Man sent to 'debtors' prison' for not paying wife's legal bills in divorce case asks appeals court to step in

By Dan Churney | Feb 19, 2019

A Chicago real estate developer has asked a state appeals court to step in after a Cook County judge sent him to veritable debtors’ prison for not establishing a fund to pay legal fees for him and his wife in their divorce case.

In late January, Frank M. “Marty” Paris filed arguments with the Illinois First District Appellate Court, asking the state panel to declare Cook County Associate Judge Karen J. Bowes improperly ordered him to set aside the funds.

Paris, founder and president of Sedgwick Development in Chicago, had been cited for contempt of court, leading to five days in jail, after the judge determined he had not complied with her order. Paris, however, argued his estranged wife foiled his attempt to comply with the judge’s order, and his attorneys never asked for such a fund to be created.

Marty Paris and his wife, Kerry, have been in Cook County divorce court since 2016, when Kerry filed for divorce. The couple had been married since 2002.

Cook County Associate Judge Karen Bowes

Marty Paris countered with his own divorce petition two weeks later.

Proceedings have been rancorous, according to court records.

Judge Bowes ordered in August 2017 that Paris create a $750,000 fund to pay his and Kerry’s attorneys, as Kerry did not have adequate income, as well as to pay fees for financial experts and a court-appointed representative for the couple’s children.

Of the required amount, $200,000 was to come from a home equity loan against the Paris’ house. Bowes told Paris to “go find” the remaining $550,000, despite Paris’ protest his assets were “highly cross-collateralized,” “highly leveraged” and “encumbered and controlled by the banks,” preventing him from coming up with the money, according to Paris’ filing.

“All we need is a dip in the stock market, a recession in building, and this house of cards will come tumbling down before anyone can see it. If your Honor orders that he violate the restrictions placed by the banks and the lending institutions, then we’re enhancing the possibility of this house of cards coming down,” Paris’ then-attorney told the judge.

Paris eventually obtained a loan proposal for $550,000, but the bank demanded Kerry co-sign the loan, which she purportedly refused to do. Paris asked Judge Bowes to order Kerry to sign, but Bowes refused.

In turn, Kerry asked in September 2017 for Paris to be held in contempt for not obtaining the money, saying Paris annually cleared $1 million in income. Paris said this income was “phantom income,” which merely passed through him on its way to pay off bank obligations.

At a May 2018 hearing, Bowes expressed indignation.

“I’m offended on multiple levels that this case has gone on for two years, and that these attorneys have worked exceptionally hard and haven’t been paid. How dare you take advantage of these lawyers like this? And that applies to everyone, the two parties sitting here. Mr. Paris, I am finding your action contemptuous without justification. I don’t care where you get the money from. It’s your problem. Figure it out,” Bowes said.

Paris was jailed five days, before he was released on bond.

Paris appealed, arguing Bowes should have determined whether he could afford to furnish funds, instead of just telling him to “figure it out.”

“While the circuit court was certainly vehement in the conclusion it wanted to reach, it ignored the fact that there are no means to that end,” Paris’ current attorney, Michael DiDomenico, contended.

DiDomenico and Sean Hamann, of the Chicago firm of Lake Toback DiDomenico, took over Paris’ representation, after his original attorneys, Rosenfeld, Hafron, Shapiro & Farmer, of Chicago, withdrew in June 2018.

DiDomenico maintained Paris made a good-faith effort to acquire a loan and obey the judge, but was thwarted by Kerry. Paris only has a few thousand dollars on hand, and to obtain more money by liquidating assets, would violate business agreements, which Bowes cannot force him to do, DiDomenico said.

Further, DiDomenico argued Paris’ first attorneys filed a fee petition and withdrew, so have forfeited their right to fees from the fund, because fees can only be awarded to the party petitioning for fees, which were Kerry’s attorneys.

“While, to be sure, a collective and resounding cheer would be heard from divorce lawyers across the state if they can avoid receivables by maintaining interim fee orders against their

own client, punishable by jail, it obviously puts the attorney in an adverse position to his or her own client,” DiDomenico stated.

The appellate court will review arguments and rule on the matter.

Kerry was represented by Stein & Stein, of Chicago, which withdrew from the circuit court case in October, but is representing her in the appeal. She is now represented at the circuit level by Rhonda de Freitas, of Chicago-Kent College of Law.

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Organizations in this Story

Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois First District Appellate Court Lake, Toback and DArco Rosenfeld Hafron Shapiro and Farmer Stein and Stein, Ltd.

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