CHICAGO — Former Chicago Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist’s divorce trial might include testimony from the former pastor he accused of having an affair with his wife in a lawsuit alleging fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A subpoena was issued for Byron Yawn, CEO of Forrest Crain and Co. and a former pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, Tenn., to appear at Zobrist’s attorney’s office on Sept. 29, 2020, “for the purpose of giving testimony,” according to Williamson County, Tenn., records.
Three months earlier, in June 2020, Julianna Zobrist acknowledged for the first time during divorce proceedings that “she and Byron Yawn had been engaged in a sexual relationship for several months and that she had lied about this to Mr. Zobrist,” according to Ben Zobrist’s lawsuit against Yawn.
The divorce subpoena required Yawn to produce “copies and/or records of any and all gifts, cards, notes, emails, text messages, pictures and any other messages you have exchanged with Julianna Zobrist since January of 2016, including, but not limited to, messages sent via social media. Further, please provide any calendars, journals and/or notes pertaining to your relationship with Julianna Zobrist from January of 2016 through present.”
The subpoena also required Yawn to bring any correspondence he had with Ben Zobrist over the same time span.
Ben Zobrist filed a lawsuit May 6 in Nashville Circuit Court accusing Yawn of having a sexual relationship with Julianna and defrauding Zobrist’s charity foundation while Yawn served as both the Zobrists’ marital counselor and executive director of the charity.
The lawsuit seeks $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages through a jury trial.
In May 2019, Yawn’s then-wife, Robin, alerted Ben Zobrist to the affair when she discovered a “burner phone” her husband allegedly used to communicate with Julianna, according to the lawsuit.
Zobrist took an excused absence from the Cubs after their May 6, 2019, game against the Miami Marlins. He filed for legal separation on May 13, 2019.
Zobrist didn’t return to the field until Sept. 3, 2019, against the Seattle Mariners and played 21 more games that season. The 14-year major league veteran and 2016 World Series MVP hasn’t played since.
Zobrist’s divorce case is set for a seven-day bench trial Aug. 9.
The Zobrists’ attorneys are scheduled to have a pretrial conference with the judge on July 30, and often a judge will try to facilitate a settlement.
Ben Zobrist’s attorney, Helen S. Rogers of Rogers, Shea and Spanos, declined to comment on an “ongoing case” via an email to the Chicago Tribune.
Julianna Zobrist’s attorney of record, Marlene Eskind Moses of MTR Family Law, did not respond to an email request for comment.
In the initial complaint filed in May 2019, Ben Zobrist said he would prove that Julianna “has been guilty of inappropriate marital conduct which render further cohabitation impossible.”
The complaint added, “Husband is unsure if the marriage can be salvaged.”
In a counter-complaint on March 23, 2020, Julianna “admits that she is guilty of inappropriate marital conduct” but asserted that Ben “is also guilty of inappropriate marital conduct.”
Her answer didn’t name Yawn nor did it elaborate on the nature of Ben’s alleged misconduct. She also asked for alimony and child support for their three children.
In Ben’s answer to the counter-complaint, he denied committing any misconduct. He added that Julianna, a self-employed Christian pop singer and self-help author, “will be more than capable of supporting herself post-divorce without the need for an award of alimony.”
The couple’s depositions were taken in September and October 2020, and they tried mediation via Zoom in December.
According to a Williamson County official familiar with divorce proceedings, any depositions taken from the Zobrists, Yawn or other witnesses or experts wouldn’t become part of the divorce record until they’re brought up in trial.
In another wrinkle in the divorce case, Ben Zobrist responded in November to Julianna’s motion to conduct a valuation of his sports memorabilia.
Zobrist argued that none of his contracts with four major league teams discussed baseball hats, gloves, jerseys, trophies or rings as being part of his compensation, and therefore they should be classified as “separate property” and not marital property.
He has been “gifted keepsakes from other players during his baseball career. This is a customary practice in baseball,” he asserted in his response to his wife’s motion.
Zobrist earned two World Series rings, with the 2015 Kansas City Royals and the 2016 Cubs, and also received a trophy for each championship as well as a trophy for being named MVP of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory over Cleveland.
“Husband was gifted this property,” he said in his response. “Gifts are specifically set out as separate property” under Tennessee code.