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Webb v. Webb

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

June 13, 2017

WILLIAM WEBB, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
DEBORAH WEBB, Respondent and Appellant TROPE & DeCAROLIS et al., Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. SD030555 Marc D. Gross, Judge; Richard Montes, Judge (Ret.). Reversed.

          Law Office of John Derrick and John Gregory Derrick for Petitioner and Appellant William Webb.

          Deborah Webb, in pro. per., for Respondent and Appellant.

          Trope & DeCarolis and Patrick DeCarolis; Law Offices of Sandra Segal Polin and Sandra Segal Polin for Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

          RUBIN, J.

         In this appeal, we are tasked with interpreting Family Code section 271 which authorizes the trial court to award attorney's fees as a sanction.[1] The precise question for us is whether the statute permits an award of sanctions to non-parties to the litigation. The trial court concluded that it did, awarding approximately $88, 000 to a party's former counsel. We decide that section 271 does not authorize the court to award sanctions to non-parties, but rather is intended to promote settlement of family law litigation through shifting fees between the parties to the litigation. For this reason, we reverse.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND [2]

         1. The 2009 Petition

         William Webb and Deborah Webb were married in 1997. On March 4, 2009, William filed for divorce. Deborah was represented by Sandra Polin and the Law Offices of Sandra Segal Polin in the proceedings. The parties agreed to dismiss the action on April 22, 2010.

         2. The 2012 Petition

         On February 29, 2012, William filed for divorce again. In March 2012, Deborah retained Patrick DeCarolis and his firm Trope & DeCarolis, as well as Polin, to represent her in this second action.

         3. William Opposes DeCarolis's Notice of Intention to Record Lien

         Approximately two months after Deborah retained DeCarolis, Deborah filed a notice of intention to record a family law attorney real property lien (“FLARPL”) in favor of Trope & DeCarolis in the amount of $150, 000 on the parties' residence (the Property).[3] On June 14, 2012, William filed an ex parte application seeking to stay the recording of the lien pending an evidentiary hearing on the matter or, in the alternative, to limit the lien to $50, 000.[4] He argued the lien amount was excessive given the parties had no children, their assets were not complicated, and the parties had already engaged in extensive discovery in the 2009 marital dissolution proceeding. He further argued that Deborah needed protection from her attorneys who were charging excessive fees. The court denied William's application.

         On July 24, 2012, Deborah recorded the $150, 000 lien in favor of Trope & DeCarolis. She also recorded a $250, 000 lien in favor of the Law Offices of Sandra Polin based on a 2009 deed of trust signed by Deborah in the prior dissolution action.

         On September 6, 2012, Deborah substituted Trope & DeCarolis out of the case. Polin was not an attorney of record in the second action, and the parties appear to acknowledge that Polin stopped representing Deborah at this time as well.

         4. William's and Deborah's 2012 Requests to Expunge the Liens

         On December 13, 2012, William filed an ex parte application asking the court to expunge the liens recorded on the Property.[5] He stated that he received no legal notice that Deborah intended to record the $250, 000 lien as required by statute. He also argued that the liens exceeded Deborah's community interest in the sale proceeds. He noted that the Property was going to be sold and asked the court to order the proceeds from the sale to remain in escrow.

         Polin and DeCarolis filed an opposition arguing that Trope & DeCarolis had properly served William with notice of DeCarolis's prospective lien; they did not dispute that William had not been served with notice of Polin's lien. Polin also filed a supporting declaration stating that she had recorded the FLARPL “to secure my past and present fees.” The court denied the application pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 3.1202(c).[6]

         On December 31, 2012, Deborah filed an application seeking the same relief. The court denied that application.

         5. William's 2013 Request ...


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