Posts Tagged ‘Lawyer’

Family Law attorney Judith Soley, 65, and her client were gunned down at a Bass Lake restaurant Feb. 16 by the client’s husband, who later turned the gun on himself.  Ms. Soley and Sandra Williamson, 65, her client, were leaving a restaurant during a break in court proceedings when Williamson’s estranged husband, James, began beating Soley, who was in her van at that time, and then shot her in the head.  He chased his wife into the kitchen of the restaurant, where he shot her in the head, before fleeing in a pickup.  Officers later found Williamson in his home, where he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Ms. Soley was the first woman president of the Fresno County Bar Association, and was active in both legal and community circles and was one of the first women to be certified as a family law specialist by the State Bar.  Ms. Soley became a lawyer when women didn’t frequently join the profession and she built a successful practice and, as a single mother, raised her daughter, who became her law partner. Judith Soley, Esq.

Ms. Soley used a wheelchair all her life, but traveled the world, including visits to the Great Wall of China, Russia, England and Hawaii, as well as stints in Italy and Mexico to perfect her language skills. She graduated from UCLA and received her law degree from Boalt Hall, beginning her practice in 1971.

Ms. Williamson was a labor and delivery coach for 15 years and Mr. Williamson was a retired Los Angeles firefighter.  Friends of the couple said that Mr. Williamson was manic depressive and refused to take his medication, per reports to them by Ms. Williamson several years ago.  The parties’ divorce was an on again, off again action for the last seven years.  The initial divorce was filed in 2004 and the couple reconciled only to separate in 2007 when Ms. Williamson obtained a restraining order for domestic violence.  In 2010, she tried to have the restraining order renewed but was unable to locate the whereabouts of Mr. Williamson and was unable to have it served.

Sandra Williamson

There was also a civil action between the parties in which Mr. Williamson obtained a loan after he forged his wife’s signature on a deed to gain sole possession of the family home.  Ms. Williamson later had the deed voided in court — but not before Williamson took out a $942,000 bank loan based on the forged deed and transferred the money to a joint account he had with a nephew.  The civil suit was still pending at the time of the divorce proceeding.  This was by no means a simple divorce.  You can read the trial brief here prepared by Ms. Soley, which details the many alleged actions of Mr. Williamson.

Family Law can sometimes become very volatile when dealing with very emotional issues and those of us in family law are aware of the dangers that sometimes occur in divorce and custody matters.  If you talk to a Family Law attorney, you will no doubt hear of some opposing party who has become angry with the soon to be ex’s attorney, and has made some threatening comment or threatened some action against that attorney.

Working in family law, I have witnessed many times when this has occurred and have had to call in police assistance to escort the opposing party out of the law office during heated moments.  One former attorney I worked for has had to be escorted along with the client, from the courthouse to their vehicles by the bailiff, after being threatened in the hallway during negotiations with the opposing party, his counsel and the client.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Soley’s family and staff and Ms. Williamson’s family and co-workers.

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The bitter divorce trial between power couple Frank and Jamie McCourt has captured headlines because the prize in the proceedings is ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball team. But testimony from a family attorney underscores the importance of notarization and demonstrates the tangle that can occur when the highest standards of professional care and ethical conduct are not followed.

Attorney Larry Silverstein admitted under oath that he altered a post-nuptial agreement after it was signed and notarized. The one-word change would give Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers. The fact that the agreement had been notarized helped establish a timeline for events and shined the light on the attorney’s actions, which he claimed were intended to correct an honest mistake. But the whole point of following proper procedure as well as legal and ethical standards is to make sure our actions can stand up to scrutiny and imbue transactions with greater trustworthiness and reliability.

If a material change is made to a contract or agreement that has already been signed and notarized, the document would have to be re-signed and notarized again. Re-notarization would be important to ensure that both parties were signing the agreement willingly without duress and that they understood what they were signing.

This case has brought to light the importance of a notarized agreement and what can happen when a small change is made without the client’s knowledge.  Not only is this the wrong thing to do, it can cause substantial problems to the client and the attorney.  When you sign a document before a notary, it is always a good idea to make a copy of what you signed so there can be no questions later about the document.

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Just when you thought you were paying more in spousal support than you thought was fair, along comes this story from Australia.  As a high-earning professional, the husband took home almost $2 million, including a six-figure bonus, in the last year.  After their split he moved out of the $2.7 million family home and into another property worth more than $1.1 million, which he bought without his wife’s knowledge before their separation.  Hmm, here we call that a fiduciary duty to disclose, but I digress.  It was intended as an investment property if the marriage lasted; instead, he lived there with his children as their primary care-giver.

His former wife hoped to earn up to $50,000 annually working in community services and wanted him to support her financially for two years while she obtained her qualifications.  He objected, arguing that she was employable and could return to her former career as a legal secretary or personal assistant, earning up to $75,000 annually. Her choice of occupation was effectively ”a luxury she cannot afford and which would be at his cost”, he said.

But Justice Fowler noted that the woman ”says she has had enough of the law and lawyers for the time being”.  She told the court the distress of the marriage breakdown and subsequent litigation have made her averse to ”having anything further to do with employment in the legal profession”.  More than two years after the couple separated, after costly proceedings in the Family Court, a judge made parenting orders for the care of their children.”  Given the history of this matter and its attendant costs, one can understand from her point of view that she would wish to distance herself from that profession,” Justice Fowler said.  Her decision not to pursue her former career was not unreasonable, he said, and he ordered the husband to pay her $1000 a week for two years while she retrained.

Now, I agree that the husband makes great money and the wife is probably entitled to spousal support, although there is no indication of how long the marriage was, but I think this is a little over the top.  At $4,000 a month for 2 years, she will receive $96,000 in spousal support and will get to go back to school to boot.  So, next time you write that spousal support check, just think, it could be worse.

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A jury on Thursday rejected a claim by billionaire real estate mogul Donald Bren‘s two adult children for $134 million in retroactive child support.

The unusual case was a high-stakes contest between one of the nation’s richest men and the children he fathered during a 13-year affair with Jennifer McKay Gold, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of her children when they were minors.

Christie Bren, 22, and her brother, David Bren, 18, pursued the case when they became adults.

Jurors deliberated two hours before siding with the 78-year-old Irvine Co. chairman, whose attorney argued that no family court would have given the children more than the millions he already paid.

The suit sought $400,000 a month for each of the children in retroactive support from 1988 to 2002. Their mother testified she received a total of about $3 million for them during that period.

“My children are going to stand up for what they believe in,” she said. “We will definitely appeal.”

Lawyer Hillel Chodos, who represents the children, said he would specify in his appeal brief what was kept from the jury.

Donald Bren, who has a penchant for privacy, stepped into the court’s public spotlight to testify that he never loved Gold and never planned to be a parent to the two children. He said he provided enough for them to live a privileged life and agreed to pay for their education.

“I felt an education at the university level, at the graduate level is perhaps the best gift a parent can give a child,” he testified.

His lawyers have claimed he paid $10 million in support over the years, including the educations.

“They are not here because they didn’t have enough to live on,” he told the jury in closing arguments. “They are here because they were deprived by Donald Bren of their birthright. … They had the right to share in his standard of living.”

That standard, Chodos said, included two California homes, a Sun Valley ranch, New York apartment, private planes and yacht. Attorney John Quinn, who represented Donald Bren, said the estimate of the real estate mogul’s liquid assets was exaggerated.

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