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
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.