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Paschall v. Paschall

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 24, 2018



          Nathan B. Lewis and Cody J. Pritchard, for appellant.

          Taylor Law Partners, LLP, by: Scott E. Smith, for appellees.


         The appellant, Christopher Lee Paschall, has two minor children. The appellant murdered his children's mother, Casey Brace, and also murdered his children's maternal great-grandfather. This appeal stems from a guardianship case involving appellant's minor children after he was arrested and subsequently convicted of the murders. Appellant was incarcerated throughout the guardianship proceedings. After a series of other temporary placements, the Washington County Circuit Court granted permanent guardianship of the minor children to appellant's brother and his wife. Appellant disagreed with the circuit court's decision and appeals. We affirm.

         I. Factual Summary

         Appellant murdered his children's mother and their great-grandfather. On January 26, 2015, while appellant was incarcerated, John and Mary Paschall, appellant's parents, filed a petition for appointment of guardian of the person and for ex parte emergency guardianship. In their petition, the Paschalls alleged that appellant had been incarcerated and that appellant's minor children needed a guardian. They further alleged that the children were currently in the custody of Cathy Townsend, the children's maternal grandmother, who resided in Washburn, Missouri. Before their mother's death, the children had resided in Arkansas. The Paschalls also alleged that it was not in the children's best interest to remain in Cathy's care and custody in Missouri and that they had spent a considerable amount of time helping to raise the children.

         A week later, on February 3, 2015, appellant, while incarcerated, filed a notarized waiver and consent in response to John and Mary Paschall's petition for appointment of guardian. Appellant alleged that he is the children's father and that he waived his time to file an answer, the formal statutory-notice requirements for all proceedings, and his appearance at such proceedings. Appellant further stated that he consented to the circuit court's appointment of John and Mary Paschall as his children's guardians. The circuit court thereafter appointed the Paschalls as temporary guardians.

         A few days later, Amber Trammell, the children's maternal aunt, (sister of the children's murdered mother) and Cathy Townsend, the maternal grandmother, filed a motion and an amended motion to intervene and to set aside the order of temporary guardianship. Amber and Cathy alleged that they had already been issued letters of guardianship in Missouri. Thereafter, John and Mary Paschall, Amber Trammell, and Cathy Townsend reached a temporary settlement agreement, and the Washington County Circuit Court filed an agreed order. The circuit court ruled that Arkansas had jurisdiction pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), codified at Arkansas Code Annotated sections 9-19-101 to -401. The parties agreed that John and Mary Paschall should continue their appointment as temporary guardians. Amber and Cathy were granted the right to intervene, and their motion and amended motion to set aside the order of temporary guardianship was dismissed. The parties additionally agreed that Amber and Cathy were entitled to visitation with the children and that the attorney ad litem for the children would set up counseling.

         Shortly after Amber Trammell was granted the right to intervene, Amber filed her own motion with the circuit court to be appointed as the children's guardian. On April 24, 2015, appellant filed a pro se response to Amber Trammell's petition titled "Motion to Terminate Supervised Visitation, Petition for Restraining Order, Motion for Full Custody, & Motion to Dismiss Defendant's Filing for Co-Guardianship." In his response, appellant stated that he had signed over all rights concerning the minor children to his parents, John and Mary Paschall. He further alleged that Cathy Townsend was a drug dealer and violent and that Amber's husband, Justin, had killed his own father. Appellant prayed that the circuit court would "deem fit to terminate" any visitation given to Cathy Townsend; issue restraining orders against Cathy, Amber, and Justin; dismiss Amber's petition for guardianship; and grant John and Mary Paschall full custody.

         After a trial, the circuit court filed an order appointing John and Mary Paschall as permanent guardians of the children. Amber Trammell was granted visitation. Additionally, Jeremy Paschall, appellant's brother and the children's paternal uncle, was granted visitation. The circuit court further ordered that there be no contact between appellant and the children until the children's counselor advised otherwise and all the parties agreed. If the parties could not reach an agreement, communication would not be allowed without a court order.

         Less than a year later, on September 14, 2016, the children's attorney ad litem, Hadley M. Hindmarsh, filed an emergency motion for emergency substitution of guardians. The attorney ad litem alleged that Mary Paschall had allowed the children to have extensive telephone communication with appellant and that appellant had been "exerting a substantial and highly concerning level of control over the actions of the Guardian, Mary Paschall, concerning the minor children, the guardianship case, the children's counseling and other matters related to Christopher Paschall's numerous pending criminal cases." Therefore, based on over forty telephone recordings, the attorney ad litem stated she had serious concerns regarding the well-being and safety of the minor children in Mary and John Paschall's care and requested that the children be removed. She recommended that Jeremy and his wife, Crystal Paschall, the children's paternal uncle and aunt, be appointed as temporary or permanent guardians.[1]

         The participating parties, including John and Mary Paschall, Jeremy and Crystal Paschall, Amber Trammell, and the attorney ad litem, reached a temporary settlement agreement and agreed to allow Jeremy and Crystal Paschall to be appointed temporary guardians.[2] Visitation with John and Mary Paschall and Amber Trammell was permitted but at the sole discretion of Jeremy and Crystal Paschall. The same parties later reached a final settlement agreement regarding all pending matters, and the circuit court adopted the agreement in a final order filed on January 31, 2017. Jeremy and Crystal Paschall were appointed as permanent guardians of the children. The order additionally addressed and set out the visitation restrictions agreed to by the parties.

         About three months later, appellant, who is now represented by counsel, filed in May 2017 a pro se "Objection and Motion to Set Aside Final Order filed January 31, 2017, for Dismissal of the Emergency Temporary Guardianship and for Return of Guardianship of the Minor Children to John and Mary Paschall." In his motion, appellant acknowledged that he had signed a waiver of notice and consent to the guardianship in 2015; however, he alleged that his April 2015 pro se response to Amber Trammell's petition for guardianship "effectively terminated his previously filed Waiver and Consent." Appellant further alleged that even if the April 2015 response did not terminate his waiver and consent, his "[w]aiver was tied to his consent to John and Mary Paschall as guardians and [appellant] did not waive notice of any pleadings challenging John and Mary Paschall as the guardians." Mary ...

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