A New Jersey appeals court has put some gloss on a rule that lets judges dun parties who fail to appear, calling a $25,318 sanction for missing a day in court “a mistaken exercise of discretion.”

While a party’s willful nonappearance in a matrimonial case made her subject to Rule 1:2-4(a), which includes a counsel fee award in its list of available sanctions, the tab in this case was too steep, the judges said in Welch v. Welch, A-1541-09. In fact, it was almost half of what the other side’s counsel sought for its work over a 22-month period.

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