This past Tuesday, June 24, 2014, Clifford Hall, the 43-year-old Texas father whose complex child support case received international attention last year when he received the harshest punishment for failure to pay child support under Texas law, voluntarily arrived at the Harris County Civil Courthouse and was taken into custody to begin a six-month jail sentence.
The reason the Hall case gained so much international attention, is because Hall was unaware that the child support payments being withheld from his check were not getting to the court due to his employer’s clerical error. Once Hall discovered the payments were not being made by his employer, AT&T, to his child’s mother, he corrected the situation and paid an additional $1,000. AT&T acknowledged that the error was its’ fault during the appeal process, but not at the hearing in which Hall was initially found in contempt of court for late payments.
Unfortunately, even after Hall paid the arrearages and court fees, and had a positive balance, Texas Judge Lisa Millard sentenced him to six months in jail for child support underpayment and over-visitation. In Texas, family court judges can decide whether delinquent child support payers spend time in jail even if they have paid in full by the time they appear in court.
Hall is one of the first casualties of the repeal of Texas Family Code Section 157.162(d) that formerly protected parents who were current in the payment of child support.
In June of 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature repealed the law (HB 847) making a jail sentence a judgment option for being in contempt of the court for failure to pay child support. There are no exceptions, there is no notice served to the defendant indicating a period of time to cure the default. The law is not defensible.
Repeal of the Texas Family Code was initially meant to deter dead-beat dads from being chronic offenders of late child support and making last minute payments before their court date. Prior to the repeal, Hall could not have been incarcerated. Because his case was reset six times until after the repeal, Hall was held in contempt and sentenced to jail.
After his attorneys exhausted the appeals process of the law that got him convicted, they lost and he was ordered to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence immediately.
Attorney Eraka Watson, Hall’s new legal counsel with The Childs Law Firm, says that Hall’s case should serve as a warning that any parent can face this sort of judgment. She is hopeful the judge will change her mind and its legislators will change Texas law.
"Ultimately, it is Mr. Hall’s responsibility to ensure his child support payments are being paid according to the court’s order," stated attorney Watson. "However, in Mr. Hall’s case, while he had previously been behind in child support in 2010 due to being out of work, since that time, he had consistent child support payments and employment. He did not fall behind until the clerical error by his employer occurred. Under the previous law, a good father like Mr. Hall would not have been punished for trying to do the right thing once he was made aware of the error."
Attorney Watson will file a motion for reconsideration introducing the AT&T sworn affidavit for the existing court’s consideration. In addition to admitting withholding errors the affidavit states, "We never notified Mr. Hall regarding the fluctuation of his withholding. No one, other than Mr. Hall, ever contacted this office regarding this error. Our initial discovery of this error occurred when Mr. Hall contacted this office in the fall of 2013."
The affidavit was signed and delivered to Hall’s previous attorney on January 21, 2014, and was not available nor considered during Hall’s November 18, 2013 hearing. The motion for reconsideration, if successful, could mean Hall’s freedom. If the motion is not successful, Hall’s lawyer will take the next course of legal action to free him.
Attorney Watson will also seek full custody for Hall’s 12-year-old son, Dreydon Hall, who his father says he does not want to visit him while he is in jail.
"My son’s welfare is my highest priority," said Clifford Hall. "Jail time is not in the best interest of my son. I face losing my job, time with my son and incurring more legal fees all because I tried to do what’s right."
Regarding the repealed legislation (HB 847 sponsored by State Representative Eddie Lucio III [D] and Senator Jose Rodriguez [D]), attorney Watson seeks to help influence a reinstatement of the law and the repeal lifted providing the right of due process equally to both parents.
The Dreydon Project has been established to help educate parents regarding their custodial and non-custodial rights under the law, and to help defray the cost of legal representation in cases like Hall’s. Members of the public interested in helping Hall are invited to make donations at http://www.gofundme.com/the-dreydon-project.
The Houston Forward Times will keep its readers updated on any new developments surrounding this extremely unfortunate case involving this African American father and his son.