Duel Divorce by Swordfight

The Dudes Exploiting Legal Loopholes to Settle Disputes — And Divorces — By Swordfight

The real legacy of ‘Game of Thrones’? Guys discovering that apparently no one ever got around to abolishing duels

In the Heartland, there’s a 40-year-old man who’s asked a judge for the right to legally settle his divorce from his wife with a sword fight. Specifically, with samurai swords. In his legal brief, the plaintiff, David Ostrom of Paola, Kansas, wrote to the court: “Respondent and counsel have proven themselves to be cravens by refusing to answer the call to battle, thus they should lose this motion by default.” 

He’s 100 percent serious. As he complained to the judge in his legal motion, his 38-year-old wife, Bridgette Ostrom of Harlan, Iowa, and her lawyer Matthew Hudson, also of Harlan, have conspired together and left him “destroyed legally.” And so, Ostrom asked the judge for the right to face his former spouse and her lawyer “on the field of battle where (he) will rend their souls from their corporal bodies.” He’s also stipulated that his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s divorce lawyer can be her “champion” if she so desires.

If you’re wondering on what legal grounds Ostrom hopes to stand so he might make his case for a sword fight with his ex-wife, in his motion Ostrom reminded the court, “To this day, trial-by-combat has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in these United States.” For further legal precedent, he pointed out that trial-by-combat was a legal option “as recently as 1818 in British Court.”

Hudson, Ostrom’s soon-to-be-ex-wife’s lawyer, filed their opposition to the trial-by-combat motion. In it, he responded: “Surely (Ostrom) meant ‘corporeal’ bodies which Merriam-Webster defines as having, consisting of, or relating to, a physical material body. Although [Bridgette Ostrom] and potential combatant do have souls to be rended, they respectfully request that the court not order this done.” 

He went on to add, “It should be noted that just because the U.S. and Iowa constitutions do not specifically prohibit battling another person with a deadly katana sword, it does prohibit a court sitting in equity from ordering same.” He also formally petitioned the judge to order Ostrom to submit to a mental health evaluation.

The Des Moines Register reached out to Ostrom for comment about his divorce court drama. The newspaper learned from the hopeful Kansan swordfighter that his legal case, filed in Iowa courts, follows on the heels of a legal precedent from the New York Supreme Court. In the earlier case a judge did indeed assent to the fact that duels are, legally speaking, still on the books as a means to end a disagreement — because apparently, no one ever got around to abolishing duels. 

There are exceptions like California. In 1994, the state repealed its old law allowing dueling. Similarly, the U.S. military in its Uniform Code of Military Justice has explicit laws forbidding dueling. It’ll get you court-martialed. But in most states, dueling isn’t exactly against the law. And it’s this legal loophole that Ostrom plans to climb through so that he might battle his wife or her lawyer with his katana. 

The earlier New York case is where Ostrom also cribbed the word “corporeal.” It was in 2015, that Staten Island lawyer Richard A. Luthmann, a Game of Thrones fan, asked the court for justice by the blade. He wrote in his legal motion: “The allegations made by plaintiffs, aided and abetted by their counsel, border upon the criminal. As such, the undersigned [Luthmann] respectfully requests that the court permit the undersigned to dispatch plaintiffs and their counsel to the Divine Providence of the Maker for Him to exact His divine judgment once the undersigned has released the souls of the plaintiffs and their counsel from their corporeal bodies, personally and or by way of a champion.”

His motion was denied, for obvious reasons. 

Along those lines, Ostrom should’ve probably looked a little deeper into Luthmann’s other legal fights. Namely, his most recent federal indictment. In 2017, Luthman was indicted on charges related to a mafia-style scrap metal scam he was running with his halfwit business partners. As the New York Times reported, “In an indictment issued on Friday, in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, prosecutors said that Mr. Luthmann joined forces with a blind man and two reputed mobsters to pack shipping containers with ‘cheap filler material’ and fraudulently sell them to a group of local businesses as scrap metal. In the midst of the plot, prosecutors claim, Mr. Luthmann turned on one of his partners and had him held at gunpoint to collect a $7,000 debt.”

His protege, Ostrom, in what may be the best part of his motion, has asked the court for some extra time before his proposed sword fight so that he can practice his sword-style. You see, Ostrom doesn’t even own any samurai swords. 

In the meantime, Ostrom’s got plenty of tough talk for his soon-to-be ex-wife and her lawyer. When the Des Moines Register asked Ostrom if he’s fully serious about his trial-by-combat motion, Ostrom responded, “If Mr. Hudson is willing to do it, I will meet him. I don’t think he has the guts to do it.”

It’s often said that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. One could also say that the man who wishes to fight his wife with a samurai sword is lucky he was ever married in the first place.