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It’s now been more than 15 years since Law & Order creator Dick Wolf got divorced from Christine Wolf, and she’s still feeling like she got duped in the settlement agreement dividing marital assets. Unfortunately for her, a California appeals court ruled on Tuesday that it wouldn’t reverse a summary judgment decision in favor of Dick Wolf’s financial advisors.
As the story goes, the Wolfs split in 2003, and she walked away with $17.5 million in cash, annual spousal support of as much as $2 million for eight years, the couple’s Maine home and more. The settlement valued Law & Order at $4 million. If that seems paltry for the long-running NBC series, well, it was, but at the time, the accounting statements were showing the show was losing money.
But then something big happened.
Dick came to a new billion-dollar deal with NBCUniversal for Law & Order. Christine read about it in the Los Angeles Times, but she had already signed the divorce settlement. She soon attempted to set aside the agreement with the claim that Dick had concealed assets, and when that didn’t work, she went after the couple’s business manager and a financial services firm led by Martin Weinberg, who had mediated the settlement. Christine alleged that the financial advisors had withheld information about the new NBC talks and were also looking to cultivate his ongoing business.
The lawsuit failed because the trial judge saw Christine’s suggestion of bias on the mediator’s part as speculation and, most importantly, the trial judge applied mediation privilege, which shielded Weinberg’s acts from liability.
Now comes the affirmation of the various rulings on appeal.
Christine asserts that mediation privilege doesn’t apply because Weinberg wasn’t truly a “neutral person” and the process he facilitated wasn’t really a mediation.
“The court examined the record ‘for bias on the part of the mediator’ and found that there no evidence that Weinberg had a prior, individual relationship with Dick so as to support an inference of bias,” states the appellate opinion. “Rather, the only contact between Dick and Weinberg before the meeting was a single chance meeting while the Wolfs were still married. And, there was no evidence in the record to support Christine’s speculation that Weinberg favored Dick based on the prospect of future business. Ironically, it was Christine, not Dick, who had future business dealings with Weinberg after the mediation. That Weinberg accepted an expensive watch from Dick as a gift after the conclusion of the mediation was not a sufficient factual basis to support a reasonable inference that Weinberg was not impartial during the mediation.”
The appeals court says the trial judge was thus right to deny Christine’s motion to compel documents she argued were necessary to prove her case.
Then turning to the summary judgment motions, the appeals court says the trial court didn’t abuse discretion when ruling on evidence and didn’t err in extending quasi-immunity to the defendants.
“As alleged in the operative complaint, defendants were negligent, fraudulent, and breached their fiduciary duties and contract by failing to value the Wolfs’ marital estate properly during the mediation and by incorporating those incorrect values into the marital settlement agreement,” states the opinion. “As amply discussed ante, evidence capable of supporting Christine’s claims is largely rendered inadmissible by mediation confidentiality… Christine adduced no competent evidence that, but for being fraudulently induced, she would have gone to trial and received a division of Wolf Films larger than the amount received under the MSA. Without a triable issue of fact as to causation, none of Christine’s causes of action could survive summary adjudication.”
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