Pro Se Spouse Ordered to Pay Fees for Divorce Trial

, New York Law Journal

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The only issues the parties couldn't settle before trial were debts, such as mortgages, credit cards and legal fees, said Joshi-Tope's attorney, Steven Homayoon, a solo practitioner from Lake Ronkonkoma.

On the eve of trial last summer, Tope moved to recuse the judge, alleging Leis had been disrespectful of the parties' culture and faith, had repeatedly pressured Tope to retain counsel, and coerced and threatened him. Tope threatened to complain to the Commission on Judicial Conduct if the judge did not recuse himself.

"The motion's threatening words, tone and nature were calculated to intimidate the court into removing itself from the matter to avoid a complaint being made to the Commission," Justice Leis said.

Leis denied Tope's recusal motion, finding it frivolous.

Tope began trial with a lengthy opening statement, "which had no relevance to the proceeding, dealt exclusively with his own self-serving perceptions and in essence called on the plaintiff to reconcile with him."

'Aggressive, Hostile' Manner

During Tope's four-day cross-examination, he improperly testified during most of it and refused to follow direction when asking his wife questions, the judge said. Tope also disregarded the judge's rulings when he sustained objections and continued to pursue subjects that were prohibited.

"The defendant engaged in arguments with the court concerning its rulings, failed to follow its instructions and shouted at the plaintiff's counsel in an aggressive, hostile and disrespectful manner as well as yelled at the plaintiff when he cross examined her," Leis said.

Meanwhile, Joshi-Tope was taking time off work during trial, nearly exhausting her vacation and sick time while paying her attorney by the hour, the judge said. He noted that at one point Tope threatened "we'll be in court forever."

Tope has remained unemployed and self-represented and "has suffered no pecuniary consequence by prolonging and delaying the matter," Leis wrote in his ruling.

Joshi-Tope paid her first attorney an $8,000 retainer, which was virtually depleted early in the case by her husband's emails, letters and phone calls to her attorney and demands for "emergency meetings," Leis said.

"When the defendant was not bombarding the plaintiff's prior counsel with correspondence and depleting her retainer, the defendant refused to negotiate or even communicate with the plaintiff through her prior counsel," Leis said.

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