Mother will spend Christmas in jail. Does our system need reform?

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A 48-year-old mother from the Midstate spent her Thanksgiving in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center last week — not for theft, DUIs, or fraudulent checks, but because of non-payment of her spouse’s attorney fees.  Married to a successful physician in Columbia with whom she shares two minor children, Gina Bornemann is also scheduled to spend Christmas in jail.      

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Like many parents financially ‘fleeced’ by family law attorneys, Gina had been representing herself in court as she gradually tried to learn the law.  As a veteran, an accomplished pilot with two graduate degrees, Gina was actively pursuing her PhD when her marriage began to unravel, and her former husband was awarded primary custody of their children.  

Aside from her spouse paying some of her utilities, Gina apparently supported herself solely with federal student loans and the generosity of family.  Anticipating that a terminal degree would eventually provide worthwhile opportunities to rebuild her life, sadly that too could now be in jeopardy.

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According to Rhonda Meisner, a mom from Blythewood who has had a similar court experience and frequently observes Gina’s hearings, Gina’s income source was made abundantly clear to all in attendance at the hearing, yet Judge Rosalyn Frierson-Smith curiously omitted this important detail:   

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As anyone who took out federal student loans via the Department of Education will probably recall, lawyer fees are NOT ‘qualified educational expenses,’ raising an additional question… did a sitting judge instruct a litigant to violate a federal directive?  

As Gina, a former home-schooling mom, plans to spend Christmas in jail and also 60 days in the same institution that housed former lawyer Alex Murdaugh for the annihilation of his family, parents have petitioned – and received – some encouragement from a popular freshman legislator who does not pull punches regarding the state of our judiciary.  

Representative Joe White of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus is a breath of fresh air for parents who have historically felt like their family court complaints fell on deaf ears.  Last week, Representative White sent a request to the Office of Attorney General Alan Wilson for an expedited opinion around some of the egregious violations of civil liberties being seen in family court. 

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As regular readers will recall, imprisoning parents under the guise of “lawful” orders seems to be a popular trend in South Carolina family courts.  One case garnering significant attention throughout the state was that of Rachel Armstrong, the single mom who was jailed for not paying former state representative, turned lawyer, turned family court judge Mandy Kimmons.  The ‘honorable’ judge Kimmons has declined to comment on this former case that reeks of backroom ‘home cooking,’ despite our best efforts at obtaining her perspective. 

As crazy as Gina and Rachel being forced into a ‘debtor’s prison’ for not paying members of the SC Bar is, this news outlet has become aware of other similarly odd – if not illegal – family court antics.  As was covered in detail here https://myrtlebeachsc.com/judge-dismisses-guardian-ad-litems-sandye-hicks-odd-request-against-local-mother/ a local guardian ad litem (GAL), Sandye Hicks, Esq., sought to have a mother placed under a guardianship due to what GAL Hicks claimed may be instability.   In what could have been an extremely dangerous precedent, the GAL was unsuccessful when the judge summarily dismissed her unconventional (and unsubstantiated) motion. 

It’s not just the coastal regions of the state… Jean Moore, a mom in Greenville was recently blindsided (literally) with a bench warrant for unpaid fees to a (non-attorney or “lay”) GAL, Nela Laughridge.  

In the throes of a medical emergency at the time of her June hearing, Jean still attended the court date, albeit in a wheelchair, and in obvious distress. Judge Marsh Robertson decided to continue the case given Jean’s condition, but the next order from the bench would be inexplicable.      

Judge Robertson commanded the bailiff to serve Jean with documentation of the continuance after she had lost consciousness on a gurney.  Being wheeled into an ambulance to begin an infusion of intravenous fluids, Jean simply did not receive the service of the court when she conscious — and the next notice she received was that of a bench warrant.  

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Upon learning of the warrant for her arrest, Jean was determined to explain her unfortunate dilemma to the Court and drafted her own motion, as a pro se litigant, and sought to file it in September, complete with her affidavit and her medical, EMT records.  The motion was refused by the clerk, as has every subsequent attempt to file it.  Her communications to the GAL and clerk of court have also gone unacknowledged in what many believe is a complete disregard for her due process rights.  Jean is fearful that she, too, may be spending the holidays in a jail cell. 

Judicial overreach has reached an epic level, family courts are a national crisis, and children’s best interests are much less of a priority than payments to attorneys according to the SC Family Courts.  

Reforming our judiciary in S.C. is simply more important than ever.        

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Sent from Representative Joe White to the Office of SC Attorney General Alan Wilson 11.24.23.

Is the system broken? Or is it appropriate to have a mother, with limited income, spend Christmas in jail for unpaid legal fees to a doctor who happens to be her ex-husband?

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