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The arrangements had been made, and Barry Bonds — then a 23-year-old minor league baseball slugger — was ready to tie the knot in Las Vegas. Family was arriving for the ceremony, and Barry’s godfather, Willie Mays, had even booked the hotel rooms. Just one more thing needed to be done before the ceremony could commence, and it had to be handled on the way to the airport — get the prenup signed. Today, the Giants left fielder is scheduled to be in the lineup against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., but his lawyers will likely face tougher pitching in downtown Los Angeles, where they will urge the California Supreme Court to enforce his premarital contract. In a case watched closely by family lawyers — as well as a malpractice insurer — the justices must decide whether Sun Bonds, Barry’s former wife, “voluntarily” signed the prenuptial agreement a day before she was scheduled to walk down the aisle. The court must also decide whether a 1st District Court of Appeal majority overstepped its bounds when, dissolving the contract, it held that trial courts must “strictly scrutinize” prenups when one party is without legal representation. Marriage of Bonds, S079760, could alter how marriage contracts are made and enforced, and could forever link failed marriages to the only man to hit a baseball into San Francisco Bay. The case worries malpractice insurer Lloyd’s of London, which argues in an amicus curiae brief that such a rule could expose family lawyers to malpractice claims from clients who entered into prenups with unrepresented spouses. Bonds marks the first time the justices will address prenups since California’s adoption of the Universal Premarital Agreement Act in 1985. In a separate case Monday, Marriage of Pendleton, S070018, the justices will decide whether spousal support can be waived in a prenup. For those reasons, many family lawyers expect the court to issue some sort of bright-line rule on what ingredients are required for an ironclad agreement. Robert Schnider, a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner in the family law division, says Bonds’ prenup presents “a whole constellation of factors for the court to look at.” “The real issue is, what’s the level of duress,” he says. He adds that if Barry had presented the contract two weeks prior to the wedding — and not the day before — “there probably wouldn’t be an issue here.” San Francisco family lawyer Bernard Wolf sees the case a little differently. Wolf, a solo practitioner, agrees that the court must look at a series of factors in premarital contract cases: How long prior to the wedding was the agreement signed; was there undue influence on one of the parties; was legal counsel present on both sides; and did an equal bargaining position exist. But as far as its potential to set precedent, Wolf says Bonds is too fact-bound to yield a broad decision. “If it wasn’t for the name, it would have been better handled by an unpublished opinion,” he says. Even so, Wolf says the 1st District opinion in Bonds is inconsistent and sets up standards that are unworkable. MILLIONS AT STAKE Barry and Sun were married in 1987 when he was making $106,000 a year. By the time the couple split six years later, Bonds was raking in a cool $8 million playing left field for the Giants. At the time the two divorced in 1994, Sun contended that she didn’t understand what she was signing when Barry’s lawyers presented her with the agreement. Sun, who has a ninth-grade education and speaks English as a second language, had no lawyer — just a friend from Sweden by her side — when she signed the contract. The pact was upheld by San Mateo, Calif., Superior Court Judge Judith Kozloski. But last year a 1st District majority screamed foul. Justice James Lambden held that because Sun had no lawyer and no idea why she needed one — she actually thought Barry’s lawyers represented both of them — she couldn’t have knowingly and voluntarily signed away her rights under community property law. “Courts have a responsibility to make sure that the agreement reflects both parties’ wishes and not just those of the economically dominant party,” Lambden wrote. He then went further and established a rule designed to discourage the signing of agreements “when only one of the prospective parties has the advantage of legal advice.” Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline agreed with Lambden, but Justice Ignazio Ruvolo blasted his colleagues, saying the new rule threatened to torpedo thousands of existing prenups. His dissent also ripped the majority for introducing judicially created standards into the UPAA. Lambden ended up modifying his opinion to give Barry’s lawyers another shot at saving the prenup in trial court. But he expressed little faith that a court could find the contract valid based on the facts. A SIMPLE CASE Barry’s appellate lawyer, Richard Sherman, will argue that the court is really dealing with simple contract law. Before two people enter into marriage, the agreements they make aren’t confidential and aren’t subject to the same rules that would apply to a married couple contracting for, say, spousal support. But under the 1st District ruling, Sherman wrote in his brief, “The rules governing agreements that spouses make with each other during marriage would now be applied to deciding whether a premarital agreement is enforceable.” The partner at Berkeley, Calif.’s DeGoff and Sherman declined to discuss the case for this article. But in his briefs, he argued that Lambden’s opinion completely rewrote the rules on what constitutes a voluntary premarital contract. Sherman also claimed the court’s rule on representation could potentially wipe out thousands of existing prenups throughout the state. That could spawn a generation of malpractice litigation against family law attorneys who draft prenuptial agreements, he wrote. Sherman is backed in that argument by Lloyd’s of London, which filed an amicus brief contending that the 1st District’s opinion in Bonds, if left to stand, could spell disaster for the family law bar. In his brief on behalf of Lloyd’s, Roy Weatherup, a partner at Santa Monica, Calif.’s Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, writes: “Large numbers of existing agreements would be impaired, resulting in claims against the family law bar. Future agreements would be in doubt, because of the apparent requirement of both parties contemplating marriage having their own separate attorneys.” Paige Wickland, who represents Sun on appeal, says that shouldn’t worry the court as much as the potential for abuse when one mate must rely on the other for legal advice. “The most troublesome issue is the idea that adverse counsel can supply knowledge to make a waiver knowing,” says Wickland, a partner at San Francisco’s Fancher & Wickland. She says that under California law a premarital agreement is not enforceable unless it is found to be voluntary. Wickland is asking the Supreme Court to affirm the court of appeal’s finding that Sun’s signing of the agreement could not have been voluntary given Sun’s lack of counsel, the bevy of attorneys on Barry’s side and the last-minute presentation of the agreement. “The one-sided bargaining process here was so clearly unfair that Sun’s execution is properly characterized as involuntary no matter how the factors are weighed,” Wickland writes in her brief. Wickland is backed in her argument by Gertrude Chern, a family law practitioner in Santa Maria, Calif. Chern filed an amicus brief on behalf of Sun contending that without knowledgeable legal advice, “her signing could not amount to more than mere acquiescence.” “When Sun asked the question, ‘What do I need an attorney for?’ — she did not even understand what it was she did not understand,” Chern wrote in her brief to the court.

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