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Susann “Sun” Bonds swung for the fences but ultimately struck out Monday when the California Supreme Court reinstated a 12-year-old prenuptial agreement she signed with her ex-husband, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The court’s unanimous decision upheld the agreement even though Sun Bonds had signed it without consulting a lawyer. It also reversed an appellate court that had negated the contract on the ground that judges should strictly scrutinize prenups for fairness and voluntariness when one party acts without legal counsel. “The rule created by the court of appeal,” California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George wrote, “would have the effect of shifting the burden of proof on the question of voluntariness to the party seeking enforcement of the premarital agreement, even though the [Family Code] statute expressly places the burden upon the party challenging the voluntariness of the agreement.” George held that lack of independent counsel was only one factor in determining whether a prenuptial contract had been entered into voluntarily, and said there was substantial evidence at trial that Sun Bonds had not been coerced or unduly influenced. “These circumstances establish that Sun did not forgo separate legal advice out of ignorance,” the court held. Family lawyers statewide had eagerly awaited the ruling in In re Marriage of Bonds, 00 C.D.O.S. 6982, because many feared that the lower court decision, if allowed to stand, would have threatened the viability of thousands of prenuptial agreements, as well as exposed family lawyers to malpractice claims from clients who signed prenups with unrepresented spouses. Barry and Sun Bonds married in Las Vegas on Feb. 6, 1988, one day after Sun had signed a prenuptial agreement that waived any interest in Barry’s earnings and acquisitions. At the time, Barry Bonds played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was earning about $106,000 a year. But when he petitioned for divorce in 1994, he was making $8 million as a Giant. Sun Bonds challenged the prenup by arguing that she had no lawyer and didn’t realize what she was signing away. In addition, she said, the contract was presented to her just as she was preparing to fly to Las Vegas for her wedding. San Mateo County, Calif. Superior Court Judge Judith Kozloski ruled in favor of Barry, but the 1st District Court of Appeal reversed, saying that Sun’s lack of counsel required the court to scrutinize the agreement to determine whether Sun entered it voluntarily. 1st District Justice Ignazio Ruvolo dissented, accusing the majority — Justice James Lambden and Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline — of introducing judicial standards into the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which was adopted by the state Legislature in 1985. Several times in Monday’s ruling, the Supreme Court pointedly acknowledged that Ruvolo had been correct all along. The high court — which slipped in a footnote reference to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in discussing the history of prenups — passed on an opportunity to delineate an attorney’s duties in drafting premarital agreements. But it made the observation that attorneys should take steps to make sure such contracts are enforceable. “We also observe,” the court said, “that, obviously, the best assurance of enforceability is independent representation for both parties.” Berkeley lawyer Richard Sherman, who represented Barry Bonds on appeal, expressed delight at the ruling Monday. “There was an abundance of evidence that Sun Bonds knew what her rights were and voluntarily signed this agreement even though she did not have an attorney,” the DeGoff and Sherman partner said. “The decision also sets a valuable precedent for over half the states in the nation, because they have adopted the Uniform Act,” he said. “Whether the Uniform Act is good law or whether it should be changed to give more protection to the less wealthy person is a question for legislators to debate and decide.” Paige Wickland, who represented Sun Bonds, called the ruling worrisome. “The trial court in this case made a factual finding that for Sun Bonds to read this agreement she was being asked to sign, she would have had to cancel her own wedding,” the Fancher & Wickland partner said. “That’s the very definition of coercion … so I think this really allows for ignorant waivers of very important statutory rights.”

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