Final Chapter in LA Dodgers Divorce?

BarristerJamie and Frank McCourt are now more famous for their over-the-top divorce than for their eight-year run as the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The twists and turns of their lengthy litigation could fill a book, and no doubt will!

For those of you who followed their case, you may remember the fight over their marriage agreement, made more complex and confusing because two different versions of the agreement surfaced. One agreement said that Frank McCourt would keep the ball team if the parties separated, while the second divided it equally as community property. Judge Scott Gordon threw out both agreements to the disappointment of Mr. McCourt who hoped he would prevail.

That then led to professional embarrassment and perhaps worse, for Boston lawyer, Larry Silverstein, who drafted the agreement. He testified that after both parties signed the agreement he “tinkered” with it: he changed it to say that Frank McCourt would retain the LA Dodgers. The trouble was he had six copies, three he changed and three he did not, and he didn’t tell Jamie or Frank what he had done.

He also broke two other cardinal rules: he had never practiced in the area of family law, and he acted for both Jamie and Frank McCourt, ignoring a potential conflict of interest.

But that was the least of the McCourts’ problems. Unable to meet the Dodger’s payroll, the team filed for bankruptcy and the league appointed a trustee to run the franchise.

Later in 2011 a settlement was finally achieved that saw Frank McCourt retain the ball club in exchange for a payment of $131 million to his wife, together with a portfolio of multi-million dollar homes.

Mr. McCourt eventually found a buyer for the team who agreed to pay him $2 billion dollars. Can you imagine Jamie McCourt’s wrath? She immediately filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the settlement agreement, alleging her husband had misled her with regards to the value of the team and television broadcast rights.

The trial judge tossed out her court action reasoning that her evidence that she was not provided with sufficient financial information was not credible. The Court noted that Mr. McCourt had disclosed 220,000 pages of financial documentation. He also found that as a director of the ball club she had seen documents estimating the value of the Dodgers at $2.3 billion. The trial decision was affirmed this week by the California Court of Appeal who said:

“Jamie simply chose the security of a guaranteed $131 million payment, plus more than $50 million in real and personal property, over the uncertainty and risk presented by the valuation and sale of the Dodger assets.”

It is reported that the McCourts’ legal fees up to the settlement exceeded $19 million dollars.

Mrs. McCourt must now also pay her former husband $1.9 million for her failed attempt to overturn their deal.

Is this the final chapter? Given the McCourt’s track record I would bet it is not!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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The Curse of the In-Person Litigant

GEO_edited-1I guess I’ve been lucky because I have never had to do a trial where the opposing party acted in person, “pro se”, as they call it in the United States.

Why lucky? Because some of the worst trial horror stories involve litigants acting for themselves while their spouse has to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour to respond to often marginally relevant or unreasonable litigation tactics.

A good example is the case of G.T. v A.T. 2014 NY Slip Op 24035 where Mr. T., a well-educated engineer, just short a few credits for his doctorate degree, turned what should have been a three-day trial into a 12-day debacle.

Judge H. Patrick Leis III of the New York Supreme Court described Mr. T.’s behaviour in the opening paragraph of his Reasons:

“This case highlights the difficulties that arise when one party uses their self-represented status as both a sword and a shield in an attempt to gain undue advantage and behaves in a manner that the court would never tolerate from an attorney. The manner in which the defendant presented his minimal evidence, fueled by his own emotional agenda, lacked direction, reason and oftentimes was totally devoid of probative value.”

In many family law cases a case management judge is assigned to deal with all pretrial matters and preside over the trial. Such was the case in G.T. v. A.T., where Mr. T. and his wife brought their procedural issues to Judge Leis for resolution.

During this 18-month period Mr. T. expressed his satisfaction to the Court with the way these preliminary matters were handled.

Nothing Mr. T. said pretrial could have foretold the application he brought when the trial commenced.

With almost no notice to his wife’s lawyer, Mr. T. argued that Judge Leis should recuse (remove) himself as the trial judge because he had been “disrespectful of the parties’ culture and faith, repeatedly pressuring Mr. T. to retain counsel with coercion and threats”.

Mr. T.’s complaints of judicial threats were held to be without foundation, Judge Leis pointing out that he was in receipt of five letters from Mr. T., all glowing with praise of the judge’s pretrial rulings. Remarkably it was Mr. T. who was disrespectful, advising the judge that if he did not recuse himself he would report him to the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

But that was just Day 1. Mr. T. wasted additional court time with a rambling, unfocused, and mainly irrelevant opening statement, the gist of which was his desire to reconcile with his wife.

He then cross-examined his long-suffering wife for four days, ignoring the Court’s direction that he should ask questions of her, not deliver time-consuming, self-serving statements.

He also disregarded the Judge’s evidentiary rulings and even after admonishment carried on with lines of questioning that were beyond the scope of the trial. He refused to abandon his recusal argument and raised issues about orders pronounced by the court months before. Worst of all, he was rude and nasty, shouting aggressively at his wife and her lawyer.

Of course, the main victim of his flagrant abuse of the court system was his wife, who had to take an additional nine days of holiday from her workplace to complete what should have been a three-day trial, and was now subject to ever-increasing legal fees.

Interestingly, Mr. T. had quit his job shortly after the couple separated, a tactic that was futile, since Judge Leis imputed $120,000 income to him, despite his refusal to work.

Unfortunately, short of finding a belligerent litigant in contempt of court, all a judge can do is award costs. That’s just what Judge Leis did, saying:

“Simple justice dictates that the defendant who chooses to function from a position of anger and resentment, not be allowed to purposely drive up the plaintiff’s counsel fees and act in such an inappropriate manner, without being made responsible for all of the trial fees. Therefore, in an exercise of this court’s discretion, the defendant is responsible for all of the plaintiff’s counsel fees for trial.”

You think Mr. T. is done with court proceedings? Think again…there’s always the appeal court.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

I’ll Just Leave the Country and Pay Nothing!

DSC01152_2 (2)_2One of the most common threats a lawyer may hear from a beleaguered client is the cry that “I might as well quit work, if I have to pay that much to my ex-wife”. Another is “I’ll just leave the country and then he/she will get nothing.”

Usually these threats are spoken out of frustration and rarely are they acted upon, however, from time to time a parent will abandon his or her family, rather than obey a court order that is perceived by them to be onerous and unfair.

In a recent Ontario case, Hans Mills did just that. He left the country to avoid paying his ex-wife, Donna Mills, spousal and child support of $3772.00 per month, $2235.00 for the children and $1537.00 for his wife.

A very bleak situation for Ms. Mills who is caring for a 10-year-old with cancer in remission, a Downs Syndrome 14-year-old, a depressed teen, age 17, and a 19-year-old son on methadone treatment. How did everything go so wrong?

After separating in 2005, the Mills reached an agreement in 2008 which gave Ms. Mills sole custody of the children, and the family home, valued at $1.2 million (with a $600,000 mortgage), in exchange for a payment to Mr. Mills of $175,000. Because she received the lion’s share of the equity in the home, she agreed to forego spousal support. Mr. Mills earned approximately $100,000 per year and would pay child support.

Three years after their agreement, money issues began to simmer and a trial was scheduled to deal with the problems that had arisen, including Ms. Mill’s alleged inability to work. In an interim application before the trial, the Court ordered Mr. Mills to pay his ex-wife spousal support, including retroactive support and court costs, in spite of the fact that she had received two-thirds of the family home.

Recognizing that the interim order was a precursor to worse things to come, Mr. Mills sold his house, cashed in his pension, paid his bills, and moved to the Philippines, a country where he had done business for years and a country that had no support treaty with Ontario.

Ms. Mills had always feared he would just leave and implored the government agency that collects child and spousal support to register a lien against his house and seize his Canadian and European passports, but to no avail. And then he was gone. His email to his ex-wife read:

“The result of the legal instrument which you recently designed and implemented
is that there is no possibility of a comfortable life or a (secure) retirement for me in
Canada at all. Therefore, I have left the country to seek greener pastures elsewhere
and will never return. Well done Einstein. Good luck and good bye.”

Ms. Mills is perilously close to financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual bankruptcy, but says she will not let her children down, despite the dire circumstances.

As for “Father of the Year”, his actions are despicable. His departure was fueled by a court order to pay spousal support, which he now uses to justify his decision to stop supporting his children. He has expressed hope that one day he can reconcile with his children, “but not in Canada, a morally bankrupt state”.

It is Hans Mills that is “morally bankrupt”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang