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    Posted December 29, 2013 by
    District of Columbia

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    Over fourteen years ago, Cheryl Gray, the wife of a Naval officer stationed on Guam, challenged the subject matter jurisdiction of the Guam courts and the constitutionality of Guam's divorce laws on due process and equal protection grounds before the Guam Supreme Court in original writ proceedings. On November 17, 1999, the Guam Supreme Court refused to determine the constitutional question and the validity of Guam's divorce laws.

    Gray states military wives must be considered residents of Guam after 90 days physical presence on the island under the divorce laws and cannot provide proof showing they are not, yet military wives do not qualify for benefits given to Guam residents by the Guam government, which does require proof of actual residence in Guam. Gray states the US Supreme Court decision in United States v Windsor makes it clear that if a statute discriminates against some but not others classified under that statute in order to treat them differently, it violates equal protection.

    In the Gray case, Cheryl Gray was a resident of Michigan at the time of the divorce action, while her husband, Lt. Edward Gray, was a resident of Utah stationed with the Navy in Guam, where the parties lived in base housing assigned by the Navy on a military installation. Court records show that during the divorce proceedings Lt. Gray removed housing privileges for the family and sent Mrs. Gray, their infant daughter and his two step-children back to Michigan. Lt. Gray then lived openly with his girlfriend, another Naval officer, until he was reassigned, while Mrs. Gray was forced to litigate the divorce from Guam when she could not find a Guam attorney willing to take her case.

    In August 2013, Mrs. Gray filed an action in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan alleging continuing violations of her constitutional rights resulting from the Guam divorce judgment. Mrs. Gray's filings with the federal court allege that she was intentionally precluded from participating in the divorce proceedings by Lt. Gray and the Superior Court of Guam after the Guam Supreme Court's failed to rule on the validity of the divorce laws.

    Documents on file with the federal court show Mrs. Gray, in Michigan, was served with notice of hearings after they occurred and received service of orders and judgements from the Guam court postmarked after the time to appeal them had expired. When Gray attempted to file post-judgment motions by mail, the Guam court returned the unopened envelopes to Gray by mail marked “return to sender.” Gray claims this was in retaliation for her challenge to the divorce law and to intentionally prevent her from being able to take further legal action.

    Gray provides sworn statements with documents showing that her bank account and the bank account of Mr. Gray's step-daughter are still frozen after fifteen years under a temporary restraining order issued by the Superior Court since March 1998. Gray also provides documentation showing that back child support provided through attachment of Mr. Gray's IRS tax return was returned to Mr. Gray by the Superior Court of Guam without her knowledge or participation. Gray states this information was provided to the federal court to illustrate how the courts of Guam discriminate against military wives – that Guam divorce is used as a weapon to deprive military wives and children of support, property, benefits and rights.

    Gray states her complaint raises claims that she has been denied access to the court since November 1999 on her underlying claim that Guam's divorce laws are invalid and discriminate against nonresident military wives.

    She argues that the United States Supreme Court precedent is clear under Christopher v Harbury, decided in 2002, after her most recent attempt to access the court in 2001, regarding backward looking access to court claims where the underlying claim is non-frivolous, such as the challenge she brought to the Guam court's subject matter jurisdiction on constitutional grounds in 1999.

    In her most recent court filings, Mrs. Gray challenges the validity of the creation of the Guam Supreme Court in 1996 under Guam's Organic Act, which requires three separate branches of government. According to Gray, testimony in the the Congressional Record is clear that the Guam judiciary was not an equal branch of government until the courts, which could be abolished by the legislative and executive branches, were created within the Organic Act by Congress in 2004. Gray argues that laws in conflict with the Organic Act are invalid and that the Guam Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to hear her original writ application.

    Gray further alleges that even if the Guam Supreme Court had been validly created, the Guam legislature stripped the court of its supervisory authority over the Superior Court in February 1998 and, therefore, the Supreme Court would have still lacked jurisdiction to entertain her challenge to Guam's divorce law and could not issue the order she requested from the court.

    Mrs. Gray argues the Guam Supreme Court concealed its lack of jurisdiction from her when she filed an application for writ of prohibition in July 1999, and points to an October 1999 public State of the Judiciary speech given by Justice Benjamin Cruz. Cruz's speech, given one month prior to the Guam Supreme Court's refusal to decide Gray's challenge on the merits, expressly states the appellate court had been stripped of its supervisory powers by the legislature. Gray argues the Guam Supreme Court had an absolute duty to disclose it did not have jurisdiction of her writ application and that the actions of the court prevented her from bringing her claim regarding the Guam divorce laws in federal court in the first instance.

    Gray is seeking to invalidate the Guam divorce laws.

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