The following article was taken from the Evansville Courier and Press and was written by Kate Braser.
Ex-wife cries foul on child support
An ex-wife is claiming unfairness in the judicial system over child support allegedly due from the son of a local magistrate.
The attorney for the ex-husband, however, says a local judge offered to have someone else hear the case because of the potential conflict of interest. The former husband, Richard Wayne Hamilton, is the son of Vanderburgh Superior Court Magistrate Allen Hamilton.
Superior Judge Robert Pigman, who helps supervise magistrates, said the ex-wife, Suzanne Hebert Hamilton, asked him to decide the dispute over an alleged $25,000 in back child support.
The ex-wife's attorney, Mary Lee Schiff, recently wrote a six-page letter to prosecutors complaining about the way the case is being handled.
Schiff alleges in the letter that the former husband has been permitted to "spend three to four days gambling at Casino Aztar each week, take trips to China and New Orleans, drive an Escalade and, before that, lease a Mustang for $600-plus per month, but he is only ordered to pay $150 in support a week when in fact he is already $24,800.68 behind in support payments."
She also says, "My client is asking why is Rick Hamilton being given so many chances and being treated so special? Why isn't Rick Hamilton being forced to become current with his child support payments or face going to jail? My client is wondering, is it because Rick Hamilton's father is a magistrate working for the Vanderburgh Superior Court?"
The letter was delivered to the Courier & Press by the ex-wife's father, Terry Hebert, a former employee of the newspaper. Suzanne Hebert Hamilton is also a former employee.
Pigman, who is set to review the case in August, said both parties told him about the potential conflict, so he asked them to sign a waiver. In it, they acknowledged the ex-husband's relationship to a court employee.
When asked about the judge's comments and the letter she wrote, Schiff declined to discuss it. When asked why she doesn't move the case to a special judge, she said: "I don't think we have a basis for moving the case."
Scott Danks, the attorney for Richard Hamilton, said the ex-wife is simply being vindictive and wants to embarrass his client.
"The child support is not his father's obligation," Danks said. "He is an adult. If the mother felt the judge was influenced by the fact that his father is a magistrate, she could have had the case transferred out. She chose not to. Pigman doesn't play favorites."
Danks said his client is working to make things right. In less than one year, Danks said, he has sold and turned over all of his assets and surrendered almost 100 percent of his income for the child support.
"This man went one year without paying his child support," he said. "No one condones that, but he was very distraught over the divorce. Once the case was transferred here, and since Judge Pigman got involved, (Richard Hamilton) has paid close to $10,000 in as little as eight months."
Danks said the original support payments were calculated based on Hamilton earning between $80,000 and $90,000 a year, but he said Hamilton no longer has that job, and now works through a temporary service, making "roughly minimum wage."
Danks said the Hamilton divorce is one of the most egregious he's worked on. "I have devoted much less time to murder trials than I have to this contempt citation," Danks said. "His file is at least a foot thick. It's just not right. And now (Hebert Hamilton) wants to get the prosecutor and the press involved."
The couple separated in 2005 and finalized their divorce in February 2006. Hebert Hamilton continues to live in Florida with the couple's two children, ages 7 and 12.
The case came to Pigman last summer, after Schiff filed a motion with Pigman asking the local court to enforce the Florida contempt order.
Pigman has previously ordered Hamilton to serve 170 days in jail for failure to pay, but has deferred that sentence to allow Hamilton to try to make payments.
The case is set for a hearing on Aug. 7 before Pigman to determine whether Hamilton is making adequate progress on his support payments.