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Donahue v. Donahue

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 2, 2017


         Appealed from the 22nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana Case No. 2013-13390 The Honorable Mary C. Devereux, Judge Presiding

          Richard Ducote Covington, Louisiana Counsel for Defendant/ Appellant Sarah Ann Donahue

          Frank P. Tranchina, Jr. Tracy E. Gold Covington, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiff/ Appellee Brandon M. Donahue


          THERIOT, J.

         In this child custody case, which comes before us on remand by order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, the appellant, Sarah Ann Donahue, challenges the re-allotment of her case and the judgment of the trial court granting sole custody of a minor child to the child's father, the appellee, Brandon M. Donahue. For the following reasons, we affirm.


         Mr. Donahue and Ms. Donahue were married in June of 2012. The couple had one child together during the course of their marriage, a son, born on January 13, 2013. On July 24, 2013, Mr. Donahue filed a petition for divorce against Ms. Donahue pursuant to La. C.C. art. 102. In his petition for divorce, Mr. Donahue requested that he be granted provisional custody of the couple's minor child and that he and Ms. Donahue ultimately be granted joint custody of their minor child with him being designated as the domiciliary parent. Mr. Donahue alleged that on July 7, 2013, Ms. Donahue became violent and destructive in his presence while she was holding the couple's minor child. Mr. Donahue also alleged that Ms. Donahue has a history of irrational and aggressive behavior.

         The record consists of several consent judgments pertaining to issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support. Throughout the course of the proceedings, Ms. Donahue's mental health has remained one of the primary issues in contention. Relevant hereto, Mr. Donahue and Ms. Donahue both filed motions seeking sole custody of their minor child. The opposing motions came before Division "L, " presided over by Judge Dawn Amacker, for a prolonged hearing on September 28, October 21, October 28, and November 2, 2015. Following extensive testimony on the matter, Judge Amacker issued an oral ruling finding that there had been a material change in circumstances regarding Ms. Donahue's mental health and her ability to care for the couple's minor child. Judge Amacker ruled that Mr. Donahue should be granted sole custody of the couple's minor child, and she ordered that Ms. Donahue be granted supervised visitation. Judge Amacker directed counsel for Mr. Donahue to submit a formal judgment in accordance with her oral ruling.

         Thereafter, on November 17, 2015, a judgment was prepared for signing and filed into the record. However, before Judge Amacker signed this judgment, Ms. Donahue's counsel withdrew from representation, and Richard Ducote enrolled as new counsel of record for Ms. Donahue. On November 23, 2015, Judge Amacker voluntarily recused herself from the case, explaining, in pertinent part:

Richard Ducote has chosen to engage in public conduct that personally and professionally attacks Judge Amacker. The Court does not agree that Mr. Ducote's conduct has caused Judge Amacker by design or effect to be biased or prejudiced against him to such an extent that his clients may not receive fair and impartial treatment. Furthermore, the Court does not agree that recusal is required based on [Mr.] Donahue's alleged status as a deputy or upon [Ms.] Donahue's intentions to sue the Sheriffs Office.
The Court does find that voluntary recusal is appropriate, to avoid even an appearance of impropriety, in any case in which Richard Ducote is enrolled as counsel of record for one of the parties and therefore voluntarily recuses in the above captioned matter.

         Consequently, Judge Amacker did not sign the judgment prepared in accordance with her oral ruling, but instead ordered the case to be re-allotted to Division "K, " presided over by Judge Mary Devereux, which, like Division "L, " has jurisdiction limited to family and juvenile matters pursuant toLa.R.S. 13:621.22(B).[1]

         On December 1, 2015, Ms. Donahue objected to the re-allotment, arguing that the case should have been randomly allotted amongst all the divisions of the trial court with general jurisdiction. Judge Devereux denied Ms. Donahue's objection on December 7, 2015. On December 23, 2015, Ms. Donahue filed a motion for new trial, which was denied by Judge Devereux. Finally, on February 12, 2016, Judge Devereux signed the judgment that had been filed in accordance with Judge Amacker's oral ruling on November 17, 2015. In written reasons for judgment, Judge Devereux stated that she had reviewed the 800-page transcript of the entire hearing, including the exhibits and the pleadings, and found that no additional evidence was needed to render judgment. She analogized Judge Amacker's ...

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