WASHINGTON, June 11, 2015 — When Jeannie Melton started her divorce, she was a fairly well-off housewife. By the time it was over she had been charged criminally four times, ruled incompetent, forced into a home she couldn’t afford and made totally destitute.
But as she shared exclusively with CDN, she’s about to file a suit in Federal District Court that she hopes will finally, nearly two decades later, bring her justice.
Scott and Jeannie Melton got married in 1980. Divorce proceedings began some 14 years later in December 1994. The couple had no children, so all that was supposed to be settled was an estate worth about $1 million.
Normally, such divorces are relatively simple and painless. Normally.
The Meltons’ was anything but.
Jeannie Melton watched helplessly as her rights were taken away through a series of court orders that claimed she was in contempt of court. These court orders culminated on March 15, 1996 when an order stated rather ominously, “Wife has failed to comply with parties’ agreement regarding the filing of a 3301© affidavit and the execution of a new quarterly agreement for the parties’ loan on the Colonial Drive residence.”
A 3301 © affidavit is part of Pennsylvania divorce law that effectively waives a party’s rights to a hearing, disclosure, and to attempt to get or add alimony, child support and other divorce-related leverage.
Melton says the agreement was done ex-parte, meaning without her knowledge, in collusion between her then attorney and the attorney representing her husband, Daniel Glasser.
Emails to Glasser and Scott Melton by the Independent were left unreturned.
Melton hired a new attorney, William Stockey, days after this court order was entered. Stockley validated Melton’s assertion about the faultiness of the order when in a letter to opposing counsel on April 11, 1996, he said, “Further, as previously discussed a review of Judge Palino’s March 15, 1996 order reveals a clear abuse of discretion and improper interpretation of the court’s contempt order.”
But Melton told CDN that while Stockey may have seemed as though he was standing up for her rights, this was not the case; days after he was hired, on March 21, 1996, he advised Melton to sign the March 15, 1996, order, the same one he would later claim was wrong and improper.
Melton’s problems were just beginning.
In July 1996, Jeannie Melton, who until then had never been in any trouble with the law besides traffic tickets, was arrested. She had been stopped for driving without her lights in 1995; when she came to traffic court in July 1996, she was served with papers that announced her arrest for “stalking and harassment.” The claim was that because she had received the traffic ticket just a few blocks from her ex-husband’s current home, it was evidence she was a stalker.
Over the next year, Melton was arrested on three more occasions, including one arrest for attempted murder. Each of the four arrests was eventually dismissed. Her attorney, James Donohue, who represented her after her arrest for attempted murder, sent a letter suggesting the numerous arrests were part of a legal strategy to use the criminal courts to litigate the divorce.
“I told Judge Mannix (the judge in Melton’s criminal trial) that I believe Mr. (Scott) Melton is attempting to litigate matters pertaining to the divorce in Beaver County; and that his proper forum for addressing these issues is before Judge Folino in Allegheny County,” said Donohue in a letter to Jeannie Melton of his conversation with Judge Mannix.
Donohue continues to practice law, but he didn’t respond to a request for comment at his law firm, the Donohue Law Firm in Butler, Pa.
In 1997, at the behest of her divorce attorney, William Stockey, the divorce court assigned Melton a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
GALs are court-appointed adults, usually attorneys, who are charged with protecting the interests of their wards for the duration of a legal action. These wards are most often infants, minors and mentally incompetent persons who need help protecting their rights in court. GALs are usually appointed in divorces, child neglect and abuse cases, paternity suits and contested inheritances.
Because GALs are normally appointed for children or dying or incapacitated elders, the appointment of a GAL in Melton’s case is curious.
Stockey says he couldn’t remember any details of the case, including why a GAL was appointed, though he stayed on the case for nearly two years.
When it was suggested the appointment of a GAL was not in his client’s best interest, Stockley said that his reputation is sterling and any suggestion of wrongdoing was faulty. He told CDN to make sure all facts were straight before anything was printed.
There are no records showing that Melton was in an incapacitated state and in need of a GAL; however, Stockey may have been setting up this strategy in his letter to Glasser when he said, “The correspondence on April 8, 1996, confirmed the foregoing. That my client has severe diagnosed mental problems.”
Melton took exception to this analysis. While she told CDN that she was diagnosed with depression, she said the depression was caused by the stress of the divorce proceedings and wasn’t something she battled before the divorce began.
The GAL was a woman named Jodene Berry. Though GALs are supposed to act in the best interest of the ward, in this case, Melton told the Independent that Berry acted in the best interest of her ex-husband instead.
In September 1997, Berry petitioned the judge and received approval to force Jeannie Melton to move from her home to a home in Allegheny County, which allowed her to be arrested for attempted murder in that county, where her ex-husband lived and practiced law.
Melton said the GAL went so far as to petition the judge, Judge Mannix, to allow Berry to testify against Melton at her attempted murder trial; Judge Mannix denied this request because as her GAL it would have been totally inappropriate for her to provide testimony meant to harm her.
Berry was removed from the case in September 1998.
According to public records, Berry currently resides in Atlantic, Iowa, but according to an individual who answered the phone, Berry doesn’t live at the number listed to her on public records. The Independent couldn’t find an alternate number for Berry.
Melton said that Stockey dropped out of the case the day before the order forcing her to move was signed.
In October 2004, the Allegheny County family court ruled that Jeannie Melton was a vexatious litigant after she filed an appeal for an equitable distribution of the divorce.
This ruling forced her to pay for her ex-husband’s legal fees and other penalties, totaling roughly $150,000.
Currently, if she ever has more than $2,000 in liquid assets, her ex-husband has the power to garnish her assets in order to recover his legal fees.
Melton was left with none of the marital assets, as a result of the 3301© affidavit which her then attorney advised her to sign, and she is currently destitute.
“That (the $2,000 threshold) is not a problem for me,” Melton said, alluding to her constant financial struggles.
Melton is planning to file a pro se lawsuit in federal court charging in effect that entire divorce and multiple arrests violated her due process. Her lawsuit has been written and it was shared with the Independent, but it hasn’t been filed yet.