Prominent UK Divorce Lawyer Apologizes to Client’s Husband

Divorce lawyer Marcus Dearle is a partner in the venerable law firm Withers, a firm that began in the United Kingdom in 1896 and now has eight offices throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and the Caribbean.

You cannot get more blue-chip than Withers, which is why the firm’s public apology to UK celebrity chef, Marco Pierre White, age 49, husband of their client Mati White, is so extraordinary.

Marco Pierre White, at age 33, was the youngest chef in Europe to receive three Michelin stars for his restaurant, a feat that is remarkable considering that as of 2009 only 81 restaurants worldwide have achieved that honour.

As a successful entrepreneur, Mr. White helped launch the career of several of his employees including “infant terrible” chef Gordon Ramsay, the star of the US reality show “Hell’s Kitchen”.

Mr. White and his third wife Mati separated in 2007 after their 17-year relationship ended. She remained in their luxurious home with one of their three children.

She told her lawyer, Mr. Dearle, that her husband threatened she would receive nothing in a divorce. Acting on that information, she was advised to intercept her husband’s mail to obtain as much information as possible about his assets, their location and their values.

Ms. White dutifully collected the mail and gave it to her lawyer. Included in the mail she intercepted was a contract that Mr. White was required to sign in respect of a new restaurant he was overseeing on a prestigious cruise line.

But even more important to Mr. White was a heartfelt letter sent to him from one of his children from an earlier marriage, wherein the child requested that she and her father have more contact with each other.

The letter required an immediate response, but Mr. White never saw the letter, which had been taken by his wife to Marcus Dearle.

The divorce proceedings were bitter as the couple battled over Mr. White’s vast holdings for over three years. It was reported that each of them spent over $1 million in legal fees.

However, the divorce drama finally ended when the White’s reconciled.

But the fight was not finished because when Mr. White learned that his mail had been diverted to his wife’s lawyer, he sued Withers and Marcus Dearle.

The case against Withers law firm went to trial in 2008 but was thrown out. Mr. White appealed the decision and in 2009 the appeal court reinstated the action.

This week Withers and Marcus Dearle settled the case with Mr. White and issued an apology for the harm they had caused him “based on their understanding of the relevant law when the events occurred.”

The apology was particularly sweet for chef White who had been derided for bringing an allegedly unnecessary claim that amounted to an abuse of process. Mr. White also received financial compensation from the firm.

This case certainly clarifies the law with respect to the surreptitious interception of documents in divorce proceedings, following upon the June 2010 decision of Imerman v. Imerman where the English Court of Appeal held that documents obtained by one party by subterfuge would not be admitted as evidence in court. See my post on August 3, 2010 entitled “Cheaters Do Prosper”.

From a privacy perspective the law appears sound, however, the reality of high conflict divorce is that spouses will attempt to hide assets or lie about their assets, leaving their spouse no option but to resort to “trickery” to obtain a just and fair result.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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