For the past 13 years, the divorce case of Kurt and Melissa Ramin has bedeviled all the lawyers and judges it touched.
Five years ago, the state Supreme Court established new remedies to punish Kurt Ramin for his rude, crude contempt for the court system. Ramin v. Ramin remains the landmark for discovery abuse in divorce, and this past summer, its punishments were finally applied.
The ruling allows a judge to award attorney fees to a divorcing party, even if that spouse has the financial means to cover those costs. Resoundingly delivering that remedy, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Linda Munro ordered international accountant Kurt Ramin to pay his wife’s $700,000 legal bill. And in an extraordinarily rare move, Munro granted Melissa Ramin alimony for life, even if she remarries or lives with another partner.
Kurt Ramin himself wasn’t at his second trial this summer, having dodged a $100,000 appearance bond and fled to England with the woman he had married in Las Vegas three days before his first divorce trial. Munro described that bigamous act as “particularly obnoxious” to Melissa Ramin.
In almost every divorce case, alimony ends upon remarriage or co-habitation, but Munro ruled that Melissa Ramin had been put through so much she was entitled to companionship without fear of sacrificing the cushion of $7,500 a month in alimony. Melissa Ramin, wrote Munro, should be able to seek happiness, “no matter where it may be found, without the concern that her necessity for alimony will preclude remarriage, or cohabitation, with lesser resourced individuals not able to support her.”
The wife’s attorney, Thomas P. Parrino of Westport’s Nussbaum & Parrino, said, “I’ve never seen a judge do that in a memorandum decision. I think the judge was trying to compensate Melissa for Kurt’s behavior.”
Rudeness And Stonewalling
The judge specifically found Kurt’s cruel conduct caused the breakdown of the marriage. He had spent lavishly on prostitutes, contracting sexually transmitted diseases, Munro noted. Said Parrino, in one German city that Ramin visited, “we marked into evidence a map of the houses of ill repute on which Kurt had circled his favorite prostitution houses. He was just a bad guy during the marriage, and during the divorce.”
A decade ago, Parrino’s former law partner and co-counsel on the case, Susan Moch, bore the brunt of Ramin’s vulgar rudeness and stonewalling in discovery.
Despite being a sophisticated international accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ramin presented a disc of financial data for discovery that was corrupt and unreadable. He stonewalled in other ways as well. When asked for his credit cards, he threw his wallet at Moch. When asked to remove his hand from his mouth during a deposition so a court reporter could hear, he taunted, “Fine, I’ll put it in my lap, on my penis.”
In 30 years of law practice, said Moch, Kurt Ramin was “the most abusive person I’ve ever dealt with.”
Over a three-year discovery period before Superior Court Judge Kevin Shea, Moch sought five separate discovery orders and won $40,000 in sanctions from Ramin, all the while never receiving any financial documents from him.
Judge Shea, then facing a 200-case backlog he had inherited, complained that the case was the oldest on his docket and ordered it to trial, denying Moch’s final discovery motion. Shea told the attorney she had a “vital core” of information, adding that no one can go to trial with 100 percent preparation anymore.
At the same time, Shea noted that Kurt Ramin “has carried his pattern of deceit right into the courtroom, where, with barely concealed disdain for the legal process, he repeatedly feigned misunderstanding of English” and had selective memory loss.
On appeal, Shea was sharply criticized for his decision to not require Kurt Ramin to comply with discovery motions. State Supreme Court Justice David M. Borden wrote that his refusal to rule on attorney Moch’s motions rewarded Ramin’s intransigent behavior, to Melissa Ramin’s detriment.
Another Connecticut Supreme Court landmark, the 1991 case of Billington v. Billington, requires fiduciary-like honesty between divorcing spouses, which lawyers must try to uphold. And the 1994 benchmark of Grayson v. Wofsey Rosen requires lawyers to exert due diligence in ferreting out divorce assets – or face serious malpractice exposure. Shea’s refusal to keep trying to beat discovery out of Kurt Ramin conflicted with those important principles, Borden ruled.
Tears, Then Disappears
Without question, Kurt Ramin’s contemptuous behavior toward the court system had been bruising for all involved.
After the 2007 appeal ruling, the case went before Stamford Judge Trial Referee Stanley Novack, known for his even temper, for arguments on the fifth discovery motion. Kurt Ramin showed up with his lawyer, Jim Mulvey, of Danbury, who had filed a motion to withdraw.
Characteristically, said Parrino, the Westport attorney for Melissa Ramin, “Kurt refused to answer the questions on the stand. The judge found him in contempt of court, had the marshal put him in cuffs and take him away. He starts to cry. ‘I’ll answer the questions!’ he said.”
Judge Novack re-scheduled the hearing for another day. In the meantime, Ramin fled the country, for England, Germany or Dubai, vowing not to return to Connecticut. He’s kept that promise.
This turned the case into a more complex matter, and it was transferred to the Regional Family Trial Docket — the divorce court headquarters for complex litigation — before Judge Lynda Munro.
Despite Ramin’s financial cleverness, attorney Moch and, later, Parrino managed to pull together documentation of his apartments in Dusseldorf, a farm in Germany, retirement accounts from PriceWaterhouseCooper, and evidence of assets Ramin had liquidated or transferred to girlfriends in England and Germany.
Munro was impressed, calling the effort to document marital assets “herculean.”
Kurt Ramin hired Stamford solo Nicholas Ademucci to represent him in the second divorce trial this past summer, in which the doctrines of the state Supreme Court’s decisions in Ramin v. Ramin were applied. Ademucci acknowledged “It was novel, trying a case without your client ever showing in court.”
Parrino proposed a way to reconstitute the evidence — placing 87 transcripts of the previous trial record and discovery documents into evidence. It required Munro to pore over thousands of pages of transcription. Said Parrino appreciatively, “Judge Munro is a remarkable judge. She didn’t have the benefit of watching the witnesses. She had to read transcripts.”
Munro was steamed that Ramin violated the standing order to “freeze” marital asset movement, siphoning hundreds of thousands from his PriceWaterhouseCooper, capital account and other assets, and stashing them in places like the Isle of Jersey, off the coast of England.
The judge, unconvinced that all Ramin’s assets had been unearthed, awarded Melissa Ramin her $500,000 Westport house, its furnishings, $100,000 a year for the next seven years, and lifetime alimony of $90,000 a year. Munro also took the unusual step of ordering Kurt Ramin’s $1.4 million in retirement accounts held in receivership to assure a reliable source for alimony payments.
The judge had high praise for the efforts expended by attorney Parrino to track down and protect the marital estate. Melissa Ramin’s financial security today “is only the result of conscientious and tenacious representation by her counsel,” Munro wrote. •