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Knowles v. Knowles

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 28, 2018

JOHN DAVID KNOWLES Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
LAVERN BELL KNOWLES Defendant-Appellant LA'VERN KNOWLES Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
JOHN DAVID KNOWLES Defendant-Appellee LA'VERN KNOWLES Plaintiff -Appellant
v.
JOHN DAVID KNOWLES, JR. Defendant-Appellee

         Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Webster, Louisiana Trial Court Nos. 71, 510, 71, 443, and 71, 515 Honorable John M. Robinson, Judge (Pro Tempore)

          MINIFIELD & HARPER By: Pamela Harper Jacob Counsel for Appellant

          THE LAW OFFICES OF WILLIAMS & WILLIAMS, P.L.C. By: Sandra M. Williams Counsel for Appellee

          JOHN DAVID KNOWLES, JR. In Proper Person

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.

          PITMAN, J.

         Appellant La'Vern Knowles appeals the property partition judgment and the trial court's denial of her motion for new trial. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Mrs. Knowles and Appellee John David Knowles married in 1971 in Michigan. They later established their matrimonial domicile in Minden, Louisiana. On June 21, 2011, Mr. Knowles filed a petition for divorce and incidental matters. He stated that the parties separated on or about May 18, 2011. On June 22, 2011, Mrs. Knowles filed a petition for divorce.

         On January 20, 2012, Mr. Knowles filed a motion for judgment of divorce. His attorney for this motion was Charles Smith of Smith & Jacobs, APLC. On February 14, 2012, the trial court granted a judgment of divorce. The minutes show that Charles Jacobs stood in for his law partner Charles Smith as Mr. Knowles's attorney in court that day.

         On January 27, 2014, Mr. Knowles filed a petition for partition of the former community of acquets and gains and attached a detailed descriptive list. On April 8, 2014, Mrs. Knowles filed an affidavit of traversal and/or concurrence of Mr. Knowles's detailed descriptive list.

         Charles Jacobs took office as a district judge on January 1, 2015, for Division D, to which the consolidated matter at issue was previously assigned.

         On July 8, 2016, Judge Jacobs presided over a bench trial on the community property partition. The parties stipulated that each would receive his/her General Motors pension plan. Regarding a piece of immovable property that includes a church (the "church property") that the parties owned with an unincorporated religious association, the trial court found that the religious association owns a one-half interest in the property, Mr. Knowles owns a one-fourth interest and Mrs. Knowles owns a one-fourth interest. The parties stipulated that Mrs. Knowles would purchase Mr. Knowles's interest in 6598 Highway 159 (the "matrimonial domicile"); that she would have 60 days to obtain financing; that if she did not obtain financing within 60 days, Jan Fry would be appointed as real estate agent to sell the property; and Charles Smith would conduct the closing. Judge Jacobs left the record open for 15 days so that Mrs. Knowles could submit documentation needed to calculate her reimbursement claims regarding the matrimonial domicile for homeowners' insurance premiums and increased equity. In addition, the parties stipulated that Mrs. Knowles would purchase Mr. Knowles's interest in four rental properties-300 N. Middle Landing, 302 N. Middle Landing, 304 N. Middle Landing and 907 Reynolds Street (the "four rental properties"). They agreed that if a closing did not occur within 60 days, Jan Fry would be appointed as real estate agent to sell the property and Charles Smith would conduct the closing. The parties further stipulated that all other rental properties would be sold by private sale. The trial court then conducted an auction as to the movable property. The parties did not have a unified detailed descriptive list, so they first bid on items on Mr. Knowles's list and then bid on non-duplicate items on Mrs. Knowles's list. Discussing their credit card bills, Mrs. Knowles stated that she had a Discover credit card with a balance of $3, 221.76. Mr. Knowles stated that he had a Bank of America credit card with a balance between $2, 000 and $3, 000, but did not provide documentation as to an exact amount. Judge Jacobs found that both parties would receive reimbursement for one-half of the amount of the balances, using $2, 000 as the balance on Mr. Knowles's credit card.

         On August 16, 2016, Mrs. Knowles filed a motion for recusal and a motion for new trial. She stated that the law firm that represented Mr. Knowles during the divorce proceedings was Smith & Jacobs and that Judge Jacobs was a member of that firm. She also stated that Judge Jacobs appeared in court on February 14, 2012, with Mr. Knowles when he obtained his divorce. She noted that Charles Smith, the closing attorney the parties had been ordered to use, is Judge Jacobs's former law partner. She contended that the rulings of Judge Jacobs were biased or prejudicial toward her and, therefore, requested a new trial and that a stay be issued.

         On August 29, 2016, Judge Parker Self granted a stay in the proceedings. On October 5, 2016, Judge Self presided over a hearing on the motion for recusal. He noted that he did not find that Judge Jacobs was biased or impartial, but did find that Judge Jacobs was an attorney who appeared in court on behalf of Mr. Knowles. He recused Judge Jacobs and ordered the clerk of court to reassign the consolidated matters to another division. He further found that the motion for new trial was premature because no judgment had been signed. On November 6, 2016, Judge Self filed a judgment granting Mrs. Knowles's motion for recusal and ordering that Division D ...


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