Monday, November 4, 2013

CG LLP Newsletter Fall 2013

Welcome to the Fall 2013 edition of our newsletter.

Cooper-Gordon LLP is maintaining its robust practice, specializing in the areas of Family Law, Estate Planning, Estate and Trust Administration and Estate and Trust Litigation. So far this year has been filled with a number of interesting family law and estate administration cases, some going to trial, and some settling. In particular, the attorneys at Cooper-Gordon LLP have been involved in some interstate dissolution matters as well as several family law-estate litigation crossover cases in which dissolutions and a Party’s estate become intertwined in often convoluted ways.

Whether your case is complex or simple, at Cooper-Gordon LLP, each client and matter has the benefit of the Partners’ combined sixty years of experience along with the associates’ attention and cost-effectiveness.

In addition to their practice in Southern California, Cooper-Gordon LLP founding partners Avery and Frieda have been operating a satellite office in the Central Coast area. Avery and Frieda welcome new clients from Paso Robles in the North County through all of San Luis Obispo County, in addition to their clients from Santa Barbara County as well as all points south to the Mexican Border. If you wish to set up an appointment in San Luis Obispo County, please contact them at 1-800-561-6322 to set up an initial consultation.


Christine Donald, our trusted and longest serving employee, continues to interface with new clients, assist the attorneys with their litigation and transactional practices and generally keeps the office running smoothly and efficiently. In addition to her busy work life, Christine has had an exciting year, peppered with bicycle races all over the state, wine tasting along the central coast, and she plans to take a trip to Michigan this season to see friends and family. We are thankful for her continuous hard work and dedication to the practice.


Yana Rozovskaya, our paralegal who works primarily for Frieda, continues to be a substantial asset to the firm, as she is the first contact with clients and potential clients, sets all of the appointments and prepares much of the forms, transmittals and other documents for the attorneys who handle Frieda’s case load as well as for their own case loads. Recently, Yana traveled with her son to Montreal, Canada, for a wedding. When not busy assisting the attorneys at Cooper-Gordon, Yana enjoys taking her dogs, Tyson and Daisy to a local park near her house.


Avery, has been busy with various matters including estate planning, estate and trust administration and family law matters. Avery was also recently nominated to serve on the board of the Family Law Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Despite Avery’s substantial caseload and additional commitments, he consistently assures that his clients’ needs are met. Communication is key and Avery strives to keep his clients informed regarding the status of their cases. In his spare time, Avery enjoys spending time with his yellow Labrador, Mickey, playing basketball, bicycle riding and collecting and consuming fine wines. He has also been busy with his book club and co-chairing a wine club. Additionally, he travels back and forth to his Central Coast home and office and this year, after a hiatus of several years, was able to go back to Europe for a wonderful vacation in Germany and the Czech Republic.


Frieda has been busy managing the firm as well as her own her case load. The attorneys here keep long hours, but also find the time to meet their personal needs, including spending time with family and maintaining active lifestyles. This balance gives the attorneys an opportunity to recharge and be at their best when it comes to taking care of their clients. When it comes to work-life balance, Managing and Founding Party, Frieda, is no exception. In her spare time, Frieda shares most of Avery’s extracurricular pursuits. In addition, she enjoys playing with her 5 year old granddaughter, caring for her 89 year old mother and spending time with her two lovely and talented daughters. Frieda also enjoys gardening, yoga, knitting, studying languages and photography and playing and listening to classical music. Most of all, she enjoys hiking along the Central Coast of California with her dog Mickey.
Avery and Frieda recently took a trip to Berlin and Cologne, Germany and Prague and Czeny Krimlov (pictured below) in the Czech Republic. While there, they had many remarkable experiences, including visiting many museums which provided them with a great deal of historical education, eating in some of the great restaurants of the world, drinking excellent wines and beers, meeting the lovely people of the region and walking all over the cities they visited. Frieda has authored an article on some important advice when preparing, updating and safeguarding Advance Health Care Directives, which is set forth in a separate blog.


In her spare time, our Senior Associate, Katherine Su O’Connor, spends time with her French Bulldogs, Sarge and Lola. She has also been busy moving into and decorating a new home and spending time with family. Over the summer, she traveled to Massachusetts and Upstate New York for a long overdue visit with her in-laws and visited with other extended family in Utah. She has tried to stay active as well, running her tenth half-marathon in April, finishing ninth in her division, and hiking the Subway and Angels Landing trails in Utah’s Zion National Park. She and her husband Brian are expecting their first child in early December. Katherine has been busy assisting with the preparation of a number of estate plans, starting new divorce matters and handling several complicated Probate litigation cases. She has written an article which is set forth below.

The Marriage of Green: Are Funds Used to Purchase Premarital Retirement Credits and the Benefit from that Purchase Community Property?

Some fortunate employees are given the option of purchasing additional retirement credits for years of service rendered to another employer. The added retirement benefits for exercising such options are oftentimes far more substantial than the cost of purchasing the additional credits, and thus, is a very appealing offer for many employees.

However, when people divorce, they may be surprised as to what their rights are when they or their spouses have exercised this valuable right. The Marriage of Green case which dealt with this issue was decided this year. The Marriage of Green provides that retirement credits attributable to employment by a spouse prior to marriage are that spouse’s separate property, and remain that spouse’s separate property even if community funds are used to purchase those additional years of service. In such case, the community may be entitled to reimbursement only for the funds used to purchase the retirement credits and the community is not entitled to any interest in the actual added benefit of the purchase. In Marriage of Green, Husband served in the military prior to his marriage. At the time he married Wife, Husband was employed as a firefighter and participated in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) Plan. Husband was given the option of purchasing an additional four years’ retirement credits in his CalPERS Plan for his years of military service rendered prior to marriage. After Husband married Wife, Husband chose to exercise his option of purchasing four years’ of additional retirement credits for his premarital military service, choosing to pay for the purchase of the credits via an installment plan, under which twice monthly payroll deductions were made from Husband’s paycheck. At the time the Parties separated, $11,462.56 of community funds had been used to pay for the purchase of the premarital retirement credits. The added value to Husband’s CalPERS Plan of the additional retirement credits far outweighed the cost of purchasing the credit. At trial, the court held that the purchased service credit was Husband’s separate property, found that the community was entitled only to reimbursement for its payments towards the acquisition of the service credits, and ordered Husband to pay Wife one-half of the community funds used for the purchase, plus 6% interest. The community was not otherwise given any interest in the four years of additional service purchased by Husband. Wife successfully appealed and the Court of Appeal concluded that “because the military service credit was purchased with community funds during the parties’ marriage, it was community property.” 

Thus, it determined that Wife was entitled to one-half of the increased benefit resulting from the purchase of the four years of additional retirement credit. Thereafter, Husband appealed and the California Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Husband and the trial court and reversed the Court of Appeal. 

The California Supreme Court reiterated the principal that whether pension and retirement benefits are characterized as separate property or community property is determined in accordance with the employee spouse’s marital status at the time the services are rendered. Thus, despite the fact that the four years’ worth of additional service were purchased partly with community funds and were purchased during the marriage, the Court found that the four years’ worth of purchased retirement credit for Husband’s premarital military service was entirely Husband’s separate property. The Court then went on to find that the trial court had properly exercised its discretion in limiting the community to reimbursement only for its contributions towards the purchase of the retirement credit, plus interest. The community (and Wife) were not entitled to any of the increased benefits attributable to the four years of additional service credit purchased with community funds.


When not working on dissolution of marriage or probate cases, associate Drorit Bick Raiter has been spending time with her husband, Shay, their toddler, Naveh and their dog, Boston (a.k.a. Bobo). This summer, they enjoyed hiking in Solstice Canyon and Runyon Canyon, spending time with relatives visiting from Israel (many of whom were meeting Naveh for the first time), and traveling to Henderson, California, to visit with cousins. Drorit has been drawing on her experience volunteering at the domestic violence clinic in the Santa Monica courthouse in several new cases brought to the firm which, sadly, involve domestic violence allegations.  Drorit writes: 
It is clear that there are cases of real domestic violence and abuse that require protective orders. However, unfortunately, protective orders are sometimes being used for litigation purposes, rather than real protection. It is an economic strain on the Courts and law enforcement officials, both entities which are already suffering from economic cut-backs, to be forced to issue and enforce restraining orders that have been sought under false pretenses and for less than honest purposes. In more and more cases, Parties to a dissolution of marriage action abuse the restraining order process in order to try to obtain some sort of leverage in their divorce. Although the bar for granting Temporary Restraining Orders is often quite low, a low bar makes good public policy sense: the Court has not had a full Hearing on the matter and the alleged abuser is ostensibly “only” losing his right to be free from restraining orders for a period of 21 days, at the most. However, upon a full Hearing on this matter, the Petitioner must be held to a higher standard of proof. Specifically, the Petitioner must show that there exists reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse, with corroborating evidence.

Additionally, Drorit has recently authored an article about the level of mental capacity needed to obtain a dissolution of the marriage. Her article is set forth below.

The Capacity To Divorce: How “With It” Do You Need to Be to Get Divorced?
This past summer, in the case of In re Marriage of Greenway (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 628, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s decision which held that the level of capacity required to end one's marriage is, much like the capacity required to start one’s marriage, subject to a relatively low bar. In Greenway, Joann Greenway appealed the Trial Court’s ruling which found that her husband, Lyle Greenway, was mentally capable of filing for divorce. The Parties had been married for 48 years and Lyle was 76 at the time, and in poor health. 
Nevertheless, Lyle filed legal separation from Joann based on irreconcilable differences. Joann objected to ending the marriage or dividing the marital estate valued at several million dollars. She argued that Lyle was not mentally competent to maintain a dissolution of marriage action. After reviewing written arguments and hearing testimony from the Parties, their three adult children, and four healthcare professionals who had evaluated Lyle’s mental state, the Trial Court concluded that Lyle was mentally capable of making a reasoned decision to end his marriage and granted his request for status-only dissolution.
In her appeal, Joann argued, inter alia, that the evidence of Lyle’s capacity to enter into a dissolution of marriage was insufficient to support the Trial Court’s ruling. In making its decision, the Court of Appeal pointed out, “The experts all agree that Lyle...has [at least some level of] dementia. The question is, however, not whether Lyle has dementia, but whether his impairment is such that he no longer has the capability of making a reasoned decision to end his marriage.”
The Court of Appeals observed that the determination of a person’s mental capacity is fact specific and must be measured on a sliding scale depending on the issue at hand. On the high end of the scale is the mental capacity required to enter contracts, followed by testamentary capacity, and, at the low end of the scale, marital capacity. Id at 637. The Court of Appeals noted that there is a “...large body of case authority reflecting an extremely low level of mental capacity needed before making the decision to marry or execute a will.” 

Although marriage arises out of a civil contract, case law has recognized that marriage is, “...a special kind of contract that does not require the same level of mental capacity of the parties as other kinds of contracts…” Id at 640. Further, the Court of Appeal points out that, “...even a person under a conservatorship, who is generally without contractual power, may be deemed to have marital capacity.” Id at 640 (citing Prob. Code § 1900). Likewise, the Court of Appeals also pointed at that Probate Code § 810 provides that there is a, “...rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of proof that all persons have the capacity to make decisions and to be responsible for their acts or decisions."
Thus, the burden of proof required to determine that a person lacks the capacity to marry or dissolve their marriage, is quite high. Greenway has taken the holding in Andersen v. Hunt, 196 Cal. App. 4th 722 (2011) one step further. In Anderson, the Court held that the standard of capacity to marry cannot simply be a set of facts that are plugged into a route equation, and that in evaluating mental capacity to marry, a Court should evaluate the person's ability to "appreciate the consequences of the particular act he or she wishes to take." The Greenway case takes this reasoning and applies it to the standard of capacity required to dissolve ones marriage, as well.
Greenway is an important case because it highlights the fact that the right to marry is an important fundamental right which the Courts aim to protect. This case underscores the concept that the capacity required to make the decision to divorce must be, like the capacity required to make the decision to marry, held to a very low standard. The Courts and the legislature have again and again upheld the notion that proving incapacity to marry, and now incapacity to divorce, must be explicitly proven.


Our associate, Erin Louria Zivic found time to travel last summer with her husband and sister-in-law to Costa Rica to volunteer with Globe Aware, an organization that serves various factions of local communities throughout the world. While in the Orosi Valley of Costa Rica, Erin and her family helped revitalize a local elementary school by planting a butterfly garden and medicinal plant garden, worked with a local ecological society to build worm boxes for composting, and harvested produce on a women-run organic farm. Erin was nominated as Globe Aware’s Volunteer of the Month in August.

Erin has also been busy with her Family Law, Estate Planning and Administration caseload. She has been working on a number of interesting Estate Litigation and Family Law matters. 

Specifically, Erin has been involved in a Post-Judgment family law matter in which one Party has accused the other of breaching a fiduciary duty and is thus seeking to be compensated for same. While that case was pending, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion in the recent case, Leslie v. Georgiou, which dealt precisely with the issue of fiduciary duties following a Judgment of dissolution. Erin has written a brief article on that case which is set forth below.

The Marriage of Georgiou v. Leslie: A Review of the Applicability of Family Code § 1101 (Breach of Fiduciary Duty) to post-Judgment Dissolution Proceedings

In the recent case of The Marriage of Georgiou v. Leslie, Leslie appealed the Family Court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of Georgiou and determination that, once a judgment in a dissolution of marriage has already been entered, a party could not later bring an action against the other party under Family Code § 1101 for breach of a fiduciary duty when the parties litigated the particular issue in question and the judgment fully adjudicated the asset.

On appeal the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, found that Family Code § 1101 for breach of a fiduciary duty did not authorize Leslie’s action because the issue which she was litigating had already been fully litigated and adjudicated. The Court further found that Leslie could have sought relief under a different statute, but that statute of limitations passed and thus any such action would be untimely.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the Family Court Order. Byron Georgiou and Maria Leslie married in 1985 and separated in 2003 and Byron filed for dissolution that same year. Byron is an attorney and in 2000, prior to the parties’ separation, he became “of counsel” at a law firm. In that position, in 2002, Byron secured a client for the firm and became entitled to a 10 percent referral fee in a class action litigation lawsuit. In a contingency fee agreement between the firm and the lead plaintiff, the agreement provided that attorneys’ fees would be between 8-10 percent of the recovery.

In 2005, the marital status was terminated in a bifurcated Judgment. In 2007, two years after the marital status was terminated, Byron and Maria entered a marital settlement agreement (“MSA”). Maria knew about Byron’s contingency fee agreement with his firm and the lead plaintiff. Maria also knew that the firm recovered approximately $7.2 billion in settlement and she had received a copy of the fee agreement from Byron. Maria had deposed a partner at Byron’s firm regarding the contingency fee agreement. She also learned through Byron’s settlement conference brief that Byron’s referral fee could be between $9 million and $33 million. She was also aware that the firm intended to seek fees in excess of $330 million and that Byron intended to “vigorously argue” that he was entitled to a 10 percent fee. The MSA divided the referral fee unevenly, with Maria receiving 10% of the fee, in exchange for $7 million in other assets including the family home, among other assets, which was Byron’s separate property. Byron received 90% of the fee, life insurance policies, loan receivables, business interests and significant debt.

The MSA was incorporated in a judgment of dissolution which was entered on December 12, 2007. In 2008, the federal district court granted Byron’s firm’s fee request, awarding the firm $688 million in fees. That same month, Byron negotiated a 9 percent referral fee with his firm and paid Marie $4 million for her 10 percent share of the fee. Maria realized that Byron was entitled to a fee larger than she originally anticipated, i.e. over $33 million dollars. She later learned that she was entitled to an additional $1.56 million based upon her award of 10 percent of Byron’s actual recovery, which was approximately $62 million. Three years following the MSA, on December 13, 2010, Maria filed an action under Family Code § 1101 for Byron’s breach of his fiduciary duty of disclosure. She alleged that Byron led her to believe he would receive between $9 million and $33 million, that he did not provide her with a copy of the fee agreement with the firm’s client and that he fabricated or exaggerated a dispute he had with the firm regarding the fee. She argued that if she knew the terms of the fee arrangement, she would have been able to calculate the fee. Maria sought either one-half or 100 percent of Byron’s referral fee based on his alleged breach. In response, Byron moved for summary adjudication, arguing that Maria’s action was not timely. On its own accord, the Court found that Maria could not seek relief for breach of a fiduciary duty under Family Code § 1101 because such relief “is not legally available in a post-marital dissolution judgment action.” 

Instead, the Court found that relief could be sought under Family Code § 1101 either, “(1) during an intact marriage; (2) in conjunction with a dissolution proceeding; or (3) after the death of a spouse.” The Court reasoned that spouses have a fiduciary duty to each other during the marriage. As stated in Family Code § 721, “in transactions between themselves, a husband and wife are subject to the general rules governing fiduciary relationships which control the actions of persons occupying confidential relations with each other. This confidential relationship imposes a duty of the highest good faith and fair dealing on each spouse, and neither shall take any unfair advantage of the other.” Additionally, Family Code § 1100 provides, “ Each spouse shall act with respect to the other spouse in the management and control of the community assets and liabilities in accordance with the general rules governing fiduciary relationships . . .” This duty extends throughout the dissolution of marriage up to and including the distribution of the community and quasi-community property. Each Party’s duty extends through preparing and serving of a Final Declaration of Disclosure which contains “all material facts and information regarding the valuation of all assets that are contended to be community property.” (Family Code § 2105, subd. (b)(2).) 

Each spouse’s fiduciary duty includes updating and supplementing that disclosure if there have been any material changes. Because Maria filed a post-Judgment action in this case, there was no longer (1) an intact marriage, (2) a current dissolution proceeding between the Parties, and (3) no spouse passed away. Therefore, Maria could not file for relief under Family Code § 1101. Maria could have sought relief under Code of Civil Procedure § 473 to set aside the Judgment based on mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

Additionally, Family Code § 2122 provides relief under limited circumstances, including actual fraud, perjury, duress, mental incapacity, mistake (in stipulated or uncontested judgments), and failure to comply with the disclosure requirements. In the instant case, although Maria may have sought relief based on the failure to comply with disclosure requirements, she did not timely bring her action. The statute of limitations is one year from the Party’s date of actual or implied discovery of the failure to comply. In September of 2008, Maria discovered the amount of Byron’s referral fee, yet she did not file her action until December of 2010.

The purpose of having Statutes of Limitation is to promote California’s strong public policy of assuring finality of Judgments within a reasonable time. The Court of Appeal found that in the instant case, Byron disclosed the asset, it was a substantial issue in the negotiations for the MSA and the Judgment fully adjudicated the issue. The Court further found that it was not required to determine whether section 1101 never authorizes a post judgment action for breach of fiduciary duty. Instead, it found that it did not apply in this case where the issue was fully litigated and determined. 

The Court further stated that Maria “cannot take the benefits of the judgment and also obtain 50 percent or 100 percent of the referral fee.” To do so would ignore the policy in favor of protecting the finality of Judgments. Since Maria’s only remedy was under Family Code § 2122 and she did not timely file an action, the Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter and summary adjudication was proper.


We thank all of you for your generous referrals throughout the past year. 

If you have questions or comments about any of the news provided here or about anything related to family law and/or probate and estates, please send us an email, call or blog us and we will respond right back. 

As always, it is a pleasure to serve our community.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Quite often we represent someone who does not have close family or friends to make medical decisions on their behalf if they cannot speak for themselves. We see clients who have neither siblings nor children who, once informed about the possibility of such, may wish to hire a professional fiduciary to take on this daunting but crucial responsibility. This is, in fact, what we arrange for these clients to do.  We have very caring and competent professional fiduciaries prepared to assist in such situations, if and when the time comes.  Usually they also are appointed conservator and trustee to be able to handle the estate smoothly and seamlessly.
Clients would much rather pay a professional, with whom they get to know, to make these types of decisions. That way the client has an objective decision-maker working for him or her, based upon the priorities previously discussed prior to any incapacitation.
Sometimes a friend will agree to be the decision-maker, but they are often about the same age. If the client dies within five years or so, that may be alright. But after that, what will happen? With people living longer and families having fewer children, this may become a growing issue.
A 2006 study reported that 16 percent of people in intensive care units have no designated decision-maker and no identifiable family who could fill that role. [New York Times, October 24, 2013, Paula Span, “Hiring an End-of-Life Enforcer.”] Some geriatric social workers are proposing a new type of professional, the healthcare fiduciary. Drawn primarily from retired social workers or nurses, clergy, or paralegals, they would be trained and certified to navigate the health care system. Fiduciaries are often associated with law firms which specialize in estate planning and/or elder law. They would charge perhaps close to $100 an hour, much less than an attorney or even most geriatric care managers would charge.
Fiduciaries are often a desirable option even for people who have relatives close by. Maybe they do not want to burden their close friends or family members. Maybe they worry about how to pick one child over another to make such important decisions.  Maybe they are estranged from their relatives. Maybe they worry that in a crisis, relatives will not be able or willing to honor their instructions. Maybe it is just too hard to deal with the whole subject. After all, sadly, despite being told over and over again to prepare for the future and create advance health care directives, most people still do not.
On another point relative to this issue, I have read that health care professionals very often encounter the frustration of a patient declaring that, yes, he or she does have a signed AHCD, but, no, the patient does not have it with him or her and cannot remember where the copy is.  Sometimes the original is locked up in the safe deposit box along with the will.  [New York Times, October 17, 2013, Paula Span, “Where’s That Advance Health Care Directive?”] What if the patient arrives at the ER unconscious or incoherent? By the time family members are contacted and able to locate and produce the document, it may very well be too late. I read a funny/sad story about a 67-year-old man who came in to the emergency room with pneumonia. He, too, had an advance directive, which was stored at his attorney’s office.  The Patient Ombudsman at the hospital tried to get in touch with his lawyer.  However the firm could not fax a copy of the directive, because the man’s lawyer carried it around with him in a briefcase in his car and he was out taking a deposition. Hours passed before the lawyer could return the call, and even then he was on the road and not near a fax machine. I cannot presume to know what possessed that lawyer to keep originals of anything belonging to a client in his briefcase; but I do know that would never happen at Cooper-Gordon.
We at Cooper-Gordon LLP do not keep original documents in our office. They go home in a nice notebook with the clients. We scan all original documents and provide our clients and any professional fiduciaries with the scanned copies. We tell the clients to forward the scanned documents to all named agents, trustees, executors and conservators. It is always essential that all primary health care providers, including doctors (cardiologists, neurologists), hospitals, clinics, medical labs and imaging centers, have copies of the AHCD.  It seems evident that the time has come to also encourage everyone to carry a thumb drive with these important documents on them. Even those with little computer knowledge can ask someone (including the lawyer who has prepared all the documents) to copy the documents onto the flash drive.
Most of the time, patients who have advance directives somewhere and do not bring them to the hospital have simply left them at home. But lawyers’ offices and safe deposit boxes are also popular locations. All of which are useless if a person cannot direct his own care, or if family members are at odds, or they are spending time the patient usually does not have rummaging through drawers and files looking for the paperwork while the ER staff stands by.
The more copies there are in circulation, the better the odds that one will materialize at the hospital when you need it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Although the news that Los Angeles County will be eliminating more than 500 jobs tomorrow, June 14, 2013 should come as no shock to anyone who has been keeping up with the news about the budget cuts to the court systems across the State of California, the fact that over 900 jobs have been lost, cut back to part-time or reassigned just in L.A. County over the past year is just outrageous.

Branson-Potts' article in the L.A. Times this week gives the problem focus.  In particular, family law and probate litigants will be finding the already difficult scene of trying to get a critical matter heard, resolve a crisis, take care of our children, find money to pay the bills, etc., simply appalling. For the attorneys, this ongoing problem merely underlines the difficulties and unpleasantness that colors our already dismal practice of family law and probate in Los Angeles County. What ever lies ahead will be for the new generation of lawyers to implement and make their own.  I hope they will come up with a way to bear the burden that does not burn them out and create unnecessary stress in their lives. For people like me, in practice over 30 years, we are in a holding pattern trying to survive the storm, help our clients find alternatives to litigation, assist the judicial officers in their overwhelming position of impossibility by helping them to steer a straighter course for the benefit of the humanity that comes before them every day.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court plans to eliminate more than 500 jobs by the end of the week in a sweeping cost-cutting plan to close a projected $85-million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.

On Friday, layoff notices will be hand-delivered to employees as 511 court positions are eliminated. While some positions will simply go unfilled, 177 people will lose their jobs, court officials announced Tuesday.

An additional 139 people will receive demotions and pay cuts, and 223 people will be transferred to new work locations, officials said.

Including this round of cuts, the court has lost nearly 900 employees since 2008, according to Mary Hearn, a court spokeswoman.

The courts are funded by the state, which has slashed funding in recent years, leading to court closures, higher court fees and longer waits for cases to be heard.

The governor agreed this week, as part of a deal with legislators, to restore $63 million to the courts in the budget that will take effect July 1.

But the additional funds -- of which L.A. County should receive about a third -- will not stop the cuts in L.A. County Superior Court, said David Wesley, the presiding judge.

"We are glad that restoration of trial court funding has begun," Wesley said in a statement. "But it is a shame that it is too little, too late, to stop the awful reductions in access to justice that state funding cuts have brought."

For years, the Los Angeles County court system prided itself on providing full-service "neighborhood courts" across the county, Wesley said. But, he said, the budget cuts mean the system simply does not have the resources to continue to provide the same level of services.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Survive Family Law and Probate After the Budget Plague

Come summertime, 2013, all I can say is woe to the poor litigant trying to get something accomplished either in family law or probate court. And woe to the poor attorney who will be trying to get paid for time spent sitting around the courthouse, waiting months to get heard, having to redo, revise and relearn what was previously readied for court and set aside for yet another continuance.  Woe to the family, especially the little ones, having to live in a dysfunctional environment months, if not years, after the issues should have been resolved.  Woe to the widow or children of the deceased trying to move on and learn to live without their loved one.  Woe to the people who have too much in income or assets to qualify for any type of assistance and not enough money to warrant handling their case as it deserves to be handled, by competent, professional and decent attorneys who charge commensurate with their expertise.

By the end of June, the courts will have 350 fewer employees and 56 fewer courtrooms, which officials said will slow down the resolution of criminal, civil, family court and juvenile delinquency cases. The courts will also stop providing court reporters for civil trials and pare back their use in motions hearings, officials said, meaning litigants will have to hire their own transcribers if they want to record testimony. Never before has a budget crisis dealt so crippling a blow to our court.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court says it will have to eliminate at least 511 jobs by late June as part of a sweeping effort to cut its budget by $85 million.  With those cuts, the nation's largest trial court system will have lost 24 percent of its employees over the last four years. Officials say state funding cuts over the last several years has forced the court to reduce its annual spending by $110 million.  The court has also closed eight regional courthouses and eliminated its alternative dispute center, which provides arbitration, mediation and settlement conference as an option to litigation.   These cuts will result in long lines and travel distances that will no doubt deter people from seeking and getting the justice they deserve.  Many of the elderly and infirm will be unable to travel.  This has spawned a lawsuit filed on behalf of court patrons seeks to prevent the cuts, saying they will negatively affect disable people who need court services. Those who have to travel prohibitively far distances are part of this lawsuit.

As of this writing, the Probate Department, which handles conservatorships, guardianships, will contests, trust contests as well as run of the mill will probates, does not quite have a handle on what it is going to do come June 1st.  The probate departments of all of the 8 branch courts handling probate matters will be closed.  Those judges will be reassigned and in their place will be 3 other commissioners and/or less experienced judges from the branch courts, none of whom have had any experience with probate matters, who will be herded downtown to rotate use of one courtroom and one set of staff.

The Family Law Department has already lost the majority of its seasoned judicial officers, who have been replaced with judges totally lacking in ANY experience, much less expertise, in the very complicated, difficult and emotionally taxing mine field that is family law. Furthermore, these judicial officers, like many before them, really have no basic interest or patience in helping family law litigants through the most difficult time of their lives.

Luckily, the Probate Department is filled with the former stars of the Family Law Department who survived not only still liking what they did, but went on to create excellent templates in their probate courtroom for the newbie judges to model their own courtrooms after.

Litigants as well as their attorneys are beginning to realize that the court closures and budget cuts will be a windfall for the private judges who can attend handily to the needs of the well-healed and well-situated clients.  Private judging is not right for everyone and, clearly, with this disastrous financial crisis, the two-tiered system of justice has made itself indispensable for some and a nightmare for everyone else.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Aging America: Elder abuse on the rise

This is a very important and upsetting expose of the growing violence and other abuse against our elders. Having appropriate resources in our communities, education for the families of aging relatives and access to them for the victims of elder abuse should be one of our nation's priorities.
Aging America: Elder abuse on the rise

Monday, January 14, 2013

How The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 May Effect You

On January 1, 2013, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”) in an effort to stave off increased taxes that were required to take place at the beginning of 2013 under previously enacted laws. Below is a brief overview of the major issues dealt with in ATRA for your consideration along with other estate planning strategies.

Unified Estate and Gift Tax Exclusions

             Federal Estate Tax Exclusion

The Estate Tax Exclusion amount will remain at $5.120 million, with adjustments for inflation, as set forth in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 and extended in ATRA. In 2012, the inflation adjustment resulted in an Exclusion Amount of $5.120 million. Therefore there is no federal estate tax on estates that amount to less than $5.120 million.

             Lifetime Gift Exclusion

The Lifetime Gift Exclusion is tied to the Estate Tax Exclusion of $5.120 million, with adjustments for inflation. The estate of an individual who made a gift of $2 million during his or her life time (and filed the required gift tax return), will not be taxed on that amount.

            Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

The Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (where a decedent has skipped a generation in making a gift to a family member, such as giving a portion or all of his estate directly to the grandchild or grandchildren and “skipping” his child or children) the exemption also is tied to the tax on estates and lifetime gifts; and thus has also been made permanent at $5.120 million, to be adjusted for inflation.

            Tax Rate Above the Exempt Amount

The Federal Estate Tax is the tax on the amount of an individual’s or married couple’s estate that is in excess of the exclusion amount. Under ATRA, the Federal Estate Tax rate has increased from 35% to 40%. This means that for all estates in excess of the exclusion amount referenced above, an estate over that limit will now be taxed at a rate of 40%.

           Annual Gift Tax Exemption

The Annual Gift Tax Exclusion amount increased from $13,000 to $14,000 under ATRA. This law provides that an individual may make annual gifts to an unlimited number of persons in an amount of up to $14,000 per year tax-free. Tax on these annual gifts will thus be avoided as long as a gift of no more than $14,000 is made from one individual to any other individual in one calendar year. For example, if a married couple has two children, and four grandchildren, the husband and wife have the right to each give $14,000 to each child and/or grandchild, tax-free.

           Marital Deduction

The “Marital Deduction” refers to marital assets that pass from one spouse to the other spouse tax-free following the death of the first spouse. For all United States citizens, the amount that can pass from one spouse to the other at death is unlimited. This tax law remains unchanged under the new legislation.

          Highest Marginal Income Tax Rate

The previous tax brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28% and 33% are permanently extended through ATRA. The existing 35% bracket is limited to a minimum of $400,000 in income at or for single filers. ATRA provides for a new 39.6% bracket, which will apply to those with income at or in excess of the following amounts:

Married Filing Jointly:             $450,000 of taxable income

Qualifying Widow(er):            $450,000 of taxable income

Head of Household:                $425,000 of taxable income

Single:                                       $400,000 of taxable income

Married Filing Separately:     $225,000 of taxable income

Charitable Deductions

The charitable deduction rate is linked to an individual or married couple’s highest tax rate. For example, if an individual or married couple’s earnings are taxed at the rate of 33% , the deduction value of a charitable donation for that family is equal to the same rate of 33%. The deduction, however, has been capped at 35%, even for families who are taxed at the higher rate of 39.6%.

Itemized Deductions

As a result of the new legislation, individuals with income in excess of $250,000 and married couples with income in excess of $300,000, will see a reduction of 3% on the value of itemized deductions.

Tax on Dividends and Capital Gains

The tax on capital gains and qualified dividends will now increase from 15% to 20% for gains or receipts for those filers that fall in the new 39.6% tax bracket. ATRA permanently retains the 0% and 15% rates on qualified dividends and long term capital gains for other tax brackets.

IRA Charitable Rollovers

An IRA Charitable Rollover allows a donor to take an income tax deduction when s/he withdraws funds from a traditional IRA and donates those funds to a charity. Generally, when an individual makes a withdrawal from a traditional IRA, the withdrawal must be reported as ordinary income and taxed accordingly. However, when the withdrawn funds are donated to a charity, the individual may be entitled to an income tax deduction for the value of the donation.

This “IRA Charitable Rollover” allowance was set to expire in 2012. However, as a result of the new legislation, the charitable rollover has now been extended for 2 years, commencing with 2012. Additionally, charitable rollovers can still be made in January 2013 for the 2012 year.

For individuals who were required to take mandatory distributions for December 2012 as a result of the extension of the rollover, the distribution can still be donated to a qualified charity in January 2013 in order for the taxpayer making the distribution to avoid taxation.

Temporary Suspension of Payroll Tax not Extended

Prior legislation temporarily suspended a portion of the payroll tax and that suspension expired in 2012. The suspension was not extended under the new legislation and now, as a result, payroll taxes will rise 2% for most wage earners earning less than approximately $110,000.

No One is Falling Off the Fiscal Cliff!

There are still a number of spending issues to be ironed out between Congress and President Obama. In particular, they will be working to extend the debt ceiling so government can pay its bills on time and keep our standing in the world community intact. They are also looking for ways to cut spending in a fiscally, as well as socially responsible way. Much of the “fiscal cliff” panic created in part by certain lawmakers and in part by an over-zealous media was not necessary before and is certainly not necessary now. If you are in touch with your tax planning professional on a regular basis and keep your estate plan updated every three-five years, you should have no need to worry. If you would like to discuss how the new law will impact you, please contact either Frieda Gordon or Avery Cooper, who have over sixty years of combined experience in the areas of estate planning and estate and trust administration and litigation.