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Howard v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Virginia

November 26, 2013

CHRISTOPHER OATES HOWARD
v.
NELLA MARIE THOMPSON

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF LOUDOUN COUNTY Thomas D. Horne, Judge.

Christopher O. Howard, pro se.

No brief or argument for appellee.

Judges Frank, Petty and Senior Judge Haley Argued at Alexandria, Virginia

MEMORANDUM OPINION [*]

ROBERT P. FRANK, JUDGE.

This appeal arises from a divorce proceeding in the Circuit Court of Loudoun County. Christopher Howard, appellant, alleges that the trial court erred: 1) in failing to advise him of his due process rights when he first appeared pro se in court; 2) in interpreting the parties' property, custody, and support settlement agreement (PSA); 3) by abusing its discretion in its rulings on appellant's motion to modify spousal support (specifically the trial court's failure to impute income to appellee/wife); and 4) in awarding wife attorney's fees. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's ruling in part, reverse in part, and remand in part.

Because we decide this appeal on procedural grounds, the underlying facts of the case are not relevant to our analysis. Appellant's brief does not conform to the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Virginia and is replete with procedural errors.

Even pro se litigants must comply with the rules of court. See Diamond v. Diamond, 20 Va.App. 481, 458 S.E.2d 303 (1995) (holding that Rule 1:5 requires notice that the party "appears in the case" as counsel). "[T]he 'right of self-representation is not a license' to fail 'to comply with the relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'" Townes v. Commonwealth, 234 Va. 307, 319, 362 S.E.2d 650, 656-67 (1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 971 (1988).

Francis v. Francis, 30 Va.App. 584, 591, 518 S.E.2d 842, 846 (1999).

The appendix to this case violates Rule 5A:25(e). The rule states that "[a]t the beginning of the appendix there shall be a table of contents, which shall include the name of each witness whose testimony is included in the appendix and the page number of the appendix at which each portion of the testimony of the witness begins." Rule 5A:25(e). In this case, the table of contents does not include page numbers. In fact, the appendix's pages are not numbered.

Appellant's opening brief violates a number of the Rules. First, Rule 5A:20(a) requires "[a] table of contents and table of authorities with cases alphabetically arranged." Appellant's table of authorities is out of order and does not indicate on which pages the cases appear. Further, the certificate does not contain a word count, in violation of Rule 5A:20(h).

Another issue arises with appellant's statement of facts. Rule 5A:20(d) requires the opening brief to contain "[a] clear and concise statement of the facts that relate to the assignments of error, with references to the pages of the transcript, written statement, record, or appendix." Appellant's statement of facts reads more like argument and contains no references to pages in the record.

While the aforementioned procedural errors violate the Rules and make the task of this Court more difficult, there are more egregious errors in this appeal, which prevent us from considering appellant's arguments on their merits.

Appellant's four assignments of error also fail to conform to the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Rule 5A:20(c) states that the opening brief shall contain "[a] statement of the assignments of error with a clear and exact reference to the page(s) of the transcript, written statement, record, or appendix where each assignment of error was preserved in the trial ...


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