FROM THE TWENTY-SEVENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST.
LANDRY, NO. 16-0576 HONORABLE A. GERARD CASWELL, DISTRICT
Jamarcus Thomas In Proper Person Plaintiff/Appellant.
William C. Vidrine Vidrine & Vidrine Counsel for
Defendant/Appellee: Louina Denis.
composed of John D. Saunders, Billy Howard Ezell, and Phyllis
M. Keaty, Judges.
PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE.
father, in proper person, appeals a judgment concerning the
custody, child support, and visitation of his minor son. For
the following reasons, we amend and render.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
matter has been pending since February 12, 2016, when
Jamarcus Thomas, through counsel, filed a petition for
divorce from Louina Denis, whom he married on October 9,
2015. In an amended petition, Mr. Thomas requested the
issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent
Ms. Denis from coming near his home or place of business.
According to the pleadings filed by Mr. Thomas, no children
had been born of the marriage before the parties separated in
January 2016. In an answer and reconventional demand, Ms.
Denis asserted that she was "currently pregnant and due
to give birth on July 2, 2016." She sought, and was
granted, a TRO on April 27, 2016, preventing Mr. Thomas from
harassing her and from going to her home and place of
business. Ms. Denis gave birth to a son, Isaiah Jovan Thomas,
on June 25, 2016. Paternity testing later revealed a 99.99%
probability that Mr. Thomas is Isaiah's biological
father. According to court minutes dated July 11, 2016, the
trial court vacated the earlier granted TRO and entered a
reciprocal order prohibiting the parties from harassing each
other and allowing the father limited visitation with the
child. In early July 2016, Mr. Thomas's original counsel
filed a motion to withdraw on the basis that Mr. Thomas had
retained other representation. On July 25, 2016, Mr. Thomas,
in proper person, filed a motion for him and Ms. Denis to
undergo mental health evaluations pursuant to La.R.S. 9:331.
parties appeared before a hearing officer ("HO") on
July 26, 2016, following which the HO filed recommendations
into the record. Among other things, the HO recommended that
the parties share joint custody of Isaiah, with Ms. Denis
being the domiciliary custodial parent and Mr. Thomas
exercising visitation according to a detailed schedule. Mr.
Thomas was ordered to pay $246 per month in child
support. Several days later, Mr. Thomas filed an
objection to the recommendation made by the HO. Following a
September 12, 2016 hearing, the trial court made the HO's
recommendations the interim order of the court, subject to a
few minor modifications regarding the visitation schedule.
in mid-August 2017, Mr. Thomas, in proper person, filed
multiple rules for contempt alleging that Ms. Denis committed
various acts interfering with and/or preventing his
court-ordered visitation. He also filed a motion to modify
interim custody and child support. Contrarily, after Mr.
Thomas failed to pay a single penny of child support to her,
Ms. Denis filed a single motion for contempt against him.
judgment being appealed was signed following a January 18,
2017 hearing at which Ms. Denis was represented by counsel
and Mr. Thomas appeared pro se. Before addressing the merits,
the trial court noted that Mr. Thomas's current counsel
had filed a motion to withdraw that morning, indicating that
Mr. Thomas no longer wanted his services. Upon having Mr.
Thomas confirm his desire to terminate counsel, the trial
court signed the motion to withdraw, but advised Mr. Thomas
that his lack of representation could put him at a
disadvantage. After some discussion, the parties agreed to
continue all issues regarding contempt to a later date and to
go forward with the issues of child support, custody, and
visitation. The hearing was then recessed to give the
parties an opportunity to reach an agreement regarding those
matters. Upon resumption of the hearing, the parties put a
stipulation on the record agreeing to share joint custody of
Isaiah, with Ms. Denis being named the domiciliary parent and
Mr. Thomas being entitled to reasonable visitation. The
parties also had an agreement as to when Mr. Thomas would
exercise visitation from March 2017 forward. The trial court
then assisted the parties in working out an agreement
regarding Mr. Thomas's visitation schedule in January and
February 2017 in light of some upcoming changes in his work
schedule. With the help of the trial court, the parties also
came to an agreement regarding the amounts of past and future
child support owed from Mr. Thomas to Ms. Denis. Mr. Thomas
was sworn in and agreed on the record to each item relating
to visitation and child support. At the conclusion of the
hearing, the trial court ordered the mother's attorney to
prepare a judgment and send it to the trial court and the
father. The trial court explained that it would not sign the
judgment for five days to give Mr. Thomas the opportunity to
dispute any part of the judgment. In such case, Mr. Thomas
was directed to telephone the trial court, and if it
determined that the "problem [wa]s real, " it would
attempt to fix the problem with the mother's attorney or
reset the matter for hearing. The trial court stated that it
would sign the proposed judgment if five days passed without
any call from Mr. Thomas.
judgment prepared by Ms. Denis's attorney was signed on
February 9, 2017. The judgment referenced a joint custody
plan which was attached to and made a part of the judgment.
Mr. Thomas timely appealed and is now before this court, in
proper person, asserting that: 1) the judgment did not
reflect what the parties agreed to with regard to January and
February 2017, thus conflicting with his work schedule and
making it impossible for him to exercise visitation during
those months; 2) the judgment did not incorporate the
parties' agreement that he would be furnished with a bill
showing the cost of the child's day care; and 3) although
he called the trial court to point out the inconsistencies
between the proposed judgment and the agreement reached in
court, those inconsistencies were not addressed by the trial
the courts may not always hold a layman to the same standards
of skill and judgment that is required of an attorney, when
he chooses to appear in proper person, he assumes all
responsibility for his own inadequacy and lack of knowledge
of procedural and substantive law." Deville v. Watch
Tower Bible & Tract Soc'y, Inc., 503 So.2d 705,
706 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, in the past, this
court has given more leeway to pro se litigants who
"lack formal training in the law ...