Panel Approves $1,000-Per-Day Penalty for Failing to Proffer Proceeds to Former Wife, as Ordered
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Eight of the Court of Appeal for this district has affirmed the imposition of sanctions totaling $70,000 on a recalcitrant party to dissolution of marriage proceedings, $48,000 of that sum being based on a $1,000-a-day penalty for delaying in paying $38,000 to his ex-wife in proceeds from the sale of real property.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner May Santos also ordered the ex-husband, real estate broker Deric Andrew Rangell, to pay his former spouse, Tracey Marie Rangell, $22,000 in attorney fees and costs as a sanction for his conduct.
Presiding Justice Maria E. Stratton wrote the opinion, in which Justices Elizabeth Grimes and John Sheppard Wiley Jr. concurred. Wiley added a concurring opinion containing commentary.
In his opening appellate brief, Deric Rangell contended:
“Throughout the case, Appellant has cooperated with Respondent and her counsel. He has provided the documents that Respondent’s counsel and the Court have asked of him. He has continuously agreed to terms and demonstrated willingness to settle. Substantial evidence does not support the unreasonable amount of sanctions that the trial court ordered.”
Assertion Found Untruthful
“Having reviewed the record in detail, we firmly disagree with Deric,” adding:
“This contention could not be further from the truth.
“The record is replete with evidence demonstrating Deric’s steadfast, continued disregard of the court’s orders and the terms of the parties’ settlement agreement and judgment.”
“The lesson here to Deric is plain: he cannot repeatedly flout the court’s orders for years and expect to get away with it, when his conduct delayed Tracey’s enjoyment of her share of community property and caused her to incur additional attorney fees and costs in enforcing the court’s orders.”
Family Code §271
Santos imposed the sanctions pursuant to Family Code §271 which provides, in subd. (a):
“Section 271, subdivision (a) provides: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, 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. An award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to this section is in the nature of a sanction.”
“In making an award pursuant to this section, the court shall take into consideration all evidence concerning the parties’ incomes, assets, and liabilities. The court shall not impose a sanction pursuant to this section that imposes an unreasonable financial burden on the party against whom the sanction is imposed. In order to obtain an award under this section, the party requesting an award of attorney’s fees and costs is not required to demonstrate any financial need for the award.”
The ex-husand argued in his opening brief that Santos failed to consider the “unreasonable financial burden” on him “in its decision to demand $1,000 per day for, conceivably, an indefinite period.”
The period was not indefinite, Stratton said but, rather, was for a defined period: for so long as Deric Rangell withheld the funds.
“That Deric refused to obey the court’s orders for 48 days (not to mention, the preceding two years) resulting in $48,000 in sanctions, is no fault of anyone but Deric,” she pointed out.
Both parties filed supplemental briefs in response to five questions posed by the court. One question was whether the $48,000 sanction is authorized by §271.
Deric Rangell cited the 2016 Court of Appeal decision by the First District’s Div. Five in Sagonowsky v. Kekoa for the proposition that sanctions under §271 must have a link to the opposing party’s attorney fees. He protested that the $48,000 award—more than twice what his ex-wife had stated to be fees she had incurred—“is clearly not in relation, and is quite beyond the scope of fees and costs.”
Wiley addressed that contention in his concurring opinion, saying:
“Both portions of these sanctions had a proper connection to attorney fees. The $22,000 sum was to compensate Tracey Rangell for her past attorney fees. And the $1,000-a-day incentive sanction sought to avoid the need for future attorney fees.”
“This $l,000-a-day incentive sanction properly aimed to stanch future bleeding. A reasonable person would have noted the incentive, obeyed the order, and eliminated the need for more attorney hours and fees on this issue. The family court selected a reasonable daily penalty to motivate Deric Rangell to comply with its orders and to avoid future hearings and fees. The amount was appropriate: noticeable but not crushing.
“But Deric Rangell proved immune to logic and ran up the bill.
“This daily prospective penalty properly counted as an award of ‘attorney fees’: the conditional $l,000-a-day penalty created an appropriate incentive for Deric Rangell to stop prolonging the case. The penalty aimed to suppress the mischief and to advance the remedy.”
The jurist commented:
“Our ruling is important, not only to litigants and trial courts, but also to the public at large, which has an abiding interest in effective judicial administration. The public rues the glacial pace and dismaying cost of litigation. When musing about suicide, Hamlet counts ‘the law’s delay’ among the ‘whips and scorns of time.’ Bleak House jeers at litigation that ‘so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart’ that wise counsel is to ‘Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!’
“Section 271 empowers family courts to cope with the recalcitrance of litigants like Deric Rangell. For future litigants, the lesson is simple: defying court orders is a losing proposition.”
The case is Marriage of Rangell, 2023 S.O.S. 3609.
Deric Rangell was represented by the Appellate Law Firm in the Los Angeles’s mid-Wilshire area. Berangere Allen-Blaine started out as his lawyer but was replaced by Aaron Myers when Allen-Blaine left the firm. Pasadena attorney Michael V. Severo acted for Tracey Rangell.
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