Dear Nick and Nora:
Since the last letter, you’ve been to court, the judge has ruled and you have both told me that you were baffled by the proceedings. The only thing you understood was that the Honorable Anne Maryland was very angry. You know she doesn’t like your lawyers, and you fear that she doesn’t like you.
It all happened so fast that I didn’t know about your hearing until it was over. Fortunately, there’s a transcript available (*1).
I don’t know Judge Maryland, and I’ve never seen her in action. I have studied the transcript and can tell you that your judge has style and originality. It’s refreshing to see because creativity and panache are not qualities typically associated with the bench. Judge Maryland will be yours for the rest of the case, so if you are determined enough or dumb enough to insist that a judge of the Superior Court continue to be part of your relationship because you can’t divide in two, you should figure out how she thinks.
I’ve analyzed what she did, and I will comment on excerpts from the transcript in the next few letters.
All three of us had to look at the original papers to figure out why you were in court. Your lawyers had each filed a “motion” that asked the judge to make the orders requested.
At the outset of the case, Nick got a request for thousands of pages of various records. For most people, this kind of a task is overwhelming. Nick made a last-minute, half-hearted effort to pull it all together, but the “production” was incomplete. Nora’s lawyer wouldn’t give Nick an extension because he had evidence of Nick’s reckless management of the community estate, so he wasted no time putting the case together for the court.
Nick ignored the request to produce: (a) records relating to research he did before purchasing shares of corporate stock he bought and then sold at a loss, and (b) records relating to the Norton Ponzi scheme that cost you $1 million.
This gave Nora’s lawyer the opportunity to go to court to: (a) whine to the judge, (b) ask for a specific order to Nick that he come up with the papers requested, and (c) because of Nick’s financial recklessness over the last 25 years, he asked for an order prohibiting Nick from destroying records. The true function of the maneuver was to enrage Nick, stir the pot and maintain conflict.
Not to be outdone, Nick’s lawyer asked for an order imposing a budget on Nora. In opposition to Nora’s request for attorney’s fees, he proposed the creation of a lawyers’ benefit fund of $100,000 that both lawyers could bill against — and that Nick was ordered to replenish as necessary.
Here’s the transcript:
Court: We’ll begin with the motions to strike that have been made by both parties. Each motion is granted in all of its particulars.
Each lawyer was able to designate the inadmissible, and often inflammatory, material in the declaration the other lawyer filed in support of a request that I make one of these orders. That means you both know the proper way to submit evidence to the court by use of declarations, and yet you both chose to submit improper material. I have to read it all before I can consider excluding it, so I guess the reason you put this stuff in the declarations is to inflame and prejudice me against the other party.
That attitude is insulting and disrespectful to the court. It’s unprofessional, and it doesn’t serve the best interest of your clients.
On my own motion I sanction the lawyers $1,000 each for submitting this trash. If the sanction were any higher, the incident would have to be reported to the Bar Association and I’m not ready for that — yet. And, regrettably, I don’t think you have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.
I have no authority to order a lawyer to make changes to his or her bill to a client whose case is in this court. However, I’m going to make these specific orders and findings:
1) The $1,000 sanction is personal. It is directed to the lawyers and not at the parties. The lawyers are to pay the sanction from their personal funds, and it is not to be billed to the parties.
2) Most of the time spent preparing these motions was spent on the declarations. I make a judicial finding that the declarations submitted on behalf of either party in support of these motions did not serve the best interest of the clients. Moreover, the work was unprofessional and does not meet the standard of care that exists in this community.
Are the parties present?
[You both stand up and the judge addresses her remarks to you. We’ll find out what she says in my next letter.]
*1. At the moment, the transcript of your hearing is the hottest read in our legal community, which will eagerly await the next episode. So much for your privacy.
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail email@example.com.