If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

GEO CASUALIt is open season on spouses who own substantial assets, now that s. 89 of the Family Law Act has found its footing in British Columbia jurisprudence.

S. 89 permits a spouse to apply for an “interim distribution” of family property prior to a final division of property where a spouse needs money to settle or litigate the family case, or funds to obtain information and evidence that will assist them to settle or litigate their case.

Prior to the introduction of this section, litigants without access to ready cash were severely prejudiced, often unable to retain counsel or hire accountants and other experts required to prove their case. Longtime case law prevented any distribution of property in order to retain counsel.

Cases now abound and large amounts of money have been ordered to be paid by property owning spouses. In some cases, these spouses have been ordered to mortgage their property or otherwise borrow funds to pay their less well-financed spouses. It is not unusual to see orders of six figures, no small-time amounts.

However, all of the current cases recognize that this financial remedy is restricted to applications for funds prior to trial. Until today, that is.

In Negus v. Yehia, 2018 BCSC 3, a high-conflict case where Ms. Negus has already received $533,500.00 pursuant to S. 89, her counsel had the temerity, on the last day of trial, to make yet another application for funds. She advised the court that her client owed $400,000 in legal fees and sought another interim distribution.

The court judiciously refused the request saying:

“While I have been referred to a number of cases where the court has ordered advances under s. 89, all of those orders were made before trial in order to permit the economically weaker spouse to prepare for and conduct a trial. That has included, where necessary, putting that spouse in a position to pay for expert evidence. The focus is on the fairness of the trial process and the ability of both spouses to effectively put forward all relevant evidence. I have been referred to no case where such an order was made during or after trial.

In this case, I find that the purpose of s. 89 has been achieved, presumably with the help of the advances already ordered. There has already been a trial in which the “playing field” was clearly level and the claimant, with the assistance of experienced family law counsel, was able to vigorously challenge the respondent’s position.
An additional advance at this stage would do nothing further to meet the objectives of s. 89.”

I guess if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but this one took chutzpah!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Advertisements

Not Ready for Trial? Ontario Court Says Too Bad….

GeorgiaLeeLang057An Ontario judge has spoken out clearly about counsel who book trials and then abandon them on short notice to the courts. In Armstrong v. Armstrong, 2017 ONSC 6568, Mr. Justice Pazaratz called the case, involving a reduction or termination of spousal support, only to learn that the litigants in the case were not available, and an adjournment was sought by both counsel.

Counsel had earlier agreed and the court permitted them to adjourn the trial, then set for August 2017. At that hearing, counsel had agreed the trial would proceed in October 2017 for three days.

Counsel advised the court that an error had occurred and their clients incorrectly believed the rescheduled trial would take place in January 2018. Counsel also stated that a settlement conference had not been booked which might assist the parties to settle. As well, one of the lawyers indicated he had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. Judge Pazaratz queried counsel as to why a trial was booked if settlement had not yet been explored, and also opined that the court would and could work around counsel’s medical appointment, but that did not justify an adjournment of the trial. He also said:

“The implications of attending court on day one of a three day trial and requesting an adjournment go far beyond merely wasting one day of court time. Judges and trials are scheduled based on a balancing of multiple scheduling considerations. If this three day time slot becomes wasted, there may be far-reaching consequences (for example another three day trial could have been called, but if I am only available for two more days this week, it means I don’t have enough time to deal with that other matter).”

Judge Pazaratz advised counsel to get their clients to court immediately so the matter could proceed unless a settlement was reached, and warned them that if the matter was not settled and the trial did not go ahead, he would dismiss their case.

Counsel returned with a consent order in which each party withdrew their claims on a without prejudice basis, however, the Court was not impressed with counsels’ tactics saying:

“The problem, of course, is that if people can simply withdraw claims when they aren’t ready for trial, there’s nothing to stop them from re-commencing those claims in short order, and creating even further stress and expense for the system. We have an obligation to ensure that judicial resources are appropriately utilized and not misused. I am not prepared to allow the parties to simply withdraw their claims on a without prejudice basis.”

Judge Pazaratz then dismissed the claims, but not on the merits, saying that if either party wished to return to court to deal with any of the claims, they would require permission from the Court to proceed, and that in the event that occurred, he would be the judge dealing with the matter.

Where courts are being criticized for a lack of judicial time and unreasonable delays in meting out justice, Judge Pazaratz’s ruling is a welcome response to counsel who abuse the system. While “courthouse steps” settlements are to be encouraged, in this case it was apparent from counsels’ remarks that settlement had not yet been broached; that no trial preparation had been undertaken; and that counsel were content to show up, without their clients, expecting a favourable or neutral response to their self-imposed dilemma.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Ghomeshi Verdict: Part 3

GeorgiaLeeLang016While some have tried to characterize this decision as gender discrimination, the truth is these witnesses can blame no one but themselves for the Court’s devastating critique of their characters.”

The allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi came from three witnesses, each of whom was thoroughly discredited. That the Crown did not abort their case mid-trial is astonishing to me. I can only imagine the conversations between the Crown lawyers and their embarrassment as they presented their case.

The third witness/victim was referred to as S.D. She was a professional dancer and met Mr. Ghomeshi after a performance in Toronto. They had one dinner date and then met after one of her shows and took a walk to a local park. S.D. told the police that it was after dark when they sat on a park bench and kissed. She said she felt his hands and teeth on her neck. She said it was “not right”, “rough”, and unwelcome. She socialized with Mr. Ghomeshi at public events two or three times after that evening and then had no further relationship with him.

Her evidence at trial was problematic. It was imprecise and inconsistent. An excerpt from the trial illustrates this:

“ He had his hand-it was sort of-it was sort of his hands were on my shoulders, kind of my arms here, and then it was-and then I felt his teeth and his hands around my neck…It was rough but-yeah, it was rough.”

Question: “Were his hands open, were they closed?

Answer: “It’s really hard for me to say, but it was just-I felt his hands around my neck, all around my neck…And I –I think I tried to-I tried to get out of it and then his hand was on my mouth, sort of smothering me.”

When asked about her report to the police and the lack of detail she said she was still “trying to figure it out”. When asked if she had spoken to one of the other witnesses before providing her evidence to the police she said she had not. However, under cross-examination she admitted that she had.

Most damaging to S.D. were the Court’s findings that she and witness Lucy DeCoutere had joined forces to bring Mr. Ghomeshi “down”. S.D. and Ms. DeCoutere had exchanged 5,000 emails in a 12-month period. The Court described the strong bond forged between the two women as they discussed witnesses, court dates, and meetings with the Crown. They initially hired the same lawyer and shared a “publicist”, an unusual professional adjunct for a sexual assault victim.

S.D. was adamant that she cut off all further contact with Mr. Ghomeshi and tried to “keep her distance”. What she failed to disclose until the trial was that she and Mr. Ghomeshi had another date at her home where she admitted they “messed around”, describing the sexual acts she engaged in on that occasion. She was forced to admit she had deliberately lied and tried to conceal her continuing relationship with him.

She explained she didn’t think it was important and invoked the Bill Clinton defence “we did not have sexual relations”.  It didn’t work for Bill and clearly undermined her testimony.

The Court also learned that six months after the alleged assault she sent Mr. Ghomeshi an email inquiring whether he “still wanted to have that drink sometime?” Not exactly the sentiment of someone trying to keep their distance from an alleged sexual offender.

Of course we know that Mr. Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges, thanks to the tenacity of his lawyer, Marie Henein. The Court commented on her skillful cross-examination of the three witnesses:

“The cross-examination dramatically demonstrated that each complainant was less then full, frank and forthcoming in the information they provided to the media, to the police, to Crown Counsel and to this Court.”

The sad truth is that once a witness perjures her or himself their credibility is lost. The Court said the “volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence left the Court with reasonable doubt.”

While some have tried to characterize this decision as gender discrimination, the truth is these witnesses can blame no one but themselves for the Court’s devastating critique of their characters.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

$500,000 Custody Case Garners Harsh Criticism

 

Another day…another courtroom, but the same insanity…. a custody battle that has cost two parents $500,000 in legal fees. This time it’s an exasperated Ontario Superior Court judge from Hamilton who asks the question, “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”

Mr. Justice Alex Pazaratz presided over a 36-day trial, awarding sole custody of an 8-year-old child to her father, a Toronto police officer. The Court’s Reasons for Judgment begin with the recitation of an email sent by the husband to his wife, a year after their separation, and before litigation commenced:

“We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending $40,000 to $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

It only takes one parent to turn a family law case into a hellish nightmare, and according to Judge Pazaratz that’s what an angry, foolish woman did. Consider the optics: Father wants generous parenting time, and mother refuses, turning the child against her father. In these situations, fathers will get nowhere unless they ask a court to intervene. At this point, most right-thinking parents would instruct their lawyers to negotiate a parenting plan, or attend mediation, with the goal of maximizing each parent’s time with the children, focusing always on the child’s best interests.  Sound so simple, doesn’t it?

In this case, dad spent $300,000, while mom spent $200,000. Judge Pazaratz said:

“Pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case,…These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.”

The harshest criticism was leveled at the child’s mother, who the Court found had manipulated and falsified evidence, engaged in provocative and dangerous behaviour, and poisoned the child against her father. Judge Pazaratz described her conduct as “emotional child abuse… with their only child caught in the cross-fire”. Her deviant behaviour was triggered when her estranged husband began to move on with his life and began a new relationship.

The Court ordered the mother to pay costs to the father in the amount of $192,000, wryly concluding:

“In retrospect, (the father’s) sombre warning about ‘spending $40 – $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees’ now amounts to wishful thinking.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang