Don't miss Outrageous, Funny or Sad Family Law Cases: The Sequel!
Advisory to readers: this stuff is not pretty and it has Jerry Springer written all over it. Except that these are real life family law cases, each with its own particular but peculiar heartbreak. From vasectomies, adulteries to sex changes, here they are. Best enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee or a case of beer: family law's most outrageous, funny or sad cases. Canadians rock too: see The Cell Phone Made her Do It at Outrageous Lawsuits II.
Without further ado ....
Porn Star + Marriage + Son = Four Million Dollar Legal Bill
Jeffrey Koons (jeffkoons.com) was – is - a famous American sculptor.
He was married to a Hungarian porn star called Anna Elena (also “Ilona”) Staller, stage name Cicciolina.
Pretty good set of facts, huh?
Staller (pictured) immigrated to Italy and became a successful porn star – so successful that she ran for a seat in the Italian parliament in 1987. She continued to make porn movies while in office.
At one point, she got a message to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein offering sex with him if he would release foreign hostages.
There was no official word as to whether or not Mr. Hussein got back to her but she made the same offer in April 2006 to Osama Bin Laden.
Staller was known to give political speeches with one very healthy breast exposed.
In 1991, when she hit 39, Cicciolina married Koons, then 36, in Hungary – his first marriage, her second. Apparently, according to Reuters, when the minister found out who the bride was, she was forced to promise to give up pornography.
But what was Koons thinking?
They had a son Ludwig, who was born shortly after their separation in 1992. Koons hired the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (phew!) to represent him in his divorce and to seek custody of Ludwig. He told them to “leave no stones unturned (and work) full-speed-ahead in every front that could be pursued”.
Staller started her own family law proceedings in Rome. The Italian court sided with the mother and the American court, with the father. In the result, both parties were necessarily in violation of one or the other court order as they each took turns lifting the child from the other. Staller got the last child abduction in and they have been residing in Italy ever since. Koon’s law firm made contact with the Assistant Secretary of State, the United States Ambassador to Italy, federal prosecutors, and members of Congress in defendant's efforts to have his son brought back to the United States.
When the dust settled, the porn star held the custody order in her hands; Koons had lost. His law firm sent him the bill for just under $4 million. He refused to pay. Hence, the court case which the law firm won.
Mr. Koons was out one porn star, one son and $4-million.
I'd Never Have Done It
In 2005, Clyde Crady Swisher III (as in “the Third”) and Marylynne Pitz were deeply involved in a family law appeal before a 3-member bench of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Justices Melvin, Bender and Popovich. The Pittsburgh couple were getting divorced but Swisher felt that it was not his fault.
But nor was it his wife's.
Ms Pitz had been under the care of a psychologist Andrea Veletri, who Mr. Swisher the Third, also an attorney, sued.
Naturally, this begs the question: for what?
Justice Bender adopted this summary of the facts:
“The essence of Swisher's claim against Veletri is that Veletri treated Swisher's ex-wife Pitz both before and during their marriage; that Veletri knew that Pitz was unable to keep the marriage commitment, but nevertheless continued to encourage the relationship; that after Pitz filed for divorce, Veletri encouraged and supported Pitz in her decision to seek counseling with Swisher in pursuit of a reconciliation, even though Veletri knew counseling would not be successful. Swisher contends that based on the above allegations Veletri had a duty to warn him that Pitz was unable to make a sound commitment to the marriage, that his impending nuptials had no possibility of longevity; and that he would therefore sustain emotional injury from the dissolution of the relationship.”
You can just imagine the phone call Swisher presumably expected:
- Veletri: “Yes, hello. Is this Mr. Swisher, Clyde Crady, the Third?"
- Swisher: "Yes, that’s me."
- Veletri: "Hi. It’s your wife’s mental health professional. She’s my client and all and ... oh well, the hell with confidentiality! You have to know! She can’t do this marriage thing! I'm so sorry to break this to you!"
- Switzer: "What? Well, thanks Dr. Veletri. I guess I’ll just call the whole thing off based on your psychological assessment. Thank you so much! You've saved me a ton of stress."
In the trial court, Veletri quite understandably managed to have the claim against her dismissed. Swisher III appealed. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania dismissed the action noting that absent a threat of serious bodily injury, Veletri no duty to warn Mr. Swisher III.
There must be some thick files that even a well experienced family law judge must scratch his head over. Sometimes, either the claim or the facts alleged are so unusual that either a judge is thrilled to have the case or cannot get rid of it fast enough.
And so it must've been for the Honorable Ms Justices Elspeth Cypher (pictured, left) and Judith Cowin and Mr. Justice David Mills of the Massachusetts Court of Appeal in 2004 when case number 02-P-303 was called.
In this case, which American family law students adore, Margie Conley had met Michael Romeri in June of 1996. Both were over their 40s and both were divorced.
Ms Conley had never had children and the clock was ticking. Romeri had four children from his previous relationship. Ms Conley told her new boyfriend early on that she wanted to have children. He apparently responded that a fortune teller had told him he would have six children, and that the plaintiff should not worry.
But the secret truth was that he had already had a vasectomy.
Ms Justice Elspeth Cypher must of drawn the short straw in the judge's lottery as she was tasked with writing the decision of the court:
"Feeling assured, the plaintiff chose to remain in and work on the relationship. The parties became sexually intimate in September, 1996. About one month later, the defendant, stating that the plaintiff "should be having her period now,"
"Asked whether he had "gotten her in trouble." In February, 1997, the plaintiff claims, the defendant revealed, out of the blue, that he had had a vasectomy in 1993. The plaintiff claims that the defendant's disclosure emotionally devastated her, that she suffered a major depressive disorder and incurred medical expenses, and that she was unable to reverse the economic position of her company."
Unfortunately, Madam Justice Cypher could de-cypher no helpful body of law on sexual fraud, and adopted these words to dismiss the claims:
"Many wrongs which in themselves are flagrant -- ingratitude, avarice, broken faith, brutal words, and heartless disregard of the feelings of others -- are beyond any effective legal remedy.
"Out of the human condition may arise a myriad of emotional responses including anger, sadness, anxiety, and distress, many of which are attributable to the conduct of others. While perhaps blameworthy, such conduct is often not legally compensable."
Click here, quickly!, to skedaddle over to Outrageous, Funny or Sad Family Law Cases: The Sequel!
- Conley v Romeri, 806 N.E. 2d 933 (2004)
- Duhaime, Lloyd, Law Fun
- Duhaime, Lloyd, LAWmazing
- Duhaime, Lloyd, Outrageous Lawsuits
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind v. Koons, 780 N.Y.S. 2d 710 (New York Supreme Court, 2004)
- Promising to Be Demure, Italian Porn Star Weds, Reuters, June 2, 1991
- Swisher v. Pitz, 868 A. 2d 1228 (Pennsylvania Superior Court, 2005)