P. Craig Silva
John Wallace McGinn v. The State of Wyoming
2015 WY 140
November 6, 2015
The Defendant in this case, Mr. McGinn, was charged with felony child abuse, domestic battery, and possession of a weapon with intent to threaten. He was acquitted of the felony child abuse and found guilty of the remaining offenses. Despite the objection of defense counsel, the prosecution was allowed to cross examine Mr. McGinn with a series of questions similar to: "When the witness said X about you, Mr. McGinn, was that witness lying?" The trial court allowed the questions and articulated initially why this type of questioning was permissible. As the trial progressed, the trial court changed its approach and advised the jury this line of questioning was impermissible and the jury should disregard those questions and answers. The Wyoming Supreme Court took up the question of the impropriety of the questioning. The Wyoming Supreme Court reversed, holding it is impermissible for the prosecution to allow one witness to comment on the truthfulness or veracity of another witness. The Court further held it is misconduct for the prosecutor to cross-examine a defendant using the lying or mistaken technique.
Rocio Esmeralda Mercado Soto
Linch v. Ronald B. Linch
2015 WY 141
November 10, 2015
In 2014, Rocio Linch filed a motion under W.R.C.P. 60(b)(4) in the district court seeking to set aside a 1999 default judgment granting her husband Ronald Linch, a divorce.
Ms. Linch was born in Mexico City, Mexico, and is now a naturalized citizen of the United States. She married Ronald B. Linch in Edgerton, Wyoming, in 1995. Following the marriage, the Parties continued to reside in the State of Wyoming. On November 21, 1997, Mr. Linch filed a divorce complaint against Ms. Linch in the Seventh Judicial District, Natrona County. The Complaint was accompanied by a prenuptial agreement. On December 10, 1997, Ms. Linch was personally served with the Complaint. Ms. Linch did not answer, resulting in Mr. Linch filing an application for entry of default and the clerk of court filing an entry of default approximately seven (7) months later, on June 25, 1998. Approximately nine (9) months later, on March 24, 1999, a default judgment was entered granting Mr. Linch a decree of divorce from Ms. Linch.
During the gaps in the pleadings, the Linchs continued to reside together and did not ultimately separate until 2011. From the date the Complaint was filed to the date of the motion to set aside the default, 17 years had passed; it was 15 years from the date of entry of the decree. The trial court denied the motion to set aside the default because, among other reasons, it had not been brought within a reasonable time. W.R.C.P. 60(b)(4) allows for setting aside a judgment when the judgment is void.
W.R.C.P. 60(b) provides in part ". . . The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken." This was the language the trial court used to deny the motion. Ms. Linch's counsel conceded if timeliness is required of a W.R.C.P 60(b)(4) motion, this motion was untimely. The Wyoming Supreme Court analyzed other authorities and held a void judgment under W.R.C.P. 60(b)(4) does not have a time restriction; in other words, a void judgment is not somehow rendered valid because of laches.
The Wyoming Supreme Court nevertheless affirmed the district court. Ms. Linch's next argument was whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Ms. Linch argued the divorce Complaint, on its face, did not provide the Court a jurisdictional basis to enter judgment because the Complaint failed to allege a residential basis for jurisdiction. While the Complaint was silent as to residence, factually, Mr. Linch had resided in Wyoming for over 60 days prior to the filing of the Complaint. The Court held, "a district court's jurisdiction does not depend upon the allegations in the pleadings; rather, it depends on whether the court's authority extends over the general class which the case belongs." The Wyoming Supreme Court found no jurisdictional defect based on this argument. Ms. Linch then argued venue was improperly alleged in the Complaint based upon the fact that it stated both Parties resided in Natrona County, which was incorrect. As a point of fact, both Parties resided in Johnson County. The Wyoming Supreme Court held improper venue is different than jurisdiction and improper venue did not deprive the Court of jurisdiction.
Next, Ms. Linch argued the decree was improperly entered because it failed to make proper findings within the decree on items such as property distribution. The Wyoming Supreme Court acknowledged these were errors no doubt; however,...