Never Anger a Judge!

Stavros and Dea Economou married and had two sons together. For the next 13 years, Stavros ran the family businesses and Dea took care of their home and sons. Their businesses were very successful – worth millions – and the family lived lavishly. When the marriage failed, Dea filed for divorce and requested Stavros to provide an accounting of all the community assets. Since he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the businesses, only he knew their true worth. The judge granted her request for the accounting. Unfortunately, Stavros never complied with the court order. Dea and her attorney made dozens of court appearances to request the court order Stavros to provide the accounting documentation. With each appearance, the court ordered Stavros to comply and often issued sanctions (penalty fines) to Stavros for ignoring the court's orders. And, for each appearance, Stavros would tell the court he would provide the documentation, and then he would ignore the order.

Dea also believed that Stavros was hiding their assets - located in California, Georgia and Greece - by converting them into cash and/or hiding them in Stavros's name only. She requested the court order a receiver (a person hired to take care of assets during litigation) to find all the assets and make an accounting of them for the divorce. Again, the court agreed and ordered Maxwell Freeman to be the receiver. The court also ordered Stavros to turn over the information to Freeman. But Stavros ignored the court order, and now both Dea and Freeman were making numerous trips to court to get Stavros to comply. Freeman even tried to obtain the information on his own by demanding the documentationfrom the businesses themselves, but Stavros ordered his employees not to comply with Freeman's requests. In fact, Dea and Freeman requested courts in Georgia and Greece to make Stavros provide the documentation as well, but Stavros also ignored those courts' orders to comply with the California court.

Finally the case came to trial. Dea's private investigators told the court how Stavros hid assets in Greece; accountants provided by Dea and Freeman told the court how Stavros hid business accounts from them; and Stavros's former employees told the court how Stavros ordered them to hide assets and ignore requests from Dea and Freeman, what those assets were and their estimated value. With all these witnesses' testimony, the court found the value of the businesses and other assets to be worth about $10 million. Dea and Stavros would each receive half of the value. The court also ordered Stavros to pay Dea's attorneys' fees of $350,000 and pay Freeman's fees. The court furthered ordered Stavros to pay Dea's attorneys an additional $250,000 in attorneys' fees because of his failure to comply with court orders. (The money would come from Stavros's half of the community property before he received his share.)

In its orders, the trial court judge said, "… [Stavros] is not trustworthy and has selfishly pursued a path of deviousness to deprive [Dea] of her rightful share of community property and the Court believes he will not cease such deviousness and deceit and will embark on similar tactics…"

Stavros appealed arguing the trial court did not have the authority to hire Freeman, issue sanctions, or make the decisions based on the witnesses' testimony. Dea responded to Stavros's appeal and argued that not only did the court have the authority to make the decisions it made, but Stavros's appeal was frivolous. She also requested Stavros pay her attorney's fees for the appeal.

The appellate court found in favor of Dea. Every decision the trial court made was appropriate – especially the sanctions because of Stavros's actions. It also found Stavros's appeal to be frivolous - completing lacking in merit (a good reason to ask for the court's help). The court ordered Stavros to pay $15,000 for Dea's attorneys' fees, but pay the appellate court $15,000 for bringing a frivolous motion to its court. It further sanctioned Stavros's attorney $15,000 for helping Stavros file his appeal!

The laws are designed to provide justice and fair dealings for everyone. It is the court's job to ensure justice for those seeking help under the laws. The courts need power to ensure that justice is served, and the power is provided by issuing sanctions to those who do not do what the courts tell them to do. It is the job of attorneys to represent their clients and fight zealously for their clients' rights, but it is also the attorneys' job to prevent burdening the court system with frivolous, silly, meritless, and/or time-wasting law suits. The courts then have the power to sanction the attorneys too.

Categories: Family Law
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