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Writ of Mandamus in the Context of Divorce: The Case of Ex Parte Gene Warhurst

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In a case that explores the procedural requirements for a writ of mandamus, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently presided over a case originating in Baldwin County. A writ of mandamus refers to a form of legal remedy that orders a government official or entity to act in a certain manner required by law. This case, Ex Parte Gene Warhust, explores the appropriate filing timeline in applications for a writ of mandamus, illustrated through the lens of discovery in a divorce case.

In 2020, the wife and the husband both initiated actions for divorce. As part of the divorce proceedings, the wife requested production of the husband’s cell phone in March of 2022, but the phone in question was in police custody in connection with stalking charges against the husband. The stalking charges were dismissed on June 2, 2023, leading to a court order instructing the husband to collect the cell phone from the police and give it to the wife. However, when the wife received the phone, it had been water damaged, and the data she sought was inaccessible. In order to access the information, the wife filed a motion seeking access to the husband’s iCloud account, which contained the data from his cell phone. In order to obtain the data, which was held by the husband’s law firm, the wife filed a non-party subpoena against the firm. The trial court denied the law firm’s attempts to quash the subpoena, leading to this appeal.

On November 15, 2023, the husband’s law firm filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking a grant of their original motion to quash the subpoena. In response, the wife argued that under Rule 21(a)(3) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, the petition was not filed within a reasonable time. The wife alleged that the husband knew as early as March 2022 that the wife was requesting the phone, and therefore should have filed by June 2, 2023, at the latest.

First, the Court interpreted Rule 21(a)(3), finding that a party generally has 42 days from the date of the entry of an order to file a petition for the writ of mandamus. The order was entered on October 16, 2023, so the petition was filed in time. Addressing the merits of the subpoena itself, the Court found that access to the iCloud account extended beyond the data on the original cell phone. The wife failed to show any particularized need for this breadth of discovery, so under Rule 45(c)(3)(a), which expressly required the trial court to act, the trial court had a duty to either quash or modify the subpoena. Accordingly, the Court found that a writ of mandamus was appropriate under the circumstances, subsequently ordering the trial court to either quash or modify the wife’s subpoena.

Ex Parte Gene Warhust serves as an illustration of the appropriate applications of a writ of mandamus. In this case, because the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure expressly required the court to either modify or quash the subpoena, it was proper for the Court to grant the petition. In situations where the proper remedy is statutorily guaranteed, a write of mandamus is appropriate to rectify the situation and order the necessary modifications.

If you have a Federal Criminal case, a State Criminal case, a Municipal Case or a Family Law case, contact Joe Ingram or Ingram Law LLC at 205-335-2640. Get Relief * Get Results.

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