Soldier Fights Contempt With Civil-Relief Law

CHICAGO (CN) – A soldier filed a class action challenging a judge’s order holding him in contempt of court for not paying his ex-wife $10,000, claiming he was unable to get military leave to attend the hearing.

Joseph Asta was ordered to report to full-time, active-duty military service with the National Guard on Sept. 6, 2016. Two weeks later, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Colleen Roberts ordered him to pay his former wife $10,000 within 14 days to cover her mortgage deficiency and attorney’s fees.

But Asta says he cannot afford to pay that amount in such a short time period, as he earns only $300 per month over his living expenses and has no savings. He supports two children, and recently paid moving expenses due to his posting to Indiana.

In December, Judge Roberts ordered Asta to appear in court in person on a motion to show cause, but he claims he is not authorized to take leave as his company is preparing for mobilization to the Middle East.

The judge then found Asta in civil contempt for his failure to appear.

Asta says Roberts’ ruling is based on a misinterpretation of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, also called SCRA, and filed a class action Tuesday in Chicago federal court on behalf of all similarly situated members of the military.

He cites U.S. Supreme Court precedent stating that the law should be read “with an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their county’s call.”

The SCRA provides that any servicemember may request a stay of a civil action against them for at least 90 days if they present a letter from their commanding officer stating that their military duty prevents their appearance in court.

But under Robert’s alleged reading of the statute, “no civil proceeding involving a post-decree/post-judgment application for relief in a domestic-relations case would allow for an active-duty servicemember to apply for relief under the SCRA once a judgment for dissolution of marriage is entered,” according to the lawsuit.

“The state court’s reading of the federally enacted statute for servicemembers is in direct conflict with its purpose, terms and other provisions,” the complaint states.

Asta claims he should have been granted a stay to defend his purported inability to pay the requested amount to his former wife. He is represented by Frank J. Del Medico in North Riverside, Ill.

The complaint also names as defendants Grace Dickler, presiding judge of the domestic relations division of Cook County Court, and his former wife, Ana Asta.

Judge Roberts could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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