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US lawyer challenged to resolve case through Trial by Combat

Posted on January 16, 2020 by Browne & Murphy Solicitors

A man in Kansas has this week asked a Judge if he can settle a dispute with his ex-wife by challenging both his ex-wife and her lawyer to ‘trial by combat’.

David Ostrom, of Paola, Kansas, recently filed a motion in an Iowa Court seeking trial by combat to resolve a dispute with his ex-wife. Apparently recognizing that it wouldn’t be very fair to fight a duel with his wife, he pointed out that she should have the right to select a champion to fight for her, and suggested she should choose her lawyer!

At first this request may seem bizarre and yes it appears the man is a fan of ‘Game of Thrones”, however the concept of trial by combat where a party to court proceedings could take the law into his own hands so to speak is not without legal foundation. Historically, trial by combat was used in medieval times to resolve property disputes and cases where there was an absence of cogent evidence or witnesses. It appears it was brought over to our shores by the Normans in the 11th Century and went in to decline with the introduction of a jury but curiously was only abolished in the UK by Act of Parliament in 1819.

However, in the US the question remains as to whether it still constitutes a legal remedy. In 2016, a New York lawyer submitted during the course of proceedings that he should be allowed trial by combat to resolve an allegation that he assisted a former client to fraudulently transfer assets. The trial judge refused the request but commented that trial by combat “is a viable option for resolving a legal dispute”.

The judge in Iowa this week however managed to side step the issue and did not deal with the application before the Court by stating there “does not seem to be a case pending” adding that “until the proper procedural steps to initiate a court proceeding are followed this Court will take no further action concerning any motion, objection or petition filed by either party at this time.”


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