The Connecticut Supreme Court has reversed a ruling in a divorce case heard by the Connecticut Appellate Court—awarding property to a wife, who was sexually assaulted by her husband—and ordered a new civil trial. The husband, convicted of several sexual assault charges, has served four years of a 24-year sentence.
At issue before the state’s high court was awards for property, even though the husband, identified as Norman P. in court filings, is currently locked up.
Attorneys for the wife, Shirley P., argue that ordering a new trial is unfair.
“The outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision means that a rape victim will never be able to rely on a rape conviction in her civil divorce, and will be forced to try that divorce before the criminal case,” said Adam Teller of Leone Throwe Teller & Nagle of East Hartford. “I think that’s very unfortunate and will lead to a lot of pain.”
Hartford Superior Court Judge Michael Albis had given Shirley P. a property award that the state’s high court said “heavily favored the plaintiff.” Court documents didn’t detail the specifics of the property award, but show that the judge’s decision came prior to the resolution of the sexual assault case.
Attorneys for Norman P. had claimed in court papers that his conviction was subject to a pending appeal, at the time Albis adjudicated the divorce. As it turned out, Norman P. was cleared of three of the charges against him, but convicted of five.
In its December 2016 ruling overturning the lower court’s awarding of property damage, Connecticut Appellate Court Judge Eliot Prescott wrote, “We agree that the [trial] court improperly excluded the defendant’s complete statement to the police, …. and remand the case for a new trial.”
The Connecticut Appellate Court, and later the Connecticut Supreme Court, found Albis’ decision relied heavily on the sexual assault charges at the time. In its 6-0 ruling Wednesday, the state Supreme Court noted that the trial court favored Shirley P. in the property award “solely on the basis of the evidence of the criminal conviction.” Since some of those charges were later dismissed, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the property award be reversed and a new trial on that specific issue take place. There will be no retrial as it relates to the criminal convictions.
Both Norman P. and Shirley P. acknowledge there was a sexual encounter on the night in question in August 2012. But Norman P. claimed the encounter was consensual, while his former wife disputed that.
In court papers, attorneys for Shirley P. tried to make the case that the trial court properly rendered the property division award on the basis of the record at the time, and that neither the Connecticut Appellate Court nor the Connecticut Supreme Court had the authority to set aside the award.
In writing for the court, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Raheem Mullins ruled: “The trial court’s property division award, which was premised exclusively on the fact of the defendant’s conviction, must therefore be reversed.”
Teller and Brandy Thomas, both of Leone Throwe Teller & Nagle of East Hartford, represented Shirley P.
Frank Russo and Jon Berman, both with the South Windsor-based Berman & Russo, represented Norman P. Neither Russo nor Berman responded to a request for comment.