Missouri Court of Appeals Judges Affirm — and Criticize — Vinson Divorce

Missouri COA, Eastern District judges affirm — and criticize — Vinson divorce

Daily Record – Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires
By Donna Walter

Mortgage broker Ray Vinson — whose famed ads have annoyed multiple TV viewers — seemed to draw the same reaction Tuesday from a state appeals panel that affirmed Vinson’s divorce from his wife, Deanna. Judge Roy L. Richter, writing for the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, expressed aggravation with how long the couple’s legal squabbling took to resolve. “This dissolution matter, which had no child custody or support issues and no request for maintenance by either party, consumed eleven days of hearings and over 2,700 pages of transcript,” Richter wrote for the unanimous panel. “The trial court’s detailed judgment is 54 pages long.” Vinson is known for his twangy “ninety-nine, ninety-nine” phone number in ads for American Equity Mortgage, the company founded in 1992 with his then-wife.

Daughhetee, who now uses her maiden name, had appealed the trial judge’s decision that the mortgage company was marital property. Judge Michael D. Burton awarded Daughhetee more than $61 million and Vinson more than $11 million — assets that didn’t include the $40 million company, according to K. Lee Marshall of Bryan Cave, one of Vinson’s attorneys. Burton also ordered Daughhetee to pay Vinson about $16 million over four years for his share of American Equity Mortgage. The appeals court on Tuesday upheld the judgment but took the opportunity to chastise the former couple. “The parties relentlessly visited this Court … and can seemingly agree only that the marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be preserved,” Richter wrote. In the end, Daughhetee is to receive 62.5 percent of the couple’s assets, or about $45 million. Vinson is to receive 37.5 percent, or $28 million, Marshall said. American Equity Mortgage was created in March 1992 when a financially troubled Vinson sold to it the assets of a similar company for $800. At the time, Daughhetee was listed as president, secretary, treasurer, sole director and sole shareholder of American Equity Mortgage. The couple met in 1985, moved in together in 1986, married in 1993 and filed for divorce last year. Teams of lawyers represented both parties in the appeal. Vinson’s attorneys also included Edward L. Dowd and James F. Bennett of Dowd & Bennett. Daughhetee also was represented by Allan H. Zerman of Zerman & Mogerman, and Michael A. Gross and Joseph F. Yeckel, both of The Law Offices of Michael Gross. She argued to the appeals court that American Equity Mortgage remained her property and that Vinson was legally barred from claiming a stake because he disavowed any ownership when he declared bankruptcy in 1992. This issue — whether judicial estoppel can prevent someone from asserting property interests in divorce cases — is one of first impression in Missouri, the court said. That is, the issue previously hadn’t been decided in the state. With the case, the appeals court constructed a three-prong test to determine whether judicial estoppel applied. The first was that a party’s positions about his stake in the marital assets didn’t change over time. The appeals court found that Vinson’s statements during the 1992 bankruptcy case and his statements in the divorce were not inconsistent. James P. Carmody, one of Daughhetee’s attorneys, said he couldn’t reconcile the appellate decision with his view of what happened at trial. “The way we viewed it Mr. Vinson had said that he acquired an interest in this company from the moment that it came into existence,” said Carmody, of Carmody MacDonald. “And yet when he went bankrupt about six months after it came into existence, … he was asked whether he had any interest in any other companies or anything else and he said no.” Marshall, who argued Vinson’s case before the appellate court, agreed there was no inconsistency because marital interests in property don’t vest until the divorce decree is filed. “You’d practically have to predict the future in order to disclose that kind of interest,” he said. The court seemed to chastise Daughhetee for claiming American Equity Mortgage was her property because it was in her name. “The evidence suggests [she] was aware of the reason for listing her as owner of a mortgage company when she knew nothing about the mortgage business,” Richter wrote.

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