Divorce case outlasts 2 judges, several lawyers and one spouse

May 20, 1993|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When C.B. Schetter sued his wif for divorce in December 1966, the United States was watching "Bonanza," worrying about Vietnam and praying that President Johnson could do something about it.

By the time the 4th District Court of Appeals put an end to Schetter vs. Schetter and its descendants yesterday, the case had dragged on longer than any other in the county.

The case outlasted two judges, several attorneys and C.B. Schetter himself, dead since 1986.

All of which might explain the court's uncommon bit of judicial candor when it proclaimed, "Enough is enough."

The case began innocuously enough, a simple divorce between a successful businessman and his wife of 18 years, Marcella. But Schetter vs. Schetter quickly became something much more, a virtual Movie of the Week filled with incredible characters and more legal wrangling than "L.A. Law."

C.B. and Marcella Schetter married in 1948. He owned a tavern in Wisconsin; she was a bar maid. They moved south 10 years later, settling in Fort Lauderdale and doing well enough that their assets topped $750,000 by 1965.

But that, according to court records, is when things began to unravel. In February 1965, Marcella Schetter had her husband committed for mental incompetency and demanded that he sign over all the couple's properties to her. He signed.

In 1966, Marcella Schetter met another man. By the time her husband filed for divorce that December, records show, she had decided to turn the properties over to her lover until the case was settled.

It didn't work. Broward County Circuit Judge Stephen Booher ruled that C.B. Schetter was entitled to half of the property, even property that had been signed over to the other man. Marcella Schetter, in turn, would get nothing.

But that was only the beginning. Marcella Schetter appealed and eventually won a share of the property. For the past 20 years, various cases involving various holdings have bounced through the courts.

Finally, the exasperated appeals judges had had enough.

"While court dockets are crowded, it does not take 15 years to secure hearings or even trials on issues," the West Palm Beach-based court scolded in yesterday's ruling.

Judges ordered that money held by a receiver, a small, undisclosed portion of the original $750,000, be divided between Marcella Schetter and C.B. Schetter's estate after proper fees were paid.

Diane H. Tutt, who represents Marcella Schetter, declined to comment on the court's decision.

Elissa R. Kurland, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who has represented C.B. Schetter's estate since 1986, was not surprised by the court's decision, or its tone.

"Where they say 'Enough is enough,' I understand and appreciate that this has been going on for years," she said. "We would have liked to have been able to present our case to a trial court judge, but overall it's kind of what I was expecting."

What the court expects is to have nothing more to do with Schetter v. Schetter.

"There have been innumerable proceedings in the trial court, consuming large amounts of judicial and lawyer time, including three appeals to this court," the judges wrote.

"It is time to end this matter once and for all."

That won't necessarily happen. Any of the parties could appeal again.

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