Court Finds Bias in Country Club Membership Award to Divorcee

(CN) – A Connecticut appeals court has overturned a female trial court judge who awarded a top tier country club membership in a divorce case, ruling that she unfairly relied on her personal experience of male chauvinism at clubs to rule in favor of the ex-wife.

Heather Schimenti argued in court proceedings that her ex-husband Matthew Schimenti had failed to live up to the terms of their divorce and should be held in contempt for reneging on a child support agreement, and for failing to pay part of her country club initiation fee.

In 2016, Danbury District Superior Court Judge Heidi Winslow granted in part the ex-wife’s motion and ordered the ex-husband to pay one half of a $70,000 invitation fee for membership to the Innis Arden Country Club in Greenwich. That was in the face of the defendant’s attorney Daniel Kennedy, who argued that the court should hear evidence of how often Heather Schimenti teed off.

The club offered other initiation fees, including an associate membership at $38,000, more in line with her level of play, he argued.

“This isn’t a gender thing, Your Honor,” Kennedy said during a hearing.

“Oh, it is so. Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Kennedy,” Winslow shot back.

During proceedings, the trial judge made her feelings about country clubs known, stating that they “are male dominated” and “set up their golf privileges for the purposes of allowing the men to play” without women on the course.

“There are some built-in prejudices with country clubs, and their historical makeup, and the way they treat golf. And so, you sort of deal with some of those problems, when you have a judge that feels rather strongly about the access that males and females should have to the golf course,” Winslow said, according to court records.

On Tuesday, the appeals court found that Winslow had not assessed the evidence with fairness or impartiality to determine Matthew Schimenti’s intent when he agreed to pay the initiation fee.

Judge Thomas Bishop wrote that while Winslow could bring her life experience to the bench “attitudes garnered from personal life experience cannot serve as a substitute for properly admitted evidence at a hearing” and that “the trial judge’s responsibility did not allow her to borrow from her life experiences extrinsic to the law.”

“As the record plainly reflects, the trial judge did not follow her prescribed decision-making pathway but, instead, relied exclusively on her own prejudices born of her life experiences,” Bishop wrote.

In a unanimous decision, the court reversed the ruling in favor of Heather Schimenti and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Judge Douglas Lavine and Judge Michael Sheldon joined Bishop on the appeals court panel.



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