Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An attorney’s persistent efforts to gain an order for attorney fees on appeal in favor of his client, which was met with four denials in the Superior Court, paid off yesterday with a reversal by the Court of Appeal for this district of the final order denying fees, and a remand for a new hearing.
Justice John Segal of Div. Seven wrote the opinion. It reverses an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randall F. Pacheco which was predicated on his notion that a denial of fees by Commissioner Glenda Veasey was res judicata.
Segal said it wasn’t.
Battles in the case have been in progress for more than 11 years. Husband John Uriostegui on July 23, 2008, brought an action for dissolution of his marriage to Angel Maffei.
Child support was set by Veasey, pursuant to a stipulation, on Nov. 30, 2011. Maffei moved on March 18, 2014, for a boost in support payments based on changed circumstances: her husband’s annual income had soared from $683,206 in 2010 to $1,304,050.76 in 2013.
Veasey denied the motion; Maffei appealed; the Court of Appeal, in a Dec. 12, 2016 opinion by Segal, reversed in Marriage of Uriostegui and Maffei I, saying:
“Because the trial court did not apply the proper criteria in ruling on the request, we conclude the court abused its discretion by denying the request for modification.”
In Marriage of Uriostegui and Maffei II, B289948, handed down yesterday, Segal reversed a March 9, 2018 order by Pacheco denying attorney fees in connection with Marriage of Uriostegui and Maffei I. He acted based on Veasey’s denial of attorney fees while that appeal was in progress.
On Oct. 19, 2016, Veasey denied the third such request for the same reason as the two previous denials: her perception that Maffai’s lawyer, Jeff Dominic Price of Santa Monica, had presented inadequate financial information.
The commissioner declared that there was no showing of Maffai’s income in 2016. Price protested: “That is untrue because her declaration—”
Veasey cut him off, saying: “So you’re calling the court a liar?”
The lawyer tried to explain that he could not provide pay stubs because his client was self-employed. When he sought guidance from the commissioner as to just what she would need beyond what he had provided, Veasey responded:
“Well, it is not the court’s job to educate counsel as to what is necessary to comply with the rules of court. But we have had this conversation now four times—on four different occasions as to the adequacy. And we’re just going to agree to disagree. But I am the judicial officer here. If we have a disagreement, if you want to stand on your position which is in opposition to the court’s position, that is your choice. But I’m the one who has to make the decisions.”
Veasey declared that the fee request “is fatally defective.”
Less than two months later, Segal’s first opinion was filed, reversing the order denying a modification of child support. On April 5, 2017, she filed a peremptory challenge to Veasey and on April 24, filed a notice of non-stipulation to a court commissioner.
Aug. 11, 2017, Price filed a new request for fees on appeal, seeking $102,425.25.
In denying fees, Pacheco said at the 2018 hearing that he had read the transcript of the 2016 hearing before Veasey and found that “[t]here’s nothing in the statement by Commissioner Veasey that indicates...that ruling was without prejudice,” adding:
“My belief is that the rule is that, once a case is presented for decision and there’s a determination, it’s with prejudice, unless it’s specifically stated otherwise.”
In his opinion reversing that determination, Segal said:
“Judge Pacheco ruled that Commissioner Veasey’s October 19, 2016 order denying Maffei’s third request for fees was with prejudice and that ‘res judicata’ barred her fourth request. Judge Pacheco did not distinguish between claim preclusion and issue preclusion or identify the particular ‘aspect’ of res judicata he believed applied. Claim preclusion did not apply because there was no cause of action to apply it to and no final judgment….Judge Pacheco may have been referring to issue preclusion, meaning that Commissioner Veasey’s October 19, 2016 determination that Maffei was not entitled to attorneys’ fees precluded relitigation of that issue on Maffei’s fourth request for attorneys’ fees. But even assuming the issues presented were identical, and assuming the parties were the same (Maffei and Uriostegui), was there a ‘final adjudication’ of an issue that was ‘actually litigated and necessarily decided’? We think not.”
“Commissioner Veasey made it clear at the October 19, 2016 hearing she was not deciding or adjudicating the merits of the request. Commissioner Veasey stated she was denying the request because, in her view, Maffei had not submitted sufficient documentation of her current income, profits, and expenses for the court to rule on the motion. Commissioner Veasey stated that Maffei’s request was ‘defective, deficient, and incomplete,’ not that it was meritless….Commissioner Veasey never ruled Maffei was not entitled to fees for the appeal, and she indicated, as she had before, Maffei might be entitled to an ‘actual calculation’ of attorneys’ fees if she complied with certain rules of court and submitted more information or documentation. Commissioner Veasey stated that she would not ‘get to that,’ however, because the request was defective and that she was ‘denying it on that basis.’ ”
Further Requests Envisioned
The jurist noted:
“Of course, Commissioner Veasey could have stated she was denying Maffei’s request for attorneys’ fees because three unsuccessful requests for the same attorneys’ fees was enough and the court would not consider any further requests for appellate fees. But Commissioner Veasey did not say that. To the contrary, she gave every indication Maffei could re-file the request with “current income information” and the other additional documentation the court was requiring, effectively (if not expressly) denying the request without prejudice.”
The opinion specifies that “the matter is remanded with directions to hear Maffei’s request for attorneys’ fees on the merits, as well as any further request for fees incurred in this appeal.”
Price represented Maffei on appeal.
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