Imagine you go to lunch with a married man.  Maybe it was a business lunch, maybe not.  Your husband finds out and decides it doesn’t sit so well with him.  Instead of holding his wife accountable, he decides he is going after the “home wrecker” lunch date.  He files a case.  He sues. He wins.  That’s basically what happened in the case of Shelly Sterling vs. V.Stivano. 

Judge Richard Fruin awarded Shelly Sterling money to repay her for community property that Donald Sterling spent on V. Stivano during the course of their marriage.  Shelly won reimbursement of everything:  the car, the house, the jewelry, even a twelve-dollar pair of thong underwear.

Think what you want about V. Stivano.  The fact remains that the court made the wrong call.  The person who should have been sued, the person who should have been paying up is the real home wrecker himself, Donald Sterling. 

David Glass is a partner with Los Angeles-based Enenstein Ribakoff LaViña & Pham and heads the firm’s family law practice. Glass says, “under the California Family Code each party to a marriage has a ‘fiduciary duty’ to the other to maintain the community estate.”  Therefore, the one who is in breach, the one who should have been sued, the one who owes Shelly Sterling money is no other than Donald Sterling himself. 

"Shelly is thrilled with the decision," her attorney Pierce O'Donnell said.   Of course she is.  O’Donnell acknowledges, "This is certainly a victory for the Sterling family whose funds were dissipated by Donald to lavish millions of dollars of gifts on a conniving mistress. The decision also has broader significance in today's society. Shelly has set a precedent indicating the rights of all spouses to protect their community property."

So what kind of precedent does this case set?  Enenstein attorney Connolly Olyer suggests the precedent set is that 3rd parties could be forced to repay monies, gifts, and benefits they received from a married person.  

To me, there is greater practical impact.  Why are our courts so comfortable with scapegoating the indigent “girlfriend” instead of putting the screws to the real bad guy here?  Why isn’t Donald paying Shelly back?  He was the one who broke the fiduciary duty.  He is the real offending party in this action.   Not only is this terrible law, it’s creates terrible psychological precedent as well.  Cheating spouses should be held accountable for their behavior.  Why give them the out? If you ever want to see behavior to change, you must hold the right person accountable.

LA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Source: LA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

About the Author

Robin Sax

Robin Sax is a former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County who specialized in child sexual assault cases. She is the author of Predators and Child Molesters.

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