A judge skewered a divorcing husband in a fight over legal fees, calling him “the most consistently obstructive, least cooperative, cagiest, least candid witness that the court has observed.”
Westchester Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood (See Profile) ordered Joseph Medina to pay $53,000 in fees to his ex-wife in light of his “recalcitrance and obstructionist tactics.”
In his Dec. 17 fee award in Medina v. Medina, 2162/2011, Wood wrote Joseph Medina’s “willingness to lie was only exceeded by his arrogance, which apparently permits him to believe that the court might possibly buy the bridge he is selling. The world in which Mr. Medina lives, is at best in a parallel universe. Based upon the record, the court finds that the husband prolonged the litigation in bad faith, causing the wife to incur significantly higher attorney fees than reasonably should have been necessary.”
Joseph Medina and his wife, Agnieszka, married in November 2001 and have a five-year-old son.
During the marriage, Agnieszka Medina got her real estate license and for the past two years sold real estate for a developer. Prior to that, she was unemployed for a year and a half after working in sales for six years with another developer.
In 2011, she earned $87,000 and earned almost $60,000 in 2010.
Joseph Medina had licenses to sell insurance and securities and works for a securities firm where he is paid solely on commission. He previously earned almost $88,000 at a different firm in 2011.
Agnieszka Medina filed for divorce in January 2011.
During the proceedings, Wood said Joseph Medina “unnecessarily escalated the wife’s counsel fees in some of the usual, unsurprising, garden-variety ways” such as failing to comply with court orders, falling behind on support, untimely discovery compliance, failure to produce financial disclosures and tardiness for court dates.
After a six-day bench trial, Wood ruled in March 2013 on issues including equitable distribution, parental access, child support and maintenance.
Wood asked the parties to try settling the question of legal fees before court intervention. When the effort failed, Agnieszka Medina asked for an award of more than $63,000 after already paying her counsel, Marcia Kusnetz of Rye Brook, $25,000.
During a November hearing, Joseph Medina “feigned ignorance of a letter to the wife’s counsel that he obviously wrote, refused to acknowledge his own handwriting, and generally gave evasive answers and shrugged his shoulders,” according to Wood. Agnieszka Medina, however, was “candid and forthcoming” and Wood called her “infinitely more credible.”
On cross examination, Joseph Medina sometimes “stared blankly, and either was confused or feigned confusion.” The judge said he gave “vague and obtuse answers” connected to his earnings and earnings capacity.
He was also combative. The judge noted Joseph Medina “frequently smirked” and seemed to enjoy his “verbal boxing match” with Kusnetz.
“However, all too often the husband’s false bravado and clownish behavior only left his chin exposed,” Wood wrote. “Presumably, the husband read the court’s Decision After Trial. But like a thoroughly beaten boxer hearing the judges’ lopsided unanimous decision go against him, and then having had plenty of time to consider retirement, he’s back. The husband eagerly stepped back in the ring with opposing counsel, punch-drunk as ever, for the hearing on fees. If nothing else, he was consistent, except this time he took a pratfall onto the canvas, mere moments after the bell rang.”
Wood said when considering legal fee applications in matrimonial cases, courts had to consider the “financial circumstances” of the parties, the merits of their positions and the reasonableness of their fee request.
The judge determined the pair’s financial circumstances were not equal, due to Joseph Medina’s greater earning potential and the “continued financial difficulties he continues to bring upon the wife due to his failure to meet his obligations.”
In an interview, Kusnetz said she was “a pretty good judge of character myself. It was certainly in concert with the way I perceived this litigant to be and I was vindicated.” She said her client “won on 99 percent of the issues.”
Joseph Medina was represented by Steven Rosenfeld of Manhattan. In an interview, Rosenfeld said he respected Wood, but said the decision here was reached in error.
“We have recommended to our client that he appeal,” he said. Isaiah Vallejo-Juste of the Law Offices of Steven E. Rosenfeld in Manhattan also appeared for Joseph Medina.
@|Andrew Keshner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.