Judge Trashes New York Landmark “Carnegie Deli” in Divorce Ruling

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1I was in New York city last fall and near the top of our agenda was a trip to the Carnegie Deli, a landmark in mid-town since 1937 and run by the Levine family since 1976. Its claim to fame is kosher pastrami, corned beef, and their famous cheesecake, all of which they can ship almost anywhere in the world. It’s a very kitschy little place with uneven floors and plastic table cloths, but there is always a line-up.

I didn’t expect the Carnegie Deli to be featured in a divorce post, but it seems that Marian Harper Levine and her husband Sandy, who now runs the deli with her, were lambasted by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper for their petty squabbles, while litigants with serious problems were put on the back burner. The audacious judge said:

“What I care more about is the fact they’ve made millions of millions of dollars on the backs of dishwashers, cleaners and pastrami slicers who make as much in a year as they’ve made in a day or two.”

This was apparently in reference to a recent $2.65 million dollar settlement reached between the Levine’s and their staff, who were cheated out of proper wages for over a decade.

Mrs. Levine’s application was to reduce the $11,00 per month she has been paying her husband in spousal support, a request that was denied by Judge Cooper. She also complained that her husband, who began an affair with the deli’s former hostess, had helped himself to huge sums of money, an allegation that was called “all smoked meat and mirrors” by Mr. Levine’s witty attorney, Donald Frank. Mrs. Levine took exception to the trivialization of her concerns by opposing counsel, a view that Judge Cooper dismissed saying:

“This is not a case where I lose sleep at night. This is not some case where I have people with disabled children, where I have people who can’t afford to make next-month’s rent”…If I made light of anything, if I joked more than I should have, if I occasionally used a sarcastic tone…it’s not that I’ve lost track of what this case is about…”

No doubt we’ll hear more about the dissolution of the Levine’s 22-year marriage…as for me, I really didn’t like their cheesecake at all!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Revenge

_DSC4179 - Version 2A Supreme Court judge in New York recently referred to a divorce litigant as “despicable”. What could possibly garner this strong reaction from an otherwise cool, calm and collected judicial official?

Just before the litigant’s wife filed for divorce, her husband decided to come clean with the tax authorities and filed amended tax returns for 2004 to 2007, disclosing an additional $1.6 million of income from his contracting business.

As a result, he owed the government $1.2 million in taxes, a sum that was coincidentally equivalent to the value of the family home. He also made it very easy for the tax authorities by attaching to his amended tax returns details of the assets he owned, the bank who held the mortgage on the family home, and other pertinent collection information.

The wife was shocked and horrified because the law in New York, as in many other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, provides that a debt incurred during the marriage for the family will be a family debt that is sharable between spouses. Unpaid income tax owed on family income is considered family debt.

The couple had been married for almost fifteen years and had four children.

The New York Supreme Court considered the husband’s evidence of the large family debt and determined that the husband had made the disclosure, not because he was being audited or investigated, but because he wished to cause as much pain as possible to his wife.

The trial judge found that his conduct was malicious and revenge was his motive.

Unfortunately, for this husband, his plan backfired, as the court held that given the egregious circumstances, he would be solely responsible for the debt.

Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorcee Bites the Hand that Feeds Her

109508593611101CDPWe all know that it is unwise to “bite the hand that feeds you”. What that means in divorce litigation is that it would be foolish to tip off Revenue Canada or the IRS that your spouse is cheating them, at least until you have your share of the family property and your legal relationship is severed.

Unfortunately, Janice Schacter of New York either didn’t get that advice or simply ignored it , which is more likely. Janice and her husband, Ira Schacter’s divorce was far from low-key, in part because Janice, in her anger, posted unflattering stories about her estranged husband on a variety of websites. Eventually, the New York Post and other publications picked up on the acrimonious divorce and Mr. Schacter’s reputation as a wealthy and successful partner of a major New York law firm, went “down the toilet”.

Their divorce litigation began in 2007 after each of them was arrested for assaulting the other. During the course of the proceedings Mr. Schacter filed 40 separate motions, while his wife filed 26. At the end of their divorce wars, Ira Schacter had spent about $2.3 million on legal fees, $500,000 on expert’s reports, and $460,000 on criminal and child protection investigations. Ms. Schacter owes two law firms several hundred thousand dollars, monies they are suing her for.

Part of Janice Schacter’s “defence” were regular calls to the police, who attended at her husband’s home one hundred times. He was also the subject of seven separate child protection investigations.

However, the incident that Mr. Schacter alleged led to a significant downturn in his law practice at Calwalader, Wickersham & Taft, with an accompanying decrease in the value of his law partnership interest, was an article published by the New York Post that he had purchased a $215,000 diamond engagement ring for his fiancé, but refused to pay $12,000 for his hearing impaired daughter’s hearing aids. The New York Post’s source for the story was none other than Janice Schacter!

The story caused popular website “Above the Law” to select Ira Schacter as their “Lawyer of the Month”, an accolade that was anything but
prestigious. As it turned out, by the time the story was published the hearing aids had been purchased and the issue of who should ultimately be responsible for the cost was pending before the court.

At trial, Mr. Schacter argued that his wife’s disparaging comments on the internet and in other publications led to a significant decrease in the value of his partnership interest. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager agreed that Ms. Schacter’s conduct contributed to the decline in Mr. Schacter’s law practice, but also found that the 2008 economic crisis was integral to his firm’s 94% decrease in revenue, particularly because the firm’s business was tied to investment banks and mortgage-backed securities. During this time-frame the firm had laid off 131 associate lawyers.

However, Ira gave as good as he got as Justice Drager set out in her Reasons:

“They each shouted and interrupted court proceedings. They made inappropriate comments and gestures to each other immediately outside the courtroom.”

She also noted that after an incident between Mr. Schacter and his daughter he was arrested and ordered to enroll in mandatory anger management classes. Justice Drager also found he made vulgar and cruel comments about his wife to the children.

Mr. Schacter called witnesses who confirmed they refused to retain him as counsel due to the negative publicity. Justice Drager remarked:

“His testimony (and others) establishes to this court that the Internet postings have been injurious to the husband’s professional standing and ability to retain clients….The wife was well within her rights to publicly raise her concerns about domestic violence. However, the wife’s incessant postings and discussions about the issue went beyond any reasonable discussion of this very serious issue.”

As a result of her findings, Janice Schacter received only 17% of her husband’s partnership interest, the sum of $855,440, while he retained 83%, amounting to a value of $4.17 million.

But Ms. Schacter has not abandoned her public pulpit. An article about her case was published in the New York Law Journal this week where she took on the trial judge, writing:

“This was about protecting her (the judge’s) career. I stood up to a judge that wouldn’t enforce court orders, follow state laws, ensure my family was safe, give me legal fees, proper discovery, experts, and then created a record to prevent an appeal.”

Methinks we haven’t heard the last from Janice Schacter.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Family Law Nightmare: The Novacks

BarristerIt always amazes me to hear another “stripper marries millionaire” story, but it seems to be one of the favored professions for more than a few millionaires. The story of the Novacks from Florida is just such a case.

Ben Novack Jr. was the son of the owner of the spectacular Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami. After the hotel business went bankrupt, Ben Novack Jr. made most of his money as a convention planner for Amway International.

Mr. Novack met Narcy Novack, a stripper from Ecuador, and they married in 1991. Ms. Novack’s lifestyle went from near-poverty to posh. Mr. Novack treated Narcy’s daughter from a previous relationship as his own. The couple worked together in the convention business and financially flourished.

But the loving relationship they showed the world was not real and that would soon be apparent. In June 2002 Mr. Novack called 911 to report that he had been the victim of a home invasion engineered by his wife, Narcy. She, together with four men, held him hostage with a gun pointed at him, handcuffed him to a chair and looted the safety deposit box, stealing almost $500,000.00 and all the corporate records and personal documents. Narcy left the home with the loot and all of her personal belongings.

The police advised Mr. Novack that a squad car was on its way to their lavish home in Ft. Lauderdale, but an anxious Novack forbid them to come, saying that his life was in danger if the police appeared on the scene.

When the police asked Narcy for her side of the story, she attended at the police department with bags and boxes of bondage paraphernalia, pornography, and stories about violent assaults on her by her husband. She advised the detectives that the alleged home invasion was a part of their usual intimate activities.

Narcy also told the police and her husband that if charges were laid against her, she would release all the damaging evidence contained in the bags and boxes. Mr. Novack implored the police to let the matter go and Narcy and Ben reconciled, for a time.

Marital peace, if it ever existed, lasted only a short time. In 2009, Narcy was alerted to an affair her husband was having and became worried that Ben may dump her, leaving her with only the six figure payout from their prenuptial agreement. She stood to gain much more if he predeceased her.

By this time, the Novack’s net worth was about $10 million, including Ben’s million dollar Batman collection containing the original Batmobile prototype.

The couple’s business was booming and Narcy, Ben and Narcy’s adult daughter, May Abad, jetted off to an Amway convention in New York, checking into a suburban Hilton Hotel. On the first day of the convention, July 12, 2009. Mr. Novack was nowhere to be seen, which was very unusual for the hands-on business owner.

An hour later Novack was found brutally beaten in his hotel room, his face wrapped in duct tape, which also bound his hands and feet. His eyes had been gouged out with a knife.

Narcy feigned shock and horror when she discovered her husband’s body. She told the police that an hour earlier he had been alive and well in their hotel room and the likely suspects were business enemies of Mr. Novack or other Batman collectors.

More lies, of course. Surveillance photos from the hotel cameras captured Narcy’s brother, another relative and two others skulking away from the scene. She also failed a lie detector test. The whole sordid bunch were indicted for murder and on August 10, 2010 Narcy entered a plea of not guilty and was denied bail.

In yet another twist, the police later alleged that Narcy Novack had also murdered her 81 year-old mother-in-law, Bernice Novack in April 2009. Her death was ruled accidental at the time. In order for Narcy to inherit, she first had to get rid of Ben’s mother, which the prosecutors say she did.

Ms. Novack’s previously loyal daughter, May, then took the position that her mother was evil, and as the sole beneficiary of her husband’s estate, she ought to be deprived of the inheritance. Of course, it was May who would inherit if Narcy was convicted of her husband and mother-in-law’s murder.

But there was still more. The prosecutors also disclosed that Narcy was involved in a plot to plant drugs on her daughter May and to have her beaten up, perhaps murdered as well?

After a lengthy trial Narcy Novack was convicted of murdering her husband and his mother and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Her brother and several others were also convicted of murder.

Thomas Perry, American mystery author and Edgar award winner summed it up nicely:

“Sociopaths are people who do evil things because they don’t see any reason not to.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Salacious Evidence Allowed in New York Custody Case

DSC01152_2 (2)_2One of the cardinal rules of evidence in trial proceedings is that witnesses may only testify to facts that are relevant to the issues to be decided by the judge.

This same rule applies in family law litigation but is often ignored by lawyers and judges during the heat of battle. The theory goes that in family law cases, particularly where custody is at issue, anything goes, because it may bear on the legal problem before the court, who knows?

In a recent high-conflict custody case in Manhattan, New York, a fiery debate ensued between counsel when the husband’s lawyer, Eleanor Alter, cross-examined her client’s estranged wife, Lisa Mehos, about an abortion she had shortly after the couple separated. Her lawyer objected to the question characterizing it as “scandalous and outrageous” and querying its relevance to the issue of child custody.

To her dismay, opposing counsel convinced trial judge Lori Sattler that the question was proper as the wife’s medical records, disclosed in the proceeding, showed that on the weekend she had the medical procedure, she insisted on having care of the children, who were then dropped off at their grandmother’s home. Hardly a capital offence, but in custody litigation no stone is unturned in the quest to show that one or the other parent is uncaring and hypocritical, preferably both!

But Justice Sattler gave a second reason for allowing evidence of the wife’s abortion. Ms. Mehos had earlier testified that she was under extreme stress, all of which she laid at the feet of her husband, Manuel Mehos.

Justice Sattler accepted that a new relationship and an abortion might be the cause for the added stress, particularly because she had also testified that she never had men at her apartment. Ms. Alter argued:

“If this man was coming in the house, if she’s out of the house to see him, if it was date rape, that’s relevant.”

Certainly, counsel for Ms. Mehos decried the evidentiary links as tenuous at best, suggesting to the court that evidence of this nature “might go over well in Texas and Mississippi, but not here!”

Despite her valiant efforts on behalf of the wife, Emily Goodman’s objections were overruled.

Are there no limits on what a court needs to know to determine a child’s parenting plan? Apparently not.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Twenty-Year Old Divorce Case Reopened: It’s Not Over Til It’s Over

La Spiga 2011-03-22In 1990 New York securities trader Steven Cohen was just beginning to see the fruits of his Wall Street career ripen. The only bad news was that his marriage didn’t survive and he needed to negotiate a financial settlement with his wife, Patricia Cohen.

At the time he told his wife that he had lost $9 million dollars in a co-op apartment investment he made in 1986, leaving his net worth at a mere $8.1 million. She didn’t believe him, but had no grounds to refute his assertion.

Mr. Cohen remarried two years later and built his business, SAC Capital, growing it from $25 million in assets to several billion dollars. Life was very good for him, until 2008.

It was then Ms. Cohen discovered a court file that revealed her ex-husband had settled the investment loss case with one of his co-op partners and recovered $5.5 million. She filed a lawsuit against him in 2009 alleging fraud.

Unfortunately, the first judge who heard the case threw it out saying the claim was too old to pursue and was unsubstantiated.

The Manhattan Appeals Court saw it differently. This month they reinstated Ms. Cohen’s lawsuit holding that the lack of timeliness in its filing was because she only discovered evidence of fraud eighteen years after the divorce.

My advice to Mr. Cohen: “Settle this case now, after all, you are a multi-billionaire and will likely not even notice a shortage of a couple of million.”

Besides, Cohen’s $15-billion dollar hedge-fund is the target of an insider trading investigation that has already seen the arrest of five individuals related to his Connecticut-based business. As well, two companies affiliated with SAC Capital have recently settled insider trading allegations with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for $614 million dollars, the largest insider trading settlement in the United States.

While there have been no charges laid against Mr. Cohen, the SEC is breathing down his neck. He really doesn’t need the aggravation of his ex-wife’s court action and the publicity that accompanies it.

Family law is different however. Cases that should be settled often are not because of petty vindictiveness and the need to win, and of course, Cohen can afford to bury his ex in legal fees.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang