by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
As a child growing up in Pasadena, one of my favorite things to do was to go to the movies. There were no megaplexes in those days; theaters had only one screen, but they showed “double features” with two movies, a newsreel, and a cartoon. Even though the second feature was often pretty bad, you always felt you got your money’s worth, and if I didn’t remember the movies, I almost always remembered the cartoon.
Many of the cartoons were Looney Tunes involving Bugs Bunny voiced by Mel Blanc (“Eh, what’s up Doc?”) who also did Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, and so many others that he was known as the man of a thousand voices.
I met Mel Blanc once when I was with my parents who were visiting someone at Big Bear Lake where he was also a guest. I vaguely remember that he did some of his cartoon voices, but just seeing him in person has stuck with me all these years.
As impressed as I was with meeting Mr. Blanc and enjoying his myriad voices, it has never occurred to me to cite Bugs Bunny in court proceedings.
That is, of course, until now.
It has been my experience that litigation between family members almost, if not always, brings out the worst in everyone. Such cases also have a hyperextended shelf life, which is another way of saying they go on forever. And, they are almost impossible to summarize.
This one started as a probate case, migrated to bankruptcy court, thence to the district court, and recently ended up before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Anna Wizenberg died in 2010 leaving two sons, Peter and Howard and, it seems, enough assets to argue about. Peter Wizenberg was initially appointed as the personal representative of his mother’s estate, but was ousted in early 2017 after a hearing on a petition for removal brought by his brother Howard. On the eve of a contempt hearing against him, Peter filed Chapter 7, which automatically stayed the probate proceedings.
After unsuccessful motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, Peter, a Florida lawyer representing himself, filed a “69-page motion” to dismiss his brother’s adversary proceeding on the ground that the bankruptcy court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. His brother, Howard, responded with a motion for sanctions as there was, according to Howard, “no good faith basis” for claiming lack of jurisdiction.
Peter then filed a 153-page motion for reconsideration of the denial of his motion for summary judgment. (Note: when the court of appeals refers to the number of pages of your motion, you should not consider it a compliment.)
Then there were the brother-to-brother depositions. “Peter engaged in several hostile exchanges with Howard and opposing counsel,” and asked about “incidents when they were children.” The bankruptcy court awarded Howard $2,880 in attorneys’ fees as sanctions.
After an adversary proceeding during which Peter filed a 326-page “opening statement,” the bankruptcy court adjudged that Peter’s debts to Howard were non-dischargeable and sanctioned Peter $9,850.
Peter appealed to the district court which adopted the bankruptcy court’s decision and then, of course, Peter appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.
And, Howard asked for appellate attorneys’ fees.
The court of appeal found that the record supported a Rule 38 award of attorneys’ fees of $3,390 stating Peter’s brief was difficult to follow and to attempt to decipher and reorganize his arguments would be a waste of taxpayer resources. For those of you interested in how not to write a brief, here is a tidbit:
Peter, a self-proclaimed bankruptcy attorney, filed an 88-page opening brief littered with exclamation points and rants about what he views as a grave miscarriage of justice. He fails to coherently cite case law, although he cites Bugs Bunny.
In case you were wondering, you now have good authority that Bugs Bunny is not good authority.
In the words of Mr. Blanc’s (Bugs’) famous sign off,
“That’s all folks!”
Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at email@example.com.