RECENT CASES HANDLED BY JOHNSTON FAMILY LAW

Following are summaries of some of the cased recently handled by Johnston Family Law:

In April 2011, Ronald Johnston was respondent’s counsel in a trial of first impression in Oregon on the issue of Islamic Mahr. A trial “of first impression” means that the issue has not been ruled before on by a court in Oregon.. Mahr is a contract traditionally made in an Islamic marriage, in which the groom promises to pay a “dowery” to the bride. In this case, the mahr included a promise to pay 1000 Bahar-eAzadi high-gold-content coins valued at $74,000 at time of the wedding. When wife “demanded” the mahr just before filng her divorce petition, the value of the coins was over $270,000. The trial before Judge Diane Stuart in Portland took two and a half days, plus three follow-up hearings. Each lawyer filed briefs that cited eight cases in six other states dealing with mahr. Mr Johnston made several legal and factual arguments, including: (a) the court had no jurisdiction on the claim of mahr; (b) that there was no “meeting of the minds” as required to be a valid contract; (c) if the agreement was enforceable, it could be enforceable only as a prenuptial agreement and the parties did not comply with the pre-nuptial agreement statute; (d) that, if the contract was legally formed, the court should award wife her mahr but then award husband an amount of marital property sufficient to offset the award, so that the overall effect would be “just and equitable”; (e) if mahr was enforceable, the court should treat it as “pre-marital property” under the landmark Kunze decision and award husband a portion of it, therefore neutralizing the award. After two and half days of trial, Judge Stuart ruled that there was no contact formed and, even if there was, it would not be just and equitable” to enforce it. As part of the trial, the wife also asked for two forms of spousal support and the court denied each claim in its entirety. The parities also fought over provisions of the parenting time order and an order selling a high-value house, and the court favorably ruled on theses issues for husband as well. Mr. Johnston was surprised and pleased by this result, because in a typical divorce trial each party usually will wins some issues and loses some issues, and here Mr. Johnston’s client “won everything.” Mr. Johnston also enjoyed researching and arguing classic contract law principles and authorities in this case. Also, Mr Johnston was pleased to note that he offered to settle for a reasonable sum, the other side refused and forced the case to trial, and after the trial the other ended up with considerably less than what was offered!


In another matter, this one in Washington County, a client had represented himself  “pro se.” in a modification. The client got locked into a vicious “meatgrinder” discovery battle with the other lawyer, during which battle each side filed many motions that had accumulated “several feet” of file space. It was clear that the litigation had gotten way out of hand. When Mr Johnston was hired by the husband, he picked up the phone and talked to the other attorney, with whom he had had prior legal dealings. Johnston immediately produced what document were needed to be produced, and then he analyzed the case and made an offer to settle. When the offer was rejected, he demanded that the other side state its “best” offer. He then rejected that offer. With each side now having an offer on the table, Johnston suggested that the parties and attorneys meet with a mediator. Mr. Johnston carefully picked a mediator, who was a retired judge and whose personality was uniquely suited to this case. Before Mr. Johnston was hired, the matter had been dragging for several months. When the mediation convened , the mediator looked at both parties positions, suggested a compromise, and the parties settled in less than a half hour.!Mr. Johnston and his client both were gratified to bring a costly and lengthy matter to a prompt conclusion. Mr. Johnston was pleased that he was able to effectively “step in and take charge” of an out of control matter, and bring it to a swift conclusion.


In another matter in May 2011, Mr. Johnston again represented the husband in a divorce. Husband at an earlier time had earned quite a lot of income, but his business was definitely not profitable now. Based on these prior earnings, the wife expected to get very high spousal support, and her lawyer did little to make the wife “get real” about this. The case seemed headed for trial. The other lawyer then resigned and was replaced with a very skilled and experienced downtown attorney. Again, Mr. Johnston had had prior dealings with this other attorney. Mr. Johnston “made a record” by forcefully restating in a letter all of his prior statement offers, and showing how the wife was non-responsive to them. Mr. Johnston then suggested that the parties meet face to face, and the other side accepted, In three hours of “nose-to-nose” negotiations, Mr Johnston and the other attorney successfully negotiated compromises on about a dozen issues, and forged a settlement that saved the cost of a full day trial. The case was frustrating to Mr. Johnston because he felt the result was clear but that other party simply would not “emotionally step up to the plate” and settle. Once the new attorney came into the picture, Johnston was able to effectively maneuver the matter in a position where the parties could settle.


Another recent divorce matter involved student loans. Early in the marriage, husband went to graduate school and took out loans to finance the education.. The loans were paid down to about $24,000 during the marriage. Husband offered to pay the loans, but he wanted home equity equal to the amount of the loans as an offset.. This was a case also was one of “first impression” in Oregon and neither attorney could find any reported Oregon appellate cases on point. Mr. Johnston again picked a mediator who was well suited to the case. The parties and lawyers met for three hours in mediation, during which time all issues resolved. .Mr. Johnston again effectively maneuvered the matter into a posture and place where it could be resolved.


Mr. Johnston had a challenging “joint custody” case in February 2011. The parties had a “do it themselves” divorce judgment that gave each parent 50% time but which did not state an exact schedule. The parties had been fighting for several years over various holidays, summer schedules and the like. After court papers were filed, Mr. Johnston and the other attorney negotiated to refer the matter to a very skilled evaluator, who the lawyers each agreed was excellent. After a lengthy and detailed study, the evaluator issued a report stating that both parents were excellent parents, and that the child enjoyed and wanted equal time with each. The evaluator recommended that a very rigid schedule be put in place. so as to avoid future disputes. The evaluator made some suggestions on how to do this. Then, Mr. Johnston and the other lawyer then engaged in meticulous negotiations to create parenting plan that literally covered every day of the year for the next seven years. At two or three times during the negotiations, the parties reached impasse. Mr. Johnston refused to not settle, he relentlessly pursued settlement, and he e effectively achieved this for his client. In the end, the parties reported a settlement to the court, saved the cost of a trial, and ended up with a parenting plan schedule that was custom crafted to meet their respective needs.


The father of a five year girl hired Johnston Family Law to change custody. The mother was promiscuous, had involved the child in dangerous social situations, and had introduced way to many men into the life of the child. Father had consulted three other counsel, all of whom said he had no chance. Johnston disagreed, accepted the case, and proceeded to trial. At trial, Johnston complied a detailed chronology of wife’s changes of residence and various relationships for the past couple years. Johnston also located an expert to advise the court how mother’s actions put the child at risk.

After a one day trial, the Clackamas County judge changed custody to father! In early 2012, mother announced an intention to move to Utah with the three year old child. Johnston filed a modification motion, gave notice of intent to seek a Temporary Status Quo Order, and then obtained it. The matter was referred to an expert for a study. Johnston, through agreements with opposing counsel, made sure that the expert knew the exact law on this subject, and then spent a lot of time preparing the client for the evaluation. The evaluation came back squarely for father to stop the move away and mother dropped her claim. Mother still contested father’s parenting time, so Johnston brought these remaining issues to trial and won most of them. At the end, the court awarded father attorney fees against the stay-at-home mother who had recently given birth to a new baby!


In another move away case, mother went to “visit” her family in South Dakota for a few weeks and then decided to end the marriage and stay there! Johnston promptly filed dissolution papers, and also obtained a TPOR requiring the child to be brought back to Oregon. Mother complied. Johnston then engaged in intense negotiations to find living accommodations and provide temporary support. In the end, the parents reconciled and dismissed the divorce. Johnston was pleased that he got mother to move back from another state.


In a smaller matter, a self represented father was facing an upcoming trial and was overwhelmed. The other lawyer was refusing to talk to the self represented man. Johnston sensed there were settlement possibilities, and set up a settlement conference in his office where each client stayed in separate rooms and the attorneys shuttled back and fourth. In two hours of negotiations, Johnston successfully settled the matter.


A man married, divorced, and the remarried the same souse. Husband paid wife a significant sum of money in the first divorce, but she squandered it. Also, wife’s daughter from a prior marriage falsely claimed improper actions against her by husband. Wife claimed destitution in the second divorce (along with the child from an even earlier marriage). The man hired Johnston, who advised husband to reject wife demands and to just prepare for trial. After holding firm in his position for six months, the other side caved in just before trial and settled on terms satisfactory to husband.


Johnston represented a father in a interstate father’s rights litigation. The parties had divorced in Virginia. Mother was active duty Navy. When the child was a year old, mother was deployed at sea, and father got temporary custody and was allowed to move to the chile to Oregon. When mother was discharged by the Navy, she demanded the child. Johnston swiftly got certified copies of the Virginia judgment, registered them a foreign judgment in Oregon and then obtained a TPOR based on those papers that gave father temporary custody of the child in Oregon pending trial. Johnston then located witnesses and put on a two day father’s rights custody case, following which custody was awarded to father.


A woman came to Johnston Family Law after marrying a man during a whirlwind vacation, only to find out the man was fraud. She came home to Portland, and the man followed her, apparently to take her with him. The man told the client the name of the hotel at which he was staying. On an rush “hand-carry” basis, Johnston prepared and filed a petition for annulment, got the papers to a process server, and had the man served at the hotel bar within a day of being hired. The man dramatically tore up the papers in the bar, but Johnston waited thirty days, defaulted the man, and obtained a Judgment of Annulment for his client.


In 2012, Johnston was approached by a woman what had been severely emotionally battered. She was scared for her self and her pet. Johnston listened carefully, and then devised a plan to extricate wife from the house with her pet and with enough money to support herself. The case involved a fragile client, and high assets including the business of a very powerful and prominent Portland family, who tried to except great pressure on wife to cave in. The case took twelve hours of depositions of husband, plus further depositions of husband’s father. Johnston engaged a forensic CPA to analyze cash flow and to look for missing assets, and then brought the matter to trial.


In January 2013, Johnston had a three day trial involving twelve properties including a farm, a commercial building, apartment, and numerous rentals. The parties also accumulated over $200,000 of personal property in their home and farm. Virtually all assets including the personal property had to be appraised. The “management” of this case, with its numerous items of real and personal property, was a substantial undertaking.


In a 25 year marriage, husband took the position that he was unemployed and therefor had no earnings capacity. Johnston hired a expert to establish that husband had substantial earnings capacity. Johnston also hired an private investigator, who located witnesses in bars frequented by husband, who testified that husband was telling people that he was not looking for work until after the divorce. Husband offered $-0- spousal support. After a two day trial, the court awarded $2800 spousal support indefinitely.


In a significant litigation lasting over 14 months before Judge Hehn in Multnomah County, Mr. Johnston litigated a complicated custody and parenting time case involving cross claims of abuse. Mother married husband while she was pregnant from a deceased person. The child was born during the marriage and husband raised the child as his own. The parents later had a second joint child. The husband was found to be a very bad person. Johnston searched statewide court records, and found numerous instances of father wrongfully filing abuse petitions and also having them filed against him. Johnston carefully researched the law of paternity at the outset and found that wife could challenge husband’s paternity, even if the baby was born during the marriage. At the end of the case, husband was given no parenting time with the first child and only limited, supervised parenting time for the second.


In late 2013, Johnston took a case in Baker City where husband had been kicked out of his home by a FAPA (abuse) Order. Johnston carefully researched the law, and determined that a challenge to the kick out order could still filed. He filed a motion in the FAPA matter, filed an separate dissolution proceeding, consolidated the two matters, and then brought them to joint hearing in Baker City. Husband was awarded the home in the divorce.


In early 2014, two different clients came to Johnston Family Law with default Judgments entered against them. In each case, Mr. Johnston immediately filed a motion to set aside the judgment, and backed each up with a detailed affidavit and memorandum of law. In each matter, the default judgment was set aside and each client was put back on level playing field to negotiate or litigate a fair resolution of their divorces.


In January 2014, Johnston handled a custody and parenting time matter involving unmarried parents. The parties were not talking, and the other attorney resisted a settlement conference because she did not think the matter would settle. Johnston insisted and he traveled with his client to the other lawyer’s office where, after three hours of face to face negotiations, the matter was settled.


Also in early 2014, Johnston was hired by a high earning client in a long term marriage with high assets and issues of inherited property. The wife was represented by name partner in a prominent downtown family law firm. The lawyers agreed to voluntarily exchange discovery, and had a couple face to face meetings. The parties owned a unique jet airplane and other valuable assets. The significant asset and spousal support issues were resolved without depositions or trial.


In Feb 2014, Johnston was retained on a father’s rights case in Marion County. The older child was doing poorly at school, and the parents agreed that the child should live at father’s home where closer attention could be paid to school matters. When father tried to memorialize this agreement n writing, mother refused and then unilaterally pulled the children out of school and took them back to Salem. Johnston successfully obtained a TPOR to keep the children with father during the school year and then skillfully put together a good “fathers rights” case in a day long trial. Johnston arranged testimony from the children’s dentist, an expert, and several family members; after which the court awarded father custody. Shortly after the trial decision, mother announced she was again pregnant and had lost her job. Notwithstanding this announcement, Johnston filed for and obtained an award of attorney fees against the non-working, pregnant mother.


In early 2014, Johnston was hired on a case involving a second marriage, high assets, and a prenuptial agreement. The “pre-nup” waived spousal support and but gave wife a percentage of husband’s net wealth based on years of marriage. Wife made demands based on inflated values of personal property such as art work and baseball card collections. Johnston successfully settled the matters in a strings of letters and emails with opposing counsel, in which Johnston declined to argue the values of individual items of art work and baseball cards but rather insisted that each party “lump” all of the respective claims together into one lump sum, and then split the difference equitably. The matter was resolved without trial or deposition.

Comments are closed.