The 1st Court of Appeals shot down a Houston lawyer’s attempt to collect fees from a client by intervening in her client’s divorce case.
The appellate court found Julia A. Maldonado, of J. Maldonado Law Firm, intervened too late in the divorce of Maria D. Rosario and Loughlon Quinn. In an April 2 opinion, the 1st Court dismissed the appeal filed by Maldonado and her firm, citing want of jurisdiction.
In a per curiam opinion, Justices Terry Jennings, Jane Bland and Michael Massengale found Maldonado and her firm are "not proper parties" to appeal because they did not timely intervene. Maldonado filed a petition in intervention after 387th District Judge Robert Kern of Fort Bend County declared Rosario and Quinn divorced.
Maldonado, who represented Rosario in the divorce, did not return a telephone message seeking comment. Her attorney, Raphaell Wilkins of Wilkins Law Firm of Houston, could not be reached for comment.
Richmond solo Sallee Smyth, who represented Quinn in Julia A. Maldonado, et al. v. Maria D. Rosario, et al., says the opinion is a guide to lawyers on timeliness of an intervention.
"The message of this decision is: If you withdraw and plan to intervene for your fees, be sure you do so before the court renders and pronounces judgment," says Smyth, who handles appeals in family law cases.
As outlined in the opinion, Rosario filed for divorce from Quinn on Sept. 26, 2011, and on July 12, 2012, she and Quinn entered into a "Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement." At a hearing on July 13, 2012, the trial judge "accepted" the agreement and granted the divorce.
On July 30, 2012, Maldonado filed a motion to withdraw from representation, which the judge granted on Aug. 14, 2012, and on that same day Maldonado filed a petition in intervention seeking recovery of attorney fees. The judge signed a final decree of divorce on Aug. 22, 2012, and on Sept. 19, 2012, she granted motions filed by Rosario and Quinn to strike Maldonado’s petition in intervention.
Maldonado appealed the trial court’s judgment.
The 1st Court found that the trial judge granted the divorce orally on July 13, 2012, and Maldonado’s intervention was not timely. The 1st Court cited Dunn v. Dunn, a 1969 Texas Supreme Court opinion holding that, once a divorce is granted "by an oral pronouncement in which the trial court finally adjudicated the rights of the parties," the entry of written judgment is a ministerial act.
Smyth says lawyers in family law cases routinely withdraw from representation and seek to intervene to collect fees, but in this case the intervention was too late.
John "Jack" Ezell of Ezell Law Office of Bellaire, who represented Rosario in the appeal, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.