Fall-out of ‘most acrimonious’ divorce continues

2011-08-17 00:00

A DIVORCEE is involved in a dispute with a Durban law firm over a R572 000 legal bill she allegedly ran up during an acrimonious divorce action in 2006 and 2007.

Michelle Odayan is being sued for payment of R572 624,45 by the firm J.H. Nicholson, Stiller & Geshen whose partner, Grant Cummings, represented her during her divorce from Doctor Myenderen Keith Odayan in December 2007.

Odayan alleged in papers before Pietermaritzburg high court Judge Gregory Kruger yesterday that while the firm did provide her with legal services and was entitled to be remunerated, the amount claimed is exorbitant.

She further alleged that despite having agreed to act in her interests in a professional manner and to safeguard all assets and cash due to her, as well as assuring her that her ex-husband would not get custody of their child, the firm withdrew as her attorneys the day before the court case, leaving her to conduct her own defence.

This resulted in her being “overpowered by the legal fraternity and coerced into signing a settlement agreement” and losing custody of her child, she said.

The law firm on the other hand maintains her bill has already been taxed by the taxing master who arrived at a final figure of R657 805.

The R572 624 now being claimed from Odayan is the original amount she was charged.

It was argued on their behalf that if Odayan wanted to dispute the bill she ought to apply to have it reviewed.

Regarding Odayan’s claim that she’d complained to the KZN Law Society, Cummings said he’d first seen her letter last month and the Law Society had never contacted him about the allegations.

In his affidavit Cummings accused Odayan of having “contrived” a situation towards the end of her divorce proceedings to avoid paying fees due “much the same as she is attempting now”. She denies this.

He described the Odayan divorce as the most acrimonious he’d been involved in during 16 years of practising law. “I have little doubt that I am unlikely to see anything quite like it again during my career,” he said.

It involved numerous applications, most brought by Odayan’s husband, to set aside or appeal protection orders, child access orders, contempt of court proceedings, seeking permission to travel abroad with the child, as well as a bid to eject Odayan from the matrimonial home.

He said Odayan had been fearful her husband was tracking her movements, that he’d “bugged” her home and was intercepting her post.

Cummings alleged that as the divorce trial date neared Michelle Odayan became “increasingly belligerent”, demanded they instruct experts on her behalf which they could not do as they held no funds for her, and questioned all advice they gave her. She’d then claimed that they’d agreed to act for her on a contingency fee basis when “nothing could be further from the truth”.

A significant amount in fees was already due and they were no longer prepared to represent her, he said.

Argument yesterday centred on Odayan’s application for a postponement after she had dispensed with the services of another attorney, Colyn Townsend, who she alleged had “put pressure” on her to consent to judgment against her in light of the bill of costs having been taxed. Her present attorneys (Sundeep Singh & Associates) are acting pro bono (free of charge) in the matter.

Judge Kruger directed the parties yesterday to “urgently pursue a settlement”, adding that the matter should “never, ever have come to court”.

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