CYNTHIA A. JOHNSON, Appellant,
ROBERT N. JOHNSON, Appellee.
from the Superior Court No.3PA-12-02502CI of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White,
Appearances: Cynthia A. Johnson, pro se, Chugiak, Appellant.
of nonparticipation filed by Kenneth J. Goldman, Kenneth J.
Goldman, P.C., Palmer, for Appellee.
Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and
superior court announced its ruling at the close of a divorce
trial, the wife physically assaulted the husband's
attorney. The incident led to criminal charges against the
wife, and the judge who presided over the divorce case
testified at the criminal trial about what she had witnessed
of the assault.
property distribution in the divorce allocated the marital
home to the wife on condition that she refinance it in her
name. She was ultimately unable to do so, and the husband
exercised an option to refinance it himself and take
possession of it. The wife then filed several motions asking
the court to reopen the case, order that certain items of
personal property be delivered to her, and redistribute the
marital estate because of the change in the home's
ownership. She also filed a motion for change of venue, which
she now characterizes as a motion to recuse the judge. The
court denied all her motions.
wife appeals. She argues that the superior court erred when
it denied her motions to redistribute the marital estate and
that the judge should have recused herself after witnessing
the assault in the courtroom and testifying about it at the
wife's criminal trial. But because the superior court did
not abuse its discretion in any of its challenged rulings, we
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Johnson and Cynthia Johnson married in 1998, and Robert filed
for divorce in December 2012. Superior Court Judge Vanessa
White presided over the divorce trial in March 2014. At the
close of trial, while the judge was placing her oral decision
on the record, there was an altercation in the courtroom. The
details of the incident are not clear from our record, but
Cynthia admits that she struck Robert's attorney. The
State of Alaska brought criminal charges against her. In
October 2014 Judge White was called by the defense to testify
at Cynthia's criminal trial as a fact witness.
meantime, in April 2014, Judge White issued written findings
of fact and conclusions of law memorializing her decision of
the divorce case. The findings and conclusions addressed in
detail the disposition of the marital home and how the
property allocation would be equalized under different
scenarios. The home was awarded to Cynthia on condition that
she refinance it in only her name by December 31, 2014. If
she met the deadline and retained the home, she would make an
equalization payment to Robert of $18, 983, while Robert
would receive the full value of his "SBS rollover"
account. On the other hand, if Cynthia failed to meet the
deadline, Robert would have until June 30, 2015, to refinance
the home in only his name and take possession. In that event,
Cynthia would receive 56% of Robert's "SBS
rollover" account "to achieve a 50/50 division of
property." If neither party could refinance the home, it
would be sold.
2014, on Cynthia's motion, the court extended her
refinancing deadline to March 31, 2015. On March 10 Cynthia
filed another motion to extend the deadline, which the court
denied. Cynthia did not refinance by March 31, and in April
the court directed that Robert receive a clerk's deed to
the marital home.
parties had been represented by counsel up to this point, but
Cynthia's attorney withdrew in May 2015. Beginning in
September 2015 and continuing through February 2016, Cynthia,
now representing herself, filed a series of motions asking
the court to reopen the case for the purpose of
redistributing the marital estate now that Robert had the
court denied Cynthia's motions and warned that if she
filed "similar motions... in the future, " the
court would entertain a motion from Robert for attorney's
fees. Cynthia then filed a "Motion for Change of Venue,
" in which she argued that Judge White and "the
court system... in Palmer" could not "give [her] a
fair trial." The court denied this motion in a brief
handwritten order that read: "This matter is closed.
There is no need for further proceedings. Even if further
proceedings were warranted, Palmer is the proper venue."
appeals. She argues that (1) the superior court erred when it
denied her motions to reopen the case and redistribute the
marital property and (2) Judge White should have recused
herself after witnessing the assault in the courtroom and
testifying about it at Cynthia's criminal trial. Robert
is not participating in this appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
seeks both to enforce and to modify the divorce decree.
"We review questions regarding a trial court's
response to a motion to enforce a [divorce decree] under the
abuse of discretion standard." We also review for abuse of
discretion decisions on motions for relief from final
judgments,  motions for change of venue,
motions to recuse the trial judge. We will find an abuse of
discretion only if the trial court's decision was
The Superior Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion In Denying
Cynthia's Motions To Reopen The Case And ...