Even after you’ve been doing this for a while (and yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the day I opened my practice), you can still be surprised by some of the things that happen in Family Court.
For example, this past week, the California Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s order that the wife pay her husband’s former attorney $73,000.00. This was based on the attorney’s written request to the court which included 46 pages of invoices.
Besides the regular things that you would expect to see in a divorce lawyer’s bill, the statements included two strange items. Costs incurred for an $88.00 parking ticket and a $262.90 tow charge incurred when the lawyer appeared in court; and the time incurred getting a restraining order against the wife. Not a restraining order on behalf of the husband. A restraining order on behalf of the lawyer herself against the wife.
As to the restraining order, this was based on an alleged battery incident in which the lawyer claimed that the wife hit her in the back at an arbitration hearing. Indeed, things were so contentious that the court observed in November, 2010 that the case was “being litigated as though it were a multimillion dollar estate”.
All told, the lawyer claimed that she incurred $135,450.00 in legal fees and $3,096.79 in costs, $90,157.38 of which remained unpaid. According to the lawyer, the unpaid fees were “reasonable and necessary”.
On October 23, 2013, the trial judge ruled that there was a disparity in the incomes of the wife and the husband. And, in California family law cases, if there is a disparity in the parties’ incomes, the judge may order the high earner to pay some or maybe all of the low earner’s fees and costs pursuant to Family Code section 2030.
Based on section 2030, the judge in this case decided that the wife should pay 80 percent of the billed fees, or $73,000.00. The judge specifically noted that the award of $73,000.00 was “just and reasonable and . . appropriate” but decided that the wife could pay off the $73,00.00 at the rate of $1,500.00 per month.
In a unanimous, 21 page decision, the Court of Appeal agreed with the fee award. It noted that fee awards must be based on a number of factors including “the nature of the litigation; its difficulty; the amount in controversy; the skill required and employed in handling the litigation; the attention given; the success of the attorney’s efforts; the attorney’s learning and experience in the particular type of work demanded; the intricacies and importance of the litigation; the labor and the necessity for skilled legal training and ability in trying the cause; and the time consumed”.
As to the parking and towing charges, the appeals court admitted that the judge “allowed some potentially questionable ‘costs’ contained in the 46 pages of invoices such as (the lawyer’s) parking ticket and towing charge”. But the three justices also noted “that (the wife) failed to call these or any other line items to the court’s attention at the time the motion was heard”. Thus, the appeals court concluded by saying “W[e] cannot conclude that the court abused its discretion or exceeded the bounds of reason in ordering the award it did”.
The appeals court that ruled on this case is based in Los Angeles County. But, of course, the Family Code –and section 2030 in particular– applies throughout the state, including right here in San Diego.
The trial judge in this case was the Hon. Michelle Williams Court. The name of the Case is Marriage of Reade and Roizman, Court of Appeal case no. B253362.