Cruzan faces contempt charge for violating court order
By Lynn Hotaling
A former Jackson County sheriff who is seeking to regain that post faces an April 10 hearing on a contempt of court charge.
Documents on file at the Jackson County Clerk of Court Office indicate that Jim Cruzan of Sylva, who was sheriff from 1994 until 2002 and is a current candidate for the Democratic nomination, has been accused of violating an October 2002 consent judgment. That document, a property settlement, requires him to pay $1,000 per month to his former spouse in addition to making mortgage payments.
The Feb. 22 motion filed by Robbinsville attorney Zeyland McKinney on behalf of Rita Cruzan of Sylva alleges that Jim Cruzan did not make the specified payments in January and February. District Court Judge Danny Davis issued an order Feb. 27 that indicates there is probable cause that Jim Cruzan is in contempt. That order was received in the Clerk’s Office on March 6.
Jim Cruzan does not deny that he stopped making the court-ordered payments but said it had to do with taxes.
According to Jim Cruzan, he was under the impression when he signed the 2002 judgment that the payments were alimony and would be deductible on his tax return. After he received notification that the money he paid his former wife was not deductible and was asked to pay $3,000 in back taxes, he decided to withhold that amount from his monthly payments, though he continued to make the mortgage payments, he said.
“I intend to resume the entire payment April 1,” he said.
In a statement Monday, Jim Cruzan said he learned of the contempt citation last week after he began receiving calls from the media. He then called the Jackson County Clerk of Court’s Office and learned that a motion had been filed but that it had not been served by the Sheriff’s Office, he said. On Monday (March 12) he said he’d received a copy by registered mail but had not been served with the court papers by the Sheriff’s Office.
“After learning of the existence of these papers, but prior to being served, I have also had private citizens come to me and explain that they overheard (Jackson County Sheriff) Jimmy Ashe discussing these papers with a group of people at Harris Regional Hospital,” Jim Cruzan said. “So much for ‘integrity, proven leadership and good morals.’”
When contacted Tuesday, Ashe, who is seeking a second term as sheriff, said that his officers had received the papers from the Clerk’s Office last Monday (March 6) and that they were served by deputies at 10 a.m. that morning (March 14).
“A week’s turnover is not uncommon in a non-pressing civil matter,” Ashe said, adding that his office serves between 18,000 and 20,000 civil processes each year.
Another factor in the timing of when the documents were served was last week’s sudden illness and death of Lt. Ellith McFalls, who was the civil process lieutentant, Ashe said.
When asked if he had discussed the Cruzan motion with others, Ashe replied that he had not.
Jim Cruzan, however, maintains the matter is politically motivated. Ashe defeated him in the September 2002 Democratic primary and went on to win the general election that November. Ashe and Jim Cruzan are the only two candidates who have filed for sheriff this year.
“I, like most of you, do not like to air out my personal life in the news media, but Sheriff Ashe has created this media hype and portrayed it as news,” Jim Cruzan said. “I am divorced and am now remarried.
“Divorce doesn’t change the person you are, just the status of your relationship,” he said. “Divorce should be private and personal between two people and, unfortunately, it is often a no-win situation. That’s why it’s a civil (court) process. Problems sometimes continue long after the divorce is final, and that’s where I am now.
“The advance release of information pertaining to civil process documents to the news media and various individuals is strictly politically motivated, and it disgusts me to no end,” Jim Cruzan said.
Ashe denied that politics are involved.
“This is a personal matter, and it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment in any way,” Ashe said.
When contacted Tuesday night, Rita Cruzan also said the matter has nothing to do with politics.
“It is not politically motivated,” she said. “It’s because he did not pay what he’s supposed to pay. He read and signed the papers the same as I did, and I waited a month to see if he would pay before I contacted my lawyer.”