Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kerner v. Superior Ct. (Cal. Ct. App. - May 22, 2012)

You think you have problems?  Check this out.

Imagine you're a partner in a big law firm in Los Angeles.  A name partner, even.  Big office on Wilshire.  Offices in LA, SF, SD, OC, Sacramento, Fresno, lots of others. You're making tons of money.  You've got respect.  You like your colleagues and work.  You even marry one of them.  Things are going peachy.  You're wife's even a Vice President of the Firm.

(This is no hypothetical.  I've just described the life of Richard M. Widom.)

So then:

"Widom was a member of the Stockwell firm for many years. [Lisa] Kerner also worked as an attorney for the firm. Widom and Kerner married in 2005 and separated in March 2009 after a physical altercation between them. Kerner filed a petition for marital dissolution in March 2009 and obtained a temporary restraining order against Widom based on allegations of domestic violence.

The Stockwell firm notified Widom on April 22, 2009, that his employment was terminated effective that day based on Kerner's claims against him and other claims of misconduct. . . .

The Stockwell firm filed a cross-complaint against Widom and Law Offices of Richard M. Widom, LLP, in January 2010. It filed a second amended cross-complaint against those same cross-defendants in October 2010 alleging that Widom had diverted the firm's money for his own purposes, induced the firm's attorneys to work for his competing law firm and solicited clients away while he was still a shareholder and director of the Stockwell firm, and had exposed the Stockwell firm to liability 'by assaulting and battering Lisa Kerner' and by mistreating another employee. . . .

Kerner filed a complaint against Widom on September 14, 2009 and filed a first amended complaint on September 30, 2009, alleging counts for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeking money damages. Kerner alleged that Widom had threatened and attacked her during their marriage, culminating in a physical attack on March 1, 2009.

The Los Angeles City Attorney filed a criminal complaint against Widom in November 2009."

Oh my.  Things are going wrong.  Very, very wrong.

You might well think:  "Awesome.  Couldn't happen to a more deserving person.  Couldn't ever be me, that's for sure.  I couldn't empathize less."  I'd certainly understand that.

See if any of this affects your calculus:

"On February 3, 2010, a jury found him not guilty of spousal abuse, spousal battery, simple assault and simple battery. On Widom's motion, the trial court determined that he was factually innocent of the charges and entered an order declaring him factually innocent on March 18, 2010.

The trial court in the family law proceeding conducted a hearing over several days on Kerner's application for a permanent restraining order against Widom. The court stated in its oral ruling on January 26, 2010, that Kerner need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a single act of domestic violence had occurred. The court stated that Kerner's testimony about the events of March 1, 2009, lacked credibility and that her actions on that date and thereafter were inconsistent with her claim that she feared for her safety. The court also stated that Kerner's description of the events had changed over time and seemed exaggerated. The court found that Kerner had suffered injuries in the course of her altercation with Widom on March 1, 2009, but noted that she had admitted slapping him and previously had described the altercation as a pushing match.

The trial court in the family law proceeding concluded:

'My own finding is that Ms. Kerner is not a credible witness and that her testimony as to these events is not believed by the court. I choose to believe Mr. Widom's version of the facts, which is not to say that there is foolproof evidence that the events occurred in the fashion that he says, but on balance, I find his testimony to be more credible.

In fact, some of Ms. Kerner's testimony is among the most incredible testimony I have heard in a very brief period on the bench, but in 40-plus years as a trial lawyer, including most specifically her testimony about why she returned to the home because of concern over her cats and stayed there for four days in the face of what she thought was her imminent demise at the hands of Mr. Widom.'"

I'll not regale you further with additional details of this sad case.  Read the opinion for the plethora of complex privilege, issue preclusion, and other sophisticated legal principles that get thrown into the mix in a case like this litigated by self-interested heavy legal hitters on all sides.

In short:  A nightmare.