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Workman v. Iowa District Court for Muscatine County

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

DENNIS WORKMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Certiorari to the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Thomas G. Reidel, Judge.

         Dennis Workman petitions for writ of certiorari from the district court's issuance of a bench warrant for his arrest after he failed to appear for a contempt hearing.

          Bruce Johnson of Cutler Law Firm, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Daniel P. Kresowik of Stanley, Lande & Hunter, P.C., Davenport, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Dennis Workman is "disgruntled with his parents' estate plans, including both inter vivos and testamentary dispositions," according to a petition filed by his brother, Gary Workman. Dennis's discontent has sparked litigation involving the estates of both parents, LaVerne and Margaret Workman. In this case, Gary succeeded in revoking Dennis's shares and interest in the Workman Family Trust. In the course of Gary's action, the district court ordered Dennis to account for and return property distributed from the trust. When Dennis did not comply, Gary applied for rule to show cause why his brother should not be held in contempt of court. When Dennis failed to appear for the show-cause hearing, the district court issued a warrant for his arrest. In this appeal, Dennis challenges the legality of the court's decision to issue the bench warrant.[1] He alleges by requiring his personal presence at the show-cause hearing, the court failed to follow Iowa Code section 665.7. We agree the district court misconstrued that statute. Accordingly, we sustain the writ.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings.

         LaVerne Workman passed away in March 2016. He had one daughter and two sons, Dennis and Gary. Gary has lived near his parents in eastern Iowa for decades and was named executor of his father's estate. Dennis now lives in Florida. After LaVerne's death, Dennis filed a petition to set aside probate of the will. He alleged the 2007 codicil to the 2001 will was the result of Gary's undue influence and LaVerne did not have testamentary capacity at the time. Dennis voluntarily dismissed his petition in August 2016.[2]

         Dennis was named beneficiary and the sole trustee of the Workman Family Trust. Like his parents' wills, the trust contains a "no-contest" provision, whereby if any beneficiary (acting without probable cause and not in good faith) contests or attacks the validity of the will, their interest in the trust is revoked. In October 2016, Gary, as executor of his father's estate, filed an amended petition in probate against Dennis seeking to revoke Dennis's shares and interest in the trust and remove Dennis as trustee. Gary also asked the court to order Dennis to repay any distributions he made to or on behalf of himself as sole trustee. Gary argued Dennis's violation of the "no-contest" provision meant he was not entitled to distributions from the trust. Gary also sought a temporary injunction to prevent Dennis from dissipating trust assets while the petition to revoke was pending. The district court granted the injunction and ordered Dennis to account for and surrender all property of the trust by December 2016 as well as restore any funds he may have distributed to himself.[3]

         By March 2017, Dennis had yet to comply with the accounting and restoration provisions of the court order. Gary asserted Dennis was in contempt for non-compliance. The district court entered an order to show cause why Dennis should not be held in contempt. The court set a hearing for April 4; Dennis did not appear personally, but his attorney did. The court determined Dennis had been avoiding service in Florida but, at Gary's request, reset the hearing for June 1, and ordered publication of the notice in the Florida town where Dennis lived. Later in April, Dennis's attorney withdrew his representation.

         Before the June hearing, Dennis filed a series of motions as a self-represented litigant. He sought an extension to obtain new counsel, which the court denied on May 23, 2017, finding he already had ample time. Dennis also asked to appear by telephone. In support of his bid to appear telephonically, Dennis asserted his wife was disabled and suffered numerous ailments, was confined to bed, and required his constant attention for daily tasks. As her only caregiver, Dennis argued traveling back to Iowa would pose an extreme hardship. The court denied his motion, concluding a contempt action required Dennis's personal appearance. Dennis also resisted the order for rule to show cause, denying he had failed to comply with the order to account for and restore all property of the trust, but acknowledging he had not returned any funds from the trust account because he did not have any money to do so. In a notarized, written resistance he explained he "[did] not have the ability to comply with that part of the order." A trust accounting record through February 2017 listed unaccounted for funds in the amount of $75, 806.32. And again, Dennis sought a continuance to obtain counsel, which the court set for consideration on the same day as the show-cause hearing.

         When Dennis failed to appear for the June 1 hearing, the district court issued a bench warrant, setting a "cash only" bond of $5000. The document entitled Bench/Public Arrest Warrant stated "information upon oath" had been "laid before the District Court" that Dennis had committed the "crime" of failure to appear for the show-cause hearing. Authorities in Florida arrested Dennis on June 7. But the Iowa district court was informed "a governor's warrant" of extradition to return Dennis to Muscatine County could not be obtained, so the court "verbally consented" to his release from the Florida jail. The district court then ordered the bench warrant be "limited to the State of Iowa from this day forward."

         Dennis filed a petition for writ of certiorari, asking for dismissal of the district court's arrest warrant. The supreme court granted the writ. Gary, individually and as executor of his father's estate, filed an application for permission to withdraw from defending the district court's decision.[4] The supreme court granted Gary permission to withdraw and ordered the appeal to ...

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