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Alienation of affection

"Alienation of affection" Continued...

Issue: "The ABCs of C Street," Aug. 29, 2009

Mrs. Pickering refused to agree to the divorce. Two months ago, her husband changed the grounds of divorce to "fault." (Since a judge sealed the divorce proceedings, the specific fault claims aren't public.)

The next move came from Mrs. Pickering: In July, she filed an alienation of affections lawsuit against her husband's alleged mistress, Elizabeth Creekmore-Byrd, seeking unspecified damages for Creekmore-Byrd's alleged role in the dissolution of her marriage. (Six states have similar provisions for suing the other man or other woman in an affair.)

The lawsuit contained Mrs. Pickering's claims about her husband's affair with Creekmore-Byrd. He did not deny an alleged affair, but responded with a statement: "Leisha's complaint is a reaction to my filing on fault grounds. I still believe it is in the best interest of our five boys if our differences are resolved privately. . . . For that reason, I will not comment further." He offered no response to the adultery allegations. Neither did Creekmore-Byrd, who divorced her husband in 2007. WORLD's efforts to reach Creekmore-Byrd weren't successful.

Mrs. Pickering, though, is having a hard time making her case: A judge has so far barred her from using what may be crucial pieces of evidence-journals and documents kept by Mr. Pickering that his wife's lawsuit says provide evidence for her claims.

Mrs. Pickering's lawsuit against Creekmore-Byrd says the material contains a detailed record of her husband's daily activities over a 7-year period, and evidence for her allegations. The allegations include claims that during a Pickering family vacation in Colorado, Creekmore-Byrd rented a lodge to be near Mr. Pickering. The allegations also include accusations of wrongful conduct at the C Street house.

During a July 3 hearing, two weeks before Mrs. Pickering filed suit against Creekmore-Byrd, Judge Cynthia Lee Brewer ordered Mrs. Pickering's former attorney to return the journals to Mr. Pickering's lawyers, saying the material fell under attorney-client privilege, and indicating some documents were "improperly obtained during the course of her [Mrs. Pickerings'] behavior." A copy of the material was to remain under seal in the court system, according to a July 16 order.

But the judge went further: She ordered Mrs. Pickering to refrain from speaking to anyone about what she learned from the journals, including her attorney. Failure to comply could mean contempt of court.

According to at least two Jackson lawyers, that's a strange order. James Craig of Phelps Dunbar, LLP, and Matthew Eichelberger of the Hinds County public defender's office maintain a blog (Ispe Blogit) that comments on local cases of public importance. The two have followed the Pickering case closely.

From an office in downtown Jackson, Eichelberger said he'd never seen anything like the order for Mrs. Pickering not to discuss certain things with her lawyer: "I cannot think of a single instance where a client is prohibited from talking to his attorney." Craig agreed: "It's hard to think of a possible justification for that."

Mr. Pickering declined to comment for this story and referred questions to his lawyer, Richard Roberts III. A Jackson lawyer, he refused to answer questions about the overall allegations on the record but defended the judge's order: "Judge Brewer is a very cautious and experienced judge, and I think that she did what was right under the circumstances to protect the rights of both parties and the children."

Mrs. Pickering also declined requests for comment.

After Mrs. Pickering's last divorce attorney withdrew from her case, Craig said she may face another challenge­: finding another lawyer willing to challenge the prominent Pickering family. "There could be a sense in which some lawyers would feel like they did not want to get on the bad side of the Pickerings," said Craig.

Creekmore-Byrd's family is prominent too: The Creekmores own Mississippi-based Cellular South, the nation's largest privately owned wireless communications company. While in Congress, Mr. Pickering served as vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which invited Cellular South president Victor Meena to speak in 2007. The former lawmaker now works for Capitol Resources, a Jackson-based lobbying firm that serves Cellular South as a client.

Craig and Eichelberger say the two families represent a potentially intimidating combination "without moving a muscle."

For now, Jackson attorneys Chuck McRae and Oliver Diaz represent Mrs. Pickering in her alienation of affections suit. The former Mississippi Supreme Court Justices are an interesting pick for Mrs. Pickering, says Craig, noting that both men have clashed with the Republican establishment in Mississippi.

Regarding Mrs. Pickering, potentially faced with difficult court battles, friends say the longtime Christian wife and mother simply wants her husband to come home.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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