HOPPES v. HOPPES was a 1965 Ohio appellate court
decision. Famous WatchTower attorney Victor F. Schmidt
represented the defendant Wendell N. Hoppes.
In 1963, Lola B. Hoppes filed a divorce action against her
husband, Wendell N. Hoppes, alleging that his constant
preaching and obsession with his new Jehovah's
Witnesses religion constituted "extreme cruelty", and that
such had resulted in the marital bonds being broken. After
hearings in October and November 1963, the trial court
granted the divorce on grounds of "extreme cruelty" in
January 1964. Custody the the couple's four children was
granted to Lola Hoppes, with Wendell Hoppes receiving
rights of visitation. The trial court's decision was affirmed
by the Ohio Court of Appeals in February 1965.
Wendell and Lola Hoppes lived on a 525 acre farm in
Fayette County, Ohio. They had four children. The family
had a good relationship with relatives on both sides of the
family. However, at some point, Wendell Hoppes became
interested in the Jehovah's Witnesses, and subsequently
became an obsessed member of such. At trial, Wendell
Hoppes not only was represented by one of the
WatchTower Society's more prominent attorneys, Victor
Schmidt, but Anthony Belegante, a Circuit Servant (District
Sales Manager) of the WatchTower Society also testified in
Interestingly, at trial, Wendell Hoppes own father, brother,
and sister provided much of the testimony which
substantiated Lola Hoppes allegations.
S.W. Hoppes, father of the defendant, testified that when his
son and Lola Hoppes were separated, the son, for a short
time, made his home with his father, but that the father
ordered his son from his home, because Wendell talked
constantly about Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs, and the
father did not want his home to be "Jehovah's Witnesses
Headquarters". The father also testified that Lola once
came to his home crying, and stayed there all one day,
because of the trouble in their home.
Wilbur Hoppes testified that his brother, Wendell, was
engrossed in the Jehovah's Wtinesses to the extent that it
was "number one before family or anything else". Wilbur
stated that his brother offered WatchTower literature to him,
but he refused to accept such. Wilbur also testified that
Lola was "a little edgy" the last few months.
Mrs. Winifred Dellinger, Wendell's sister, testified that
Wendell had talked to her three or four times about
Jehovah's Witnesses in the past ten months or so, and that
he would be reading WatchTower literature when she
visited in his home. She testified that when she and her
husband told Wendell that they would not accept his
religion that Wendell had become aggravated about it a
couple of times. She also testified that Lola was was
unhappy, nervous, and upset.
Lola Hoppes' sister, Julia Wilson, testified that when she
and her husband visited the Hoppes in their home, the
defendant would lecture and read to them Jehovah's
Witnesses materials. When Wendell and Lola came to visit
them in their home at Columbus, that she told him to leave
and not come back, "if that's all he could talk about", and
that he left and had not come back since. Even on the
telephone, long distance, Wendell started preaching to her.
As a consequence, her sister was sad, upset and on
occasion would cry because her husband would lecture to
her all the time. On some of the Wednesday nights that
Wendell would spend studying with a Jehovah's Witnesses
preacher in their home, Lola would go to her sister's home
in Columbus to get away from them.
Lola Hoppes testified that:
1. That the defendant tried to force his religion on plaintiff
and the children. That the defendant spent "all his spare
time" in the home reading Jehovah's Witnesses' literature
and lecturing to the plaintiff and their children as to its
merits. That even when she asked her husband to refrain
from reading and lecturing to the plaintiff he would continue
2. That the children would have to go to their rooms
because they couldn't concentrate upon their school
studies while defendant would read and lecture to them and
their mother. That the husband's teaching to the children
Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs regarding not voting and not
saluting the flag created dissention between him and his
3. That defendant, many times, called plaintiff, and anyone
not a member of his church, hypocrites. That the defendant
would leave company who were visiting in the home to
attend his church meetings. That his actions brought about
by his beliefs affected their social life so that their friends
and family didn't "come around very often."
4. That because of the persistence of the actions of her
husband she became very nervous and upset and she
it "made her life unbearable" and that "he ceased to be a
companion" to her.
5. That the defendant told the plaintiff if he could come back
he would give her and the children one night a week or one
Sunday a month, otherwise the rest of his spare time was
to be used in the work of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Even Anthony Belegante, a witness for the defendant and a
Special Representative of the Watchtower Society, Circuit
Servant, when questioned as to how far a mate should go in
trying to win his spouse to his belief in Jehovah's
Witnesses, testified that by continually talking to people
who were vehemently opposed to their beliefs, they
eventually "wear them down to the point where they would
appreciate the things that were being spoken of."
In granting Lola Hoppes petition for divorce, on the ground
of "extreme cruelty", the court stated, in part:
"... the court thus finds sufficient evidence to substantiate
plaintiff's grounds for extreme cruelty and hereby grants to
the plaintiff a divorce.
"... it appears to this court from a careful analysis of the
testimony elicited from the witnesses testifying in this case
that even though the defendant's motives may have been
good, nevertheless if his conduct destroys 'the legitimate
ends and objects of matrimony', then his actions have
constituted extreme cruelty.
"The court further finds, that because of the tender age of
the children and because there is no testimony to
controvert the fact that the plaintiff is a fit, proper and
suitable person to have custody and control of the said
children, that the plaintiff is therefore awarded exclusive
custody and control of the children of said parties until
further order of the court.
"The court also feels that there should be reasonable
visitation rights on the part of the defendant to see his
children at such times as are mutually agreed between the
Jehovah's Witnesses Lose in Court-Often....