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Judge chooses words, not swords

The question of whether ‘trial by combat’ is permissible in Iowa goes unanswered for now

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A man’s request in district court for a sword fight to the death with his ex-wife ran afoul of proper court procedure, a judge has ruled.

That’s not necessarily because a “trial by combat” is impermissible, but because David Zachary Ostrom, 40, of Paola, Kansas, didn’t ask for it the right way.

Ostrom sought the duel with his ex-wife to get more time to talk on the phone with his two children — ages 4 and 9 — who live with their mother in Harlan.

He also asked for a three-month prep period before the fight to obtain two samurai swords with which to do battle. He said the woman’s attorney could battle in her stead as her “champion.”

“I realize this is all kind of absurd and silly, but that’s kind of the lesson of family courts,” Ostrom told the Times Herald this week. “I just want to have a relationship with my children.”

Ostrom and his ex have been separated for nearly two years, court records show. She moved to Harlan to live with her parents, and Ostrom followed to be closer to his children.

He lived in Harlan for about seven months before he left for the Kansas City area in search of a better job, he said. He is a computer systems and network engineer.

Now, Ostrom is unhappy with the amount of talk time he gets with the children when they are in Harlan, and he’s frustrated because he thinks his ex-wife is not following a judge’s instructions to provide “reasonable telephone and electronic communication” with them.

So he wrote a fanciful court filing in hopes of drawing attention to the issue.

“I now wish to give them the chance to meet me on the field of battle, where I will REND THEIR SOULS from their ... bodies,” Ostrom wrote of his ex-wife and her attorney.

It worked. News of his duel request stretched across the country and beyond.

Ostrom argued that trial by combat — in which one person proves they are right by killing or severely injuring their fellow combatant — has never been explicitly banned as a way to resolve a dispute in the United States.

Ostrom cited a 2016 ruling by a New York Supreme Court justice that the justice had the power to order a trial by combat but chose another option.

Asked whether a duel can be used to settle a legal dispute in this state, the Iowa Attorney General’s office demurred:

“We cannot find that this office has ever issued an opinion on ‘trial by combat’ or ‘duel,’ ” Lynn Hicks, the communications director for the office, told the Times Herald. “And we’re not going to render an opinion on a matter before the court.”

Hicks did note, however, that Iowa law precludes someone who duels and kills the other person from claiming self defense.

“So under the current law, a person engaged in a duel would be potentially subject to prosecution for unjustifiable force against the other,” Hicks concluded.

But all of this doesn’t matter — for now. District Judge Craig Dreismeier declined to address the duel request because it wasn’t filed in the appropriate manner.

“The parties are expected to properly initiate these proceedings according to statute or the rules of civil procedure,” Dreismeier ruled Monday. “Until these matters are properly brought before the court, no further action will be taken.”

Instead, Dreismeier is requiring Ostrom and his ex-wife to engage in mediation and parenting classes, according to court records.

Ostrom admits he has no experience with swordplay anyway — he poached the idea from fantasy novels he has read over the years. But he likes his chances against his ex-wife’s attorney, Matthew Hudson, of Harlan, who allegedly has referred to Ostrom as a “dipshit,” according to court records.

“Not to be too crass towards Mr. Hudson,” Ostrom said, “but I think I’m a little more athletic than he might be. ... I believe I have (arm) reach on him.”

Hudson did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

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