she was about. So before throwing your stones, maybe you were on the other end of that bitter court case where you lost. Judge Clara Byrd has so many people that respect her, admire her, appreciate her, and care deeply for her. Since all the comments that have been posted are attacking her, I felt it was quite deserving to make a statement that correctly characterizes who she is.
Besides, do you actually think your words truly affect the woman she is???? I'll answer that myself, NO!

10:32 PM  
Blogger MCO said...

To the most recent "Anonymous," I understand that you are likely commenting in response to the previous comments, but for my part, I would point out that my post dealt strictly with a brief factual recounting of several cases in which Judge Byrd's rulings were overturned on appeal. I made no personal characterizations about the judge.

In addition, I want to make clear that to my knowledge neither I nor anyone that I know personally has ever had any matter before Judge Byrd's court.

9:43 PM  

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