|Even unfounded and dismissed accusations
levied against a celebrity in family court may damage a celebritys public image long
after the family law case concludes. Therefore, one of the most effective methods of
averting a public relations crisis is keeping unfavorable information private.
Generally, the Court will seldom close family law proceedings to
the public or seal a family law file. CCP â´?Marriage of Lechowick (1998) 65
Cal.App 4th 1406; Estate of Hearst (1977) 67 Cal.App.3d 777. However, in high
profile cases where celebrities are involved, a Court may elect to do so, such especially
if presented with a Stipulated Confidentiality Order. The parties may enter into any
number of stipulations providing for the privacy of documents, such as the redaction of
documents and the submission of private documents to the Court to be withdrawn after the
conclusion of the hearing.
Also, there are special code provisions providing for the
confidentially and privacy of cases in certain circumstances. Family Code á´?
provides, that "the court may, when it considers it necessary in the interests of
justice and the persons involved, direct the trial of any issue of fact joined in a
proceeding under this code to be private, and may exclude all persons except the officers
of the court, the parties, their witnesses, and counsel". Similarly, custody,
emancipation and paternity proceedings may be sealed and closed to the public under Family
Code à´? è¸?and æ´? Adoption of unmarried minor children proceedings may
be closed to the public under Family Code æ±? (see also Globe Newspaper
Co. v. Superior Court (1982) 457 U.S. 596). Further, proceedings in family
conciliation court may be deemed closed to the public under Family Code è³?
Even if a Court will not close the proceedings or seal
the file, Courts often times will seal particular documents, such as damaging
declarations, to protect a celebrities' reputation.
If the Court will not grant the privacy sought by high
profile clients, there are other options available to preserve confidentially and privacy
such as a "private" or "confidential" trial through a private judge.
See Calfornia Rules of Court 244(g). Private Judges may afford high profile
clients privacy and confidentiality while rolex replica saving money and time. When a private judge is
appointed, the "hearings" often occur in a private office without public notice,
thereby effectively preventing the media from overseeing the details of the proceedings.
This gives the parties much more control over what, if any, information is disseminated to
Moreover, if the parties agree, they can participate in
confidential dispute resolution through mediation which may be an effective tool for
conflict management. Evidence Code ç±?9, á²? If they reach an agreement,
they can enter into a confidential marital settlement agreement that is referenced, but
not attached, to the Judgment. In such an event, the confidentiality will be preserved and
the agreement will only be exposed if enforcement procedures become necessary.
Alternatively, the final resolution may also be kept from the publics eye through
having two judgments. One judgment providing for the status termination, support and
reserving on all other issues. The second judgment will contain the remainder of the
issues and will only be filed if either party breaches the terms of the second judgment.
To gain a litigation advantage, the opposing side may
fight an effort to close the proceedings to the public. However, the opposing side may be
more willing to agree to a private judge or mediation if the celebrity agrees to pay for
the associated expenses. Such efforts and concessions are well worth the privacy gained,
especially when custody is at issue.
In addition to assuring privacy of the court proceeding,
a lawyer must take decisive actions to assure that his/her file is kept safe in his/her
office, such as keeping it under lock-and-key. The attorney should also have his/her
employees sign a confidentiality agreement and employ a shredder to destroy extra copies
of file documents. The lawyer should also assure that his/her computer database is secure
from hackers and others who might gain access to the electronic data.
Other issues to consider involve the unusual property
issues inherent in dividing a celebritys community estate. Even though the
celebritys business manager may want to control the property issues, it may be
advisable to hire a forensic accountant and appraisers as soon as possible to work with
the business manager. These experts will be able to delve through the complexities of
property division, including the valuation of artistic works, residuals and works in
progress, and can testify about the value of the community estate, prepare a marital
balance sheet, and complete sometimes complicated tracings.
Since celebrities often have homes in various states, a
lawyer must consider which jurisdiction to select. In such a circumstance and although
generally frowned upon, a bit of forum shopping may be strategically necessary. For
example, if a celebrity has a home in New York and one in California, and especially if
the celebrity rose to stardom during the marriage, forum shopping may be appropriate.
Celebrity goodwill is an example of how the law varies in
different jurisdictions. In California, there is no controlling authority valuing
celebrity goodwill as an asset. However, celebrity goodwill has been recognized in New
York and New Jersey. Hence, a practitioner may elect to bring rolex replica the action in California
where the celebrity is not likely to be assessed with celebrity goodwill. It would be
incumbent on the attorney to be abreast of the differences between bringing the case in
Furthermore, as with any client, once appropriate, a
celebrity client will have to be advised to evaluate his/her estate plan in light of the
changes inherent in a family law proceeding.
These and many other considerations must be carefully
weighed by an attorney navigating the potentially tumultuous waters of representing a
celebrity client. The attorney must give the matter due consideration and must carefully
reflect upon the unique demands, issues and pitfalls of representing high profile cases.
Co-authored by T. Elizabeth Fields, Aissa Wayne, and
Kathryne Clark, Beverly Hills, California