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North Carolina Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Single Mom Accused of Bigamy

North Carolina Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Single Mom Accused of Bigamy

Attorneys Matt Leerberg and Beth Scherer Handle Pro Bono Appeal


August 28. 2012

Smith Moore Leatherwood appellate attorneys Matt Leerberg and Beth Scherer recently received a favorable ruling on appeal for an alleged bigamist and single mother before the Supreme Court of North Carolina, which reversed the Court of Appeals by a 7 to 0 vote. Because the Court found that Ms. Palmer-Mussa and Mr. Mussa had a legal, non-bigamous marriage, Ms. Palmer-Mussa will now be free to seek alimony payments from her former spouse.

A year ago, the legally blind and disabled mother of three was winding up a contested divorce action when her ex-husband filed a new complaint, this time for annulment. The complaint alleged that Ms. Palmer-Mussa had still been married to someone else when she got married to her ex-husband. In fact, Ms. Palmer-Mussa had participated in an Islamic religious ceremony with another person back in 1997, but had never intended to create a legal marriage with him. After a few short months, the two conducted a religious divorce, and believed they were single.

A few months later, Ms. Palmer-Mussa met her ex-husband, and they were soon wed. He knew about the prior religious "marriage." The two stayed together for 13 years and had 3 children. It wasn't until the two divorced and he saw alimony obligations on the horizon that Mr. Mussa filed the complaint for annulment.

The trial judge, who knew these parties' situation well after presiding over all the divorce proceedings, made quick work of the complaint for annulment, dismissing it at the close of the ex-husband's evidence.

Ms. Palmer-Mussa could not afford an appellate attorney, and defended her victory in the Court of Appeals herself. She painstakingly researched and wrote her own brief, made all the more difficult by her legal blindness. She lost in the Court of Appeals, but she did manage to get one vote, ensuring an appeal of right to the Supreme Court.

Ms. Palmer-Mussa hired Smith Moore Leatherwood to handle her pro bono appeal in large part because of Ms. Scherer's designation as an Appellate Specialist certified by the North Carolina State Bar. Ms. Scherer was among the first crop of lawyers in North Carolina to receive the certification last year. Ms. Scherer serves as Vice-Chair of the North Carolina Appellate Practice Specialty Committee and is the incoming Chair of the Appellate Rules Committee. Mr. Leerberg and Ms. Allison Van Laningham of Smith Moore Leatherwood also serve as members of the Appellate Rules Committee.

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