Monday, March 29, 2010

Details on this morning in court.

The Times' Victoria Kim and Carla Hall provide the first account:
[Jamie's attorney Dennis] Wasser didn't skimp on details of their extravagant lifestyle.

"They lived in seven lavish homes ... they flew in private jets ... they had hair stylists come to their house every day. Every need, every want these people had was met," he told Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon on Monday morning.

Wasser suggested not judging them for simply having an outsized lifestyle: "It's not our province to say, 'That's too much, that's too little, who lives like that?"

Instead, he offered that this case was no different than any other divorce case, despite all the zeros, and he invoked the coming sundown start of the Passover holiday. Appropriating from the Passover Seder question "Why is this night different from all other nights?" he said, "I said to myself, why is this case different from all other cases?"

While noting that the magnitude of the money and the number of attorneys involved in the case did make it different, he added that it was like any other divorce case.

"The same rules apply," he said.

He's right on this. The point isn't that, in the abstract, the court should make a value judgment as to the couple's lifestyle. The problem here is the context of the dispute. Say Frank and Jamie were happily married, but became embroiled in litigation that would cost $20 million to resolve as a duo. Is it reasonable to suggest they'd at least look at cutting personal expenses for the duration of the ordeal? 

Yes, in an ideal world Jamie should be paid enough to maintain the lifestyle to which she's become accustomed. But is she entitled to enjoy the same luxuries while Frank is also forced to pay $9 million toward her professional fees? Wasser's approach is correct; the same rules apply. But I'm sure Frank's side would argue that the marital lifestyle they could afford while locked in contentious litigation is not the same they could enjoy in happier days.

I'm not sure how much weight that line of argument will end up carrying. I do know that the hearing, expected to last through the end of the day, probably won't leave us too much closer to a resolution of the bigger issues in play than we were this morning.

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