Lesson 14

The Honorable S. Lark Ingram

“The Sword of Damocles” 

Judge Number 4

Background of Judge Ingram’s entry into this series of legal actions:

Divorce trial, October 1995.
Retaining of Lawrence B. Custer, November 1995
Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, December 11, 1995
Filing of Modification of Custody, March 1996

Even before the ink was dry on the divorce action, M. Portman retained the services of attorney Lawrence B. Custer to correct the error of custody which had been determined in the divorce. 

SideBar:  Custody actions in Georgia are filed as separate legal actions, yet are necessarily assigned to the SAME judge who handles the divorce. 

Then, between March 1996 and January 1998, M. Portman’s legal action for modification of custody languished in the Cobb County Superior Court, assigned to Judge Robert (Bob) E. Flournoy, Jr. (see Lesson 20 and 22)

However, upon the surprise withdrawal of Attorney Lawrence B. Custer (Lesson 20) and the overt prejudicial response from Judge Bob Flournoy, M. Portman timely filed a proper Motion for the Disqualification of Judge Bob Flournoy, along with a proper and timely filed Extraordinary Motion for New Trial in the divorce action. 

Judge S. Lark Ingram’s jurisdiction?

When the Honorable Dorothy Robinson granted the disqualification motion, she assigned the Modification of Custody to the Honorable S. Lark Ingram. (We shall set aside, for now, the argument that Judge Dorothy Robinson’s Order of Disqualification was actually ILLEGAL. See Lesson 15)

Judge Dorothy Robinson’s Order declared Judge Bob Flournoy to be disqualified from the custody action, but made no mention of disqualification from the divorce action. Since there were motions pending in both cases, this was a major question that needed to be answered. Because the standard answer from all court personnel is, “We can’t give legal advice,” M. Portman filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment to learn which Court had control of the divorce action and it’s Extraordinary Motion for New Trial. Surely, if Judge Bob Flournoy was disqualified from one action, he was also disqualified from the other action. 

Upon M. Portman’s filing of a Rule Nisi, Judge S. Lark Ingram necessarily heard oral argument on the Motion for Declaratory Judgment. Attorney Larry Yarbrough represented the absent G. Portman, and M. Portman acted pro se.  

Judge S. Lark Ingram made a very surprising ruling in that hearing. Throughout the hearing, she yielded to the advice of attorney Larry Yarbrough, and in the end she simply said that she would accept not only the custody case, but also the divorce case. Could she do this?

SideBar:  When a judge makes a ruling from the bench, is it not reasonable that the average citizen would accept the outcome as a “ruling of the court?”  We have been taught to believe that the proper method of disagreement is appeal. But, we (and sometimes our attorneys) can be duped into turning a “ruling by the court” into our own decision, essentially a consent order! Read on………learn this lesson so you don’t fall prey to similar manipulation by other courts. And, don’t let your attorney fall for it either!

It is SO important to read the fine print of the Law! If both parties (or their attorneys) in a civil action sign an order (even if only in draft form and even if in response to a judge’s direction to do so)………that order becomes law by AGREEMENT and is simply approved by the court. It is only through extremely rare circumstances that it can be appealed.

Let’s see how Judge S. Lark Ingram set out to pull this trick on M. Portman!

Judge S. Lark Ingram made the determination that she would ASSUME jurisdiction of the divorce action and all pending motions. But this would have been ILLEGAL! 

SideBar:  It is basic jurisdictional procedure that a judge cannot reach over into another court and TAKE a case from another judge in the same circuit and same level. (Certiorari exists only for a high court to reach down into a lower court to correct error, and this CAN be done at the high court’s initiative.) Judge S. Lark Ingram could not legally reach over into Judge Bob Flournoy’s court and take one of his cases. But, she could succeed in gaining LEGAL jurisdiction of the Motion for New Trial IF the following happened:

  • Judge Bob Flournoy made no objection, but “stood silent”
  • M. Portman AGREED, through a consent order, to the jurisdiction of Judge S. Lark Ingram  

So, Judge S. Lark Ingram attempted to accomplish both requirements. She excused herself during the June 24, 1998 hearing for approximately 10 minutes, leaving Mr. Yarbrough and M. Portman in the courtroom waiting for her return. No explanation was given for her leave, although it was apparently to obtain Judge Flournoy’s agreement to “stand silent” on the issue.

At the end of the hearing on June 24, 1998, Judge Ingram told both Larry Yarbrough and M. Portman that one of them would need to prepare and sign the Order, have the other sign it, and then present it to her for signature and filing. M. Portman had learned NOT to trust Larry Yarbrough to accurately prepare an order. (See Lesson 18) Yet, she felt incapable of sufficiently preparing the Order without a transcript. Consequently, she responded to Judge Ingram that she could prepare the Order only AFTER receipt of the court reporter’s transcript. 

However, after receiving the official transcript and after studying the Law, M. Portman realized that if she even prepared the Order without signing it, it could be mis-construed that the content reflected her own wishes and desires. It was not M. Portman ‘s desire to have Judge Lark Ingram ILLEGALLY gain LEGAL jurisdiction of the divorce action. See Appendix A, Section 5, Consent Order vs. Bench Order

Although Judge Ingram had attempted to make her bench order appear to be a consent order, M. Portman informed Judge Ingram by letter that she (Ingram) would necessarily need to write and file the Order. M. Portman requested expediency because it was her intention to immediately appeal the Order. 

Judge Ingram twice refused to file the necessary written Order! And, NO order can be appealed until it is first written and filed with the Clerk. 

SideBar:  The Official Code of Georgia, O.C.G.A. Sec. 15-6-21 (b) and (c) requires that a written Order be filed within 90 days after a hearing (30 days in smaller circuits). 

Could Judge Ingram obstruct justice and NEVER file the order? Certainly! AFTER a period of 90 days waiting for the Order, M. Portman would necessarily have to submit yet another Rule Nisi and appear before yet another hearing with Judge Ingram, and go through the entire procedure yet again. M. Portman talked with Judge Ingram’s law clerk and determined that Judge Ingram intended to simply let the Order go unfiled. This would cover up the judge’s ILLEGAL ruling AND the fact that she had attempted to manipulate M. Portman into signing a consent order. It is Judge S. Lark Ingram’s INTENT that rose to the level of judicial misconduct. 

What COULD M. Portman do to encourage or require that Judge Ingram file her Order? There is only one remedy………a Writ of Mandamus.

SideBar: A Writ of Mandamus is simply a Court Order which commands a public official to do his/her legal duty. It cannot be used to command the discretionary part of a legal duty, but it is the proper method to enforce a ministerial act by a public official. There are only two remedies when a judge refuses to abide by the law, mandamus and impeachment. Because only the high court can take action to impeach a judge, mandamus is therefore the only remedy available to a citizen when a judge refuses to complete his/her legal duty. 

Although Judge Ingram completed the discretionary part of her Order by her oral Opinion from the Bench, the ministerial portion to write and file the Order remained undone. After Judge Ingram twice refused to file the Order according to O.C.G.A. Section 15-6-21 and Section 15-2-8, M. Portman filed a Petition for Mandamus, Civil Action No. 98-1-6130-33, naming the Honorable S. Lark Ingram as Defendant. 

Shock registered high when Judge Ingram was assigned jurisdiction of the case! Even a third grader knows that our justice system is not designed for a person to act as judge of a case in which he/she is one of the parties. But, rather than immediately recusing herself as the trier (judge), she delayed her recusal, ignoring Plaintiff’s two letters requesting her recusal. Instead, she engaged Ms. Kathryn Allen, Senior Deputy Attorney General, as her counsel, and submitted an Answer. Her Answer contained “genuine issue of material fact,” which by Law should have guaranteed M. Portman her properly and timely filed Demand for Jury Trial. Apparently, Judge Ingram was attempting to “run the clock” in the Modification case, for the minor child of the parties was soon to reach the age of majority.

Upon Judge Ingram’s belated recusal from the mandamus case, it was assigned to the Honorable James G. Bodiford, (Lesson 10) who then placed it on his NON-jury trial calendar, after yet another delay. It should be noted that although the Judicial Qualifications Commission issued Opinion 220 in 1997, the office of the Attorney General (Lesson 13) participated in a hearing which was directly opposed to that Opinion.

SideBar:  Official opinion, issued by the Judicial Qualifications Commission:

OPINION NO. 220, Docket No. 97-78: “A sitting Superior Court Judge in a multi-judge circuit, while expressly denying any bias, prejudice or unfairness, nevertheless requests an opinion on the following question: Should a judge in a particular circuit ever preside or sit in judgment in the divorce of another judge from the same circuit, or any matter relating to it, contested or uncontested.” The response cites Canons 1, 2, & 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, cites case law of King v. State, 246 Ga. 386 (1980); Wallace v. Wallace, 352 So.2d 136(1977); and Commonwealth v. Armor, 398 A.2d 173(1978), and ends with the following paragraph: “Simply stated, the public must believe in the absolute integrity and impartiality of its judges, and it is the obligation of this Commission to support and encourage such belief. Consequently, even without a showing of actual bias, prejudice or unfairness, and regardless of the merits or timeliness of a Motion to Recuse, this Commission concludes that it is inappropriate for any trial court judge to preside in any action wherein one of the parties holds a judicial office on the same or any other court which sits in the same circuit. (Emphasis added) Accordingly, the question posed is answered in the negative.” — This the 25th day of April, 1997, Judicial Qualifications Commission, by, John E. James, Chair 

So, why was Judge Bodiford the trier of the Petition for Mandamus wherein Judge Ingram was the Defendant? Not only are they in the same circuit, they are both Superior Court judges. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for a Judge! 

It was apparent at the September 16, 1998 hearing that it was the intent of Judge Bodiford to manage the case by intimidating M. Portman. (See Lesson 10) Judge Bodiford flatly denied M. Portman’s Demand for Jury Trial Appendix B.98.08.31a and attempted to bully M. Portman into an agreement of conditions that would legally allow him to deny the mandamus. The audio tape of the September 16 hearing is convincing evidence that Judge Bodiford lost his cool when he could not intimidate M. Portman. Judge Bodiford’s obvious frustration ended in a blatant denial of BOTH the jury trial and the mandamus, his Order being filed with the clerk September 18, 1998. (See Lesson 10)

Ironically, Judge Ingram did, through her attorney and during the hearing of the mandamus before Judge Bodiford, agree to file the sought Order in proper time. However, she then REFUSED again by failing to meet the deadline. The deadline for the Order to be valid was September 22, 1998, but she failed to file the Order until September 25, 1998. And, after filing what she knew to be a VOID Order on September 25, she followed it with a voluntary and unsolicited recusal Order on October 6!

Portman v. Ingram, Judge
Georgia Supreme Court Case No. S99A0440

The Honorable James G. Bodiford and attorney Kathryn Allen suggested and encouraged that M. Portman appeal the ruling, and assured her that appeal was her right. Ms. Allen’s own encouragement was that appeal was the “proper” method to be used in our court system. Ironically, when M. Portman did appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia, M. Portman was then subjected to Ms. Allen’s filing of a Motion for Frivolous Appeal Penalty, requesting that the Supreme Court levy the maximum sanction of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS ($1,000.00) against Appellant (M. Portman)! 

March 8, 1999 – M. Portman presented her oral argument to the Supreme Court of Georgia, with attorney Kathryn Allen presenting argument on behalf of Judge S. Lark Ingram. Very interesting transcript! Read it for factual errors, Ms. Allen’s speech is loaded! And, very interesting that the high court was so anxious to convince M. Portman that she “had an order.” Talk about playing dumb! Each of the Justices, particularly Justice Fletcher, KNEW the order was not LEGAL or binding, yet they tried to convince M. Portman that it was “an order.” 

Ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court:

April 12, 1999, the Supreme Court issued a statement, “affirming the ruling of the lower court.” No opinion was provided. Said ruling had the APPEARANCE of “agreement” with the lower court. It is the APPEARANCE which is deceiving. Consequently, M. Portman filed a Motion for Reconsideration.

In answer to the Motion for Reconsideration, filed April 22, 1999, the Supreme Court again refused to consider the merits of the case, by claiming Georgia Supreme Court Rule 59. But it’s important to recognize the following: The Supreme Court writes it’s own rules, and they wrote Rule 59 for just this kind of unwanted conflict.  The high court’s own Rule 59 is a back door escape, allowing the high court to avoid any case they prefer to ignore, even direct appeals. The Supreme Court HAD to ignore this case, because to rule on the merits would require them to acknowledge both the original and the subsequent judicial misconduct by several judicial officers.

By their silence of opinion, and by their acquiescence to the “ruling of the lower court,” the Georgia Supreme Court chose to turn a blind eye to the illegal proceedings of the lower court. This is the epitome of injustice by our Judicial System, what many call the “Good ‘Ole Boy” System. M. Portman found it interesting that by hiding behind Rule 59, the high court also had to ignore Kathryn Allen’s Motion for Frivolous Appeal Penalty, a motion with the sole purpose to intimidate and frighten M. Portman into withdrawing her appeal.

Dichotomy of Jurisdiction

The Superior Court of Cobb County is, even in 2002, claiming that Judge Robert (Bob) E. Flournoy, Jr. has jurisdiction of the divorce case, including the Extraordinary Motion for New Trial. Yet, the Georgia Supreme Court clearly implied that Judge S. Lark Ingram’s Order was valid, giving her jurisdiction! 

Was Justice Fletcher really affirming Judge Ingram‘s Order, or was he attempting to mislead M. Portman into believing that the Order was valid, when in fact he knew it to be VOID? 

If Judge Ingram was rightly vested with jurisdiction of the divorce case, how was jurisdiction affected by her surprise recusal from the Custody action, filed AFTER her September 25, 1998 Order? Even after her recusal, the case would NOT have been returned to Judge Flournoy, but would necessarily have been moved to the next judge “in the barrel.” (euphemism provided by Judge Bodiford) Even though the Supreme Court affirmed Judge Ingram’s September 25 Order, why did the Cobb Superior Court act in violation of that Order?

On the other hand, if Judge Bob Flournoy is rightly vested with jurisdiction, how is his jurisdiction affected by his disqualification from the Custody action (even though the disqualification was in violation of Georgia statutory Law)?

ANOTHER Judge Ingram?

On June 10, 1999, M. Portman received an Order from yet another Superior Court Judge, the Honorable George Kreeger (Lesson 7). Said Order identified former Justice G. Conley Ingram (Lesson 8) as the assigned “Assisting Judge,” and set a hearing date for June 15, “TO HEAR ALL OUTSTANDING MOTIONS.” This was obviously an attempt to railroad M. Portman, and a clear predisposed act of prejudice and bias. Justice G. Conley Ingram returned to the Cobb Superior Court as a Senior Judge, after serving as a Justice on the Georgia Supreme Court. He is the FATHER of Judge S. Lark Ingram and the FORMER LAW PARTNER of Judge Bob Flournoy!

Declaration of Jurisdiction

After yet another assignment of the case, Order signed by Judge George Kreeger, this time to the Honorable Jere F. White, (Lesson 11) Senior Judge from Bartow County, it became evident that many judicial officers were participating in collusion and conspiracy to deprive M. Portman of her due process rights. 

M. Portman filed yet a new Civil Action, 99-1-7941-24, Complaint and Suit for Declaratory Judgment on October 7, 1999. Said case can be found at http://www.marquitta.com/complaint.html Appendix B.99.10.07a The purpose of the suit was to settle and afford M. Portman the “property right of knowledge” concerning her legal rights and legal status.

M. Portman named the following as defendants: the Honorable George H. Kreeger, the Honorable Robert E. Flournoy, Jr., the Honorable Dorothy Robinson, the Honorable Michael Stoddard, the Honorable S. Lark Ingram, the Honorable James G. Bodiford, Jay Stephenson, Clerk of Cobb County Superior Court, Larry W. Yarborough, Attorney at Law, Daryl Kidd, Attorney at Law, Gregory R. Portman, and R. Wynette Kennedy Portman. M. Portman also served the Attorney General of the State of Georgia and requested a response as to whether the Attorney General elected to participate as a party.

Appendix # Pleadings of the Mandamus case
Petition for Mandamus, Cobb County Superior Court
Judge S. Lark Ingram’s Answer, Cobb County Superior Court
Jury trial pleadings, Cobb County Superior Court, including: M. Portman’s Letter to Senior Assistant Attorney General, Kathryn L. Allen, August 31, 1998
Transcript, September 16, 1998, Cobb County Superior Court
Notice of Appeal, Cobb County Superior Court
Brief of Appellant (M. Portman), Georgia Supreme Court
Brief of Appellee (Judge Ingram), Georgia Supreme Court
Response of Appellant (M. Portman), Georgia Supreme Court
(Judge Ingram’s) Appellee’s Motion for Frivolous Appeal
(M. Portman’s) Appellant’s Response to Motion for Frivolous Appeal
Oral Argument, Georgia Supreme Court, March 8, 1999
Appellant’s Addendum Letter Brief, filed March 15, 1999, Letter directed to Justice Norman Fletcher
Judgment filed April 12, 1999
Appellant’s Motion for Reconsideration and Declaratory Judgment

This chapter (lesson) is presently undergoing final additions and revisions. Stay tuned to learn the whole story.