Miami-Dade Judge Refuses to Recuse Herself from Custody Dispute Following Re-Election Fundraiser

February 6, 2012

1159484_forest_playpark sxchu.jpgA Miami-Dade judge has refused to recuse herself in a heated Florida custody dispute between two prominent attorneys, despite her ties to the law firm representing the former wife. Attorneys Paul Calli and Sarah Mourer divorced in 2005 after seven years of marriage. At the time of their divorce, the couple agreed to share equal custody of their two sons. Since then, Mourer has accused Calli of violating provisions in the former couple's divorce agreement by repeatedly calling her names in emails. Mourer has asked Judge Maria Espinosa Dennis to hold Calli in contempt and amend the custody agreement.

According to Florida election records, the law firm at which Mourer's attorney is employed donated $500 to Judge Espinosa Dennis' re-election campaign on November 15th. The day before, the firm also co-sponsored a fundraiser for Espinosa Dennis at a restaurant in South Miami. Calli filed a motion asking Judge Espinosa Dennis to recuse herself on November 1st after invitations to the re-election fundraiser were distributed. Judge Espinosa Dennis denied his request and Calli appealed to Florida's Third District Court of Appeal. Calli purportedly feels he will be unable to receive a fair hearing before the lower court judge.

Mourer's law firm is also seeking an award of approximately $100,000 in costs and attorney's fees against Calli. Her appellate attorney, Craig J. Trocino, has stated Calli's recusal argument has no merit and is legally indefensible. According to Trocino, Mourer's law firm took no substantive part in the re-election fundraiser and only attended the event. He also said that the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee only requires a judge to analyze an attorney's campaign involvement when faced with a recusal request. No employee at Mourer's law firm is on Judge Espinosa Dennis' campaign committee.

Although Calli claims Judge Espinosa Dennis had an obligation to disclose the law firm's fundraising efforts as a possible conflict of interest, Trocino argues Calli is merely upset with the judge's prior rulings against him. He also alleges that Calli has continued litigation for more than two years in an attempt to drain Mourer's financial resources. Calli's attorney stated the judge's decision to continue to preside over the case is insensitive and fails to take into account how any reasonable individual would react given the situation.

Custody arrangements in Florida are referred to as time-sharing plans. A time-sharing plan will specify the amount of time a child will spend with each parent each week. The plan will also specify where children will spend overnights and holidays. If a child's parents are unable to agree on a time-sharing schedule, the court will set a schedule for them. A court ordered time-sharing plan will take into account statutory factors such as the child's preference and any instances of abuse or violence. In order to modify a time-sharing plan, Florida law requires the parent seeking modification to show substantially changed circumstances.

Few matters are more important to parents than decisions related to who will care for their children. If you are a parent in the midst of a custody battle or divorce, selecting the right family law attorney is crucial. Attorney Sandy T. Fox is an experienced Miami-Dade family law attorney. He will guide you through the custody process and assist you in reaching a negotiated time-sharing plan. If reaching a negotiated custody arrangement is not possible, he will help you understand the various statutory factors a court will look to and your options as a concerned parent. To speak with a lawyer who focuses exclusively on family law matters, call Sandy T. Fox today at 800-596-0579 or contact him through his website.

More Blogs:

Okaloosa County's First Unified Family Court Established in Crestview, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 27, 2012

Miami-Dade Circuit Family Division Judge Julio Jimenez Dies at Age 58, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 20, 2012

Additional Resources:

Judge won't recuse herself from volatile custody battle, by John Pacenti, Daily Business Review (Subscription required)