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Sagers v. Sackinger

Supreme Court of Alaska

February 14, 2014

Adam SAGERS, Appellant,
v.
Colleen SACKINGER, Appellee.

Page 861

Adam Sagers, pro se, Fairbanks, Appellant.

Margaret O'Toole Rogers, Foster & Rogers, LLC, Fairbanks, for Appellee.

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, WINFREE, STOWERS, MAASSEN, and BOLGER, Justices.

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Adam Sagers appeals the superior court's award of physical and legal custody of his minor son to the boy's mother, Colleen Sackinger. Adam contends that the superior court abused its discretion in denying a continuance of trial, that it clearly erred in its factual findings, and that it abused its discretion in conditioning unsupervised visitation on Adam's completion of a psychological evaluation. Adam also contends that the trial judge was personally biased against him. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment below.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS [1]

Adam Sagers and Colleen Sackinger are the parents of a five-year-old son. Colleen has two other children with her husband, Joseph Sackinger, from whom she is separated. Adam and Colleen began living together in 2006. Adam exhibited controlling tendencies from the start; he called Colleen derogatory names, limited her contacts with male acquaintances, and harassed her at work. In one incident he cut all the telephone and computer cords in the home after seeing a picture of a male friend on Colleen's computer. Following another argument in 2007, Colleen, fearing for her safety, tried to leave the home with her children. Adam blocked the doorway, forcing her to push him out of the way. She fled to a women's shelter.

Adam ransacked the home in her absence, destroying household items and nearly all of Colleen's personal property. He collected

Page 862

everything belonging to her that he considered to be sexual in nature and burned it in the front yard.

In May 2007 Colleen learned she was pregnant. Adam moved back in with her in January 2008. He took care of Colleen during the remainder of her pregnancy but refused to leave after their son was born. In May 2008 Colleen obtained a domestic violence restraining order against Adam and ejected him from her home with the assistance of the police. Adam filed this suit shortly thereafter, seeking custody of their son.

Trial was originally set for June 2009. The court continued trial until February 2010 to allow Adam to address what he claimed to be a life-threatening lung condition. The parties twice more continued trial by stipulation before setting the date for February 2011. The court then continued the trial three times pending the resolution of Adam's criminal domestic violence case. The court granted a last continuance, to June 2012, when Adam asserted that he needed a hernia operation.

At the pretrial conference at the end of May 2012, Adam requested another continuance on grounds that he was recovering from pneumonia. The court refused to grant the continuance without testimony from a doctor. On the day trial was to begin, Adam presented a note from a physician's assistant, who wrote that Adam suffered from a " serious medical condition" which " should preclude his court activity for at least one week." The court refused to continue the trial without medical testimony that it was necessary to do so.

The physician's assistant testified telephonically that Adam had recently had pneumonia, and that as of the preceding Friday he still had symptoms indicating that he was not yet fully recovered. The court also heard from Colleen, who testified that, according to her son, he and Adam had been bike-riding all day the day before and had then gone to " the go-carts in North Pole" until late in the evening. The physician's assistant testified that given Adam's condition it would have been inappropriate for him to engage in vigorous activity, and that if he was able to bicycle with his son he should be able to participate in court proceedings. The court then made an oral finding that Adam was exaggerating the effects of his pneumonia. The court nonetheless granted Adam a 24-hour continuance to recover— his seventh continuance.

The next day Adam appeared in court unable or unwilling to speak and communicated by passing notes to the court. The court reiterated its finding that Adam's claims of illness were not credible. After the court declined to communicate with Adam through note-passing, trial began with Adam initially refusing to speak. Before long he regained enough of a voice to restate requests that the judge recuse himself and to make other objections that had already been overruled, and he repeatedly coughed into the microphone in what the court found to be an attempt to disrupt testimony that harmed his case. When he left the courtroom a few times to " get some air," trial proceeded in his absence, the court having warned him about the consequences and then reiterating for the record ...


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