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Contempt for the dead

Who says judges don’t have a sense of humor? No one around our office.

Usually the good stuff sneaks into wry footnotes in cases. And we’ve got one this week.

This week’s lead story on page 1 features a family law case about sanctions for breach of a property settlement agreement following a divorce.

In the case, Mills v. Mills (VLW 019-7-092), the wife was supposed to continue to keep an insurance on herself, with the couple’s two sons as beneficiaries.

She admitted she cashed in the policy; the court held her in contempt for doing so.

Her argument was twofold: She argued substantial compliance with the PSA, because she had insurance in the same amount through her work.

And she argued, according to Judge Wesley G. Russell Jr., that the “husband could not be damaged by any noncompliance with the provision unless and until she died without coverage in place, and therefore, contempt could not lie until that time.”

Russell let that one sink in, then added a footnote: “Although wife’s argument fails to do so, we recognize the problems inherent in using contempt power to modify the behavior of someone who has died.”

Score: Judge Russell 1, Mrs. Mills 0.

– Paul Fletcher