Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday rejected the contention of an ex-Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, who is out of work and consequently had his child support obligation lifted, that a judge abused her discretion in ordering him to pay $50,000 to his former wife for attorney fees based on speculation that he could “find funds” if he had to do so.
Justice Steven Z. Perren wrote the unpublished opinion for Div. Six. It affirms an order by Ventura Superior Court Judge JoAnn Johnson.
The judge acted pursuant to Family Code §271(a) which provides that “the court may base an award of attorney’s fees and costs on the extent to which the conduct of each party or attorney furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between the parties and attorneys.” It adds:
“An award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to this section is in the nature of a sanction.”
Money for ‘Mentor’
Johnson cited misconduct by the former husband, Travis Whiteaker, in the course of a custody dispute and noted his frequent travels in connection with attempting to establish a business and his $30,000 payment to a real estate mentor.
Whitaker had been shifted to civilian duties in 2016 after incurring an on-duty injury to a hand, went on a four-month leave in 2018 to tend to the litigation with his ex-wife, Michelle Whiteaker, and when he attempted to return to work was told his old job was no longer available.
“We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The court’s aside that Travis could ‘find funds’ cites to its earlier support ruling. There, it characterized Travis’s testimony about his business expenses as lacking clarity, and noted he spent significant time and money on classes, webinars, a personal mentor, as well as on out-of-state travel to view potential properties. The court reasonably interpreted the incongruence and opacity of Travis’s testimony as indicating he could, in fact, bear the burden of a significant sanctions award despite his ostensibly meager income.”
Described as ‘Combative’
The jurist continued:
“Travis does not challenge the basis of the award. The court’s ruling recounts Travis misrepresenting his custody rights, making unfounded allegations of child abuse against Michelle, and criticizing CPS officers who did not agree with those allegations. The court-assigned child custody evaluator described Travis as a ‘combative co-parent’ whose efforts to alienate his daughters from Michelle were ‘about as bad as I have seen.’ Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s decision that Travis frustrated settlement and increased the cost of litigation. The size of the sanctions award, less than half the total requested by Michelle, is commensurate with the pervasive and egregious conduct described by the court.”
The case is Marriage of Whiteaker, B303969.
Representing the ex-husband were Jeffrey Alpert, Dean Asher and Adam Mikaelian of the Encino firm of the Alpert Law Group. John J. Negley Jr. and Michael J. Rutkowski Jr. of Negley Law in Ventura acted for the former wife.
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