The following “story” is not make-believe. I only cut-and-pasted a series of e-mails I received late last year from a former divorce client. I’ve added no embellishments and I’ve only edited to 1) remove real names and replace them with pseudonyms; and 2) make it easier for you to read. When you finish with this tale, think about the questions that follow it. Answer them, if you dare, in a comment to this blog. Or you can e-mail me privately at

November 30, 2015 (2:07 a.m.) from Sheila

Joryn, it’s Sheila Hudson. I know we haven’t talked since my divorce and it’s all good there, but something’s come up. My sister is in critical condition after an explosion broke out at her office, quite suspiciously, the day before Thanksgiving. She is in critical condition in ICU and completely sedated. The other gentleman involved in the fire has passed.

The reason I’m telling you this is because her ex is a fire marshal and the whole thing is under investigation. Apparently, she recently went with a friend, possibly the deceased gentleman, to persuade her ex to sign their divorce papers, threatening to expose his alcoholism that would surely make him lose his job. So he signed and she filed.

Then, the day prior to Thanksgiving, this mysterious fire breaks out.

I called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under an alias and told the agent all of this. I’m sending you his name and phone under separate cover in case anything suspicious happens to me.

So, here’s where I’m a bit concerned; I’ve never met her husband and yet I get a Facebook request tonight?!?! I’ve notified my relatives to which they respond, don’t accept, yet they don’t know I called ATF. I’m wondering if he either found our emails or somehow knows I contacted ATF.

THOUGHTS . . . ? I must admit I’m a bit concerned about my personal safety. I just called the ATF agent and left a message . . . just thought an attorney should know this . . . . I’m really hoping I’m overreacting . . . . Any advice?

December 1, 2015 from Joryn

Sheila, I was hoping this was phishing of some kind but now I’ve verified it’s you. I don’t know what to tell you, my friend, that you haven’t already done, other than to watch your back. Yes, people do horrifying things in the divorce arena. I hope not here but. . . .

December 1, 2015 from Sheila

Thanks, Joryn. It’s so horrible. I feel like we’re all living in a Lifetime Movie.

I’ve been in touch with the ATF agent in charge and he’s assured me that he will get to the bottom of this. As he said, this is either the worst coincidence in the history of all coincidences or there’s foul play.

I still can’t believe this is happening. Apparently my parents are getting a lawyer so that they can prevent him from the rights of making decisions regarding her care. (They’re still married!) He has their kids and we’re all very anxious about it.

I told you that he somehow figured out my last name, just so an attorney would know, since I’ve given information to the ATF agent.

As usual, thanks for your response. Your prayers would also be appreciated. There is also an fund set up as the Claudia Semmes Fund, in case you would like to share.

God Bless!

December 4, 2015 from Sheila

sideswiped funeral statueHi, Joryn. We plan to hold Claudia’s funeral Tuesday. The investigation is still underway.

On another note, I need your help.

Confidentially, I may be subpoenaed to be deposed in a divorce/custody hearing. Jessica Jones is representing the wife (Kay Moffitt) and Seth Smith is representing the husband (Walter Moffitt). I met the husband on Christian Mingle, we went out for a while, but I wasn’t attracted to him, so we have just been friends ever since last Octoberish.

Apparently, his divorce is WAR and I have been around the daughter maybe three times; once, I did her hair and makeup for her communion and once I picked her up from swim practice when Walter and/or his ex could not. Apparently Walter misrepresented our relationship to his attorney (at least the way it started).

I DO NOT want to be deposed, as it’s the last thing I need post-Claudia’s horrible death, especially since I won’t lie under oath, so it may hurt his case. Any suggestions?

I haven’t received it yet, but I just can’t handle it right now. Help! Please let me know if/how you can help!

Thanks and Warmest Regards.

December 4, 2015 from Joryn

Wait to see if you get subpoenaed. If you do, we will talk. If necessary, I’ll prep you for the depo. If additionally necessary, I’ll represent you in the depo.

You’ll be fine! Please don’t worry; the stress isn’t good for anyone, but especially not for someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis AND Crone’s Disease.

December 4, 2015 from Sheila

Ok. You’re the ABSOLUTE BEST!! It might actually be in court as a witness. THANK U SO MUCH!!!

December 8, 2015 from Sheila

So Walt called and said they are calling me as a witness for next Tuesday at 10ish @ Jessica Jones’ office (but I haven’t been served with a subpoena yet). Question: do I have to go without being subpoenaed? Also, I have a rheumatologist appointment that same day at 1:00 so how I can be sure I’ll make my appointment on time?

If they are calling me as the “sitter,” I literally watched this girl for three hours. Every other time I’ve seen her, her dad and/or grandparents have been there, maybe four times total? HELP!!

Is there any way to call Jessica Jones or Seth Smith and tell them how ridiculous this is? Or, if I have to go, I would like you there. I’ve been through so much lately; this is honestly the very last thing I need. Thanks so much!

December 8, 2015 from Joryn

Don’t go without a subpoena. Once/If you get a subpoena, fax it to me so that I can tell them I’m coming with you and that they’ll need to clear the time on my calendar. At that point, I’ll ask if it’s really that important to them and tell them about the impact on you personally.

December 8, 2015 from Sheila

Thank u!!! Again, you’re the ABSOLUTE BEST, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

December 13, 2016 from Sheila

Update . . . apparently Walt’s attorney is petitioning the judge to suppress my testimony, as I’ve only watched the daughter for three hours. Walt does, however, want me to watch her just a few times for a few hours in the future. The judge is hearing the motion tomorrow afternoon, so hopefully I’m off the hook, but will keep u posted. Thx again so much!

sideswiped keyboard

December 14, 2015 from Sheila

Hi, Joryn, So apparently the judge is allowing my deposition/testimony. I have not yet been served a subpoena, but also just found out that my disability case is being heard around the end of January.

So, I’ll do my best to avoid the subpoena, but if I get it, will fax it right over to you, as I would still like you to make the calls to the attorneys and represent me, if needed.

I have made it very clear to Walt that the one time I watched his girl for three hours will be the last time, as I don’t need this added stress right now PER MY DOCTOR’S ORDERS, believe it or not.

If/when I receive the subpoena, I will fax it right over. Thanks again for your help!!

All the Very Best!

December 17, 2015 from Sheila

Update: The server has knocked at the door for a few days and I just haven’t answered. I’ve parked in a different location but supposedly am scheduled for the 6th, IF they can find and serve me. The actual trial is on the 13th and 14th. I read somewhere that Florida law prohibits them from serving on Sundays or legal holidays (like Christmas). They wouldn’t call me as a witness at the trial unless I’ve been depo’d first, correct? Thanks so much again for your help!

December 17, 2015 from Joryn

They can call you as a witness if you’re there, outside the courtroom. Otherwise, how could they “call” you? If they call you on the phone, you say “What? No one served me and I’m busy” and you hang up.

I doubt they’d call you at trial without deposing you first, but if they can’t serve you for one, they can’t serve you for the other.

December 17, 2015 from Sheila

Ok, thanks, will just continue to be extra cautious. Just wanted to update you. UR THE BEST!

This is literally the most insane divorce case I’ve ever heard of or seen. I told Walt I wish I had known him earlier so he could have hired you! This would surely be over by now! ?

December 17, 2015 from Joryn

Next time, Honey.

December 17, 2015 from Sheila

For sure!! ?

sideswiped wedding band


December 28, 2015 from Sheila

So, the original date for my depo was supposed to be Wednesday and they never served me, so Walt’s second depo was Thursday (yes! Christmas Eve!) and they spent about 15 minutes asking him about me, asking him if he told me the date/time of my depo, asking why I didn’t work, about my divorce, about my illnesses, about my disabilities, etc. Some very personal questions.

So, now they must have set a new date for a depo, as they’ve been knocking all morning. The case is the 13th and 14th so the clock is running out. I’m just going to hunker down, as all of this sent me into a flare which sent me to the ER on Wednesday.

I just wanted to update you. I’ll let you know what happens.

Again, thanks for everything; if I can ever leave my house again (LOL), I have something for you and the pup!

  1. How many of the lawyers reading this have lost a client to violent death during the divorce they were handling? What did that look like? How did that shake out?
  2. If not you, how many of you know a lawyer who has suffered such a loss? (I have a friend whose client disappeared one day five years ago; her family never heard from her again.)
  3. Why do you suppose the judge overruled Walt’s attorney’s motion to prohibit her deposition?
  4. Should she have retained an attorney to pursue that motion herself?
  5. What might that have cost her? How much time? How much money? In terms of stress?
  6. Should she have called, or asked me to call, the attorneys early on to volunteer for her deposition and get it over with? Without knowing more about her, and how she developed Crone’s Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis in the first place, would that have caused her more stress than the way in which she handled it, or less?
  7. How many of the lawyers reading this have been retained to represent a bystander (grandparent, significant other, neighbor, teacher, etc.) to a divorce? What did that look like? How did it shake out? (I have counselled many of these, including a neighbor who’d been subpoenaed to testify at trial, and wanted to know who had subpoenaed him, the husband or the wife.)

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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