Family Court Judges Order Sale of Family Homes to Pay Divorce Attorney Fees (Updated 10/9)

Santa Clara County Divorce Attorney Nicole Myers Seeks $40,000 in Sanctions against self- represented mother, Julia Minkowski (photo), for Interview on private judging at Family Courthouse in 2021 -Photo by Susan Bassi4304

By Susan Bassi and Fred Johnson

Over the past two decades, as California’s real estate values have soared, family court records indicate an escalation of court ordered home sales related to the state’s divorce cases. Properties with substantial equity subject to division during a divorce have seemingly become a new source of income for attorneys who collect that income in the form of discovery sanctions, fines and fee awards following  protected litigation.

Recently, California passed a new law, SB 235, which increases the amount that a party in a small claims or unlawful detainer case must pay if they, or their attorney, fail to comply with discovery laws and procedures. Under the new law, courts will be able to charge up to $1,000 to a litigant who fails to provide required information, or discovery, during a small claims or unlawful detainer case.  An amount up dramatically from the previous limit of $250.

Small claims court cases prohibit litigants from being represented by attorneys.  Both litigants must represent themselves and may not seek more than $10,000 in the action.  Therefore, discovery sanctions could cost as little as 10% of a prevailing lawsuit award. Conversely, in cases seeking smaller awards, the new law could cost litigants a significant percentage of any amount awarded by the court.

For example, if a homeowner suing a contractor in small claims court for a breached home improvement agreement valued at $2,000 fails to comply with a discovery request, they could lose 50% of a court-awarded amount under the new law.

Discovery Sanctions Fines and Fees in Family Court

In divorce cases, spouses hire attorneys if they have access to their own funds or qualify for loans to pay for legal representation. Under a controversial state- wide policy judges require self- represented parties (‘pro pers”) to follow the same complicated laws and rules as lawyers, even though they haven’t been to law school. Pro pers must be able to address complex issues at the center of a divorce, including handling of discovery, division of community property, spousal support, child support, custody, taxes and issues related to real estate assets and liabilities.  Unlike in small claims court where only one issue is addressed.

A retired federal appellate judge noted, judges often express bias against people who can’t afford a lawyer.

California is a “no fault state”, meaning irrespective of the underlying reasons for a divorce, it is against public policy, and law, for a family court to allow the unequitable division of community property estates. Furthermore, divorce proceedings are not intended to be adversarial, which they quickly become when one spouse has a lawyer, and the other can’t afford one.  Family Code sections 2030 and 2032 provide judges with the tools to assure fairness when it comes to legal representation during a divorce proceeding.

Despite the increase in home equity, and value of community property estates subject to division during divorce cases, the number of self-represented litigants in family law cases has continued to rise, accounting for an estimated  50% to 80% of all family law litigants. An imbalance in legal representation can result in significant sanctions, fines, and fees, further disadvantaging the spouse who could not afford an attorney from the outset of a case.


Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon Yaron Hazani was subjected to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, DVRO, after he refused to provide his former wife their “Ghet”, a Jewish Divorce Document. The order became permanent in 2023 after he refused to pay child support and the attorney fees he was ordered to pay her attorney. He was continually represented until 2023.

Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon Who Threatened to Impoverish Wife In Divorce Lands Permanent Restraining Order

In a high-profile Los Angeles divorce case involving Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Yaron Hazani, equity in the family home was squandered during the divorce proceedings. The Hazani divorce case, filed in 2019, initially involved an agreement to sell the house with set payments Hazani agreed to make to his former wife.

According to court documents, Yaron Hazani was represented by legal counsel for the majority of the dissolution proceedings. Court documents show that in those legal proceedings, while transferring close to $3 million of community property to his Father and having access to income amounting to over $97,000 a month from the community medical practice, Hazani pressured his wife’s for consent to sell the family home. An agreement to sell the family home was made in connection with Hazani’s promise to pay his former wife $2,380 per month for spousal support and $4,897 for child support for the couple’s three young children.  She was on Medi-Cal for most of the divorce proceedings as Hazani earned over a million dollars a year as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.

According to court documents, Hazani had threatened to impoverish his wife. Consistent with coercive control, he seemingly used his attorneys and the divorce proceeding to carry out his threats.

Early in the proceedings, Hazani’s wife, who had no access to funds nor income to pay requested attorneys fees and retainers, alleged her former husband had been physically abusive and had refused to provide her with a “Get”, or “Ghet”, a Jewish divorce document. The family court proceedings were delayed, leading to the sale of the family home and ongoing support payment arrearages.

It wasn’t until early 2022 that Judge Bruce Iwasaki found Hazani should be subjected to a CLETS Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) due to his actions. Hazani was issued a one-year restraining order, which did not prevent Hazani from continuing his work as a doctor.  Although self-represented for short periods during the dissolution, Hazani was able to continue to maintain and pay multiple attorneys throughout the proceedings. As he did, he claimed to have limited income and failed to pay the court ordered support to his children for which he had agreed to pay when obtaining his former wife’s consent to sell the family home.

However, in 2023, the DVRO was made permanent by Judge Steve Cochran after Hazani reportedly continued to stalk his former spouse and failed to comply with court orders related to support and payment of fees for attorneys.

Court documents indicate Hazani continues to owe his former wife over $270,000 in child and spousal support arrearages which arises from agreements made when she agreed to sell the family home.

Attorneys Fees Taken from Equity in Family Home Closely Tied to Private Judges

In Santa Clara, a similar pattern can be seen in the Minkowski divorce. Yuval Olivier Minkowski and his wife, Julia, were married for over 22 years and had three minor children. When the couple decided to divorce, they initially did not hire lawyers and agreed to a “nesting” arrangement to minimize disruptions for their children.

A nesting agreement is when parents involved in a divorce alternate their separate time in the family home. In Julia and Yuval’s situation, they reportedly obtained separate outside living spaces, then alternated weeks they lived in the home to accommodate their individual custodial time. This minimized the impact the parents’ divorce had on the family as the children were not uprooted from their home, or school, in order to maintain relationships with both parents during the divorce which has dragged out for four years.

When Yuval filed for divorce in late 2019, Julia immediately requested a waiver of court costs and fees due to her inability to pay or access community cash. Yuval controlled the community property and family assets.  Julia also asked Yuval for the Jewish divorce document, or Ghet, which Yuval, like Hazani refused to provide.

Despite being deemed too poor to pay her court fees, Julia hired divorce attorney James Hahn in early 2020 after obtaining personal loans from family and friends.

Shortly before the pandemic related to COVID 19, the Minkowski divorce case was assigned to Judge Cindy Hendrickson, who had previously worked in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.  Around this time, a prosecutor working for the district attorney reportedly referred Yuval to Nicole Myers for legal representation. Yuval, who had access to substantial separate property and real estate assets during the divorce proceedings, was able to pay Myers of the Myers Kennedy law firm to continuously represent him during the divorce.

Myers’ law partner, Stephen Kennedy, was known to have an undisclosed relationship with Judge Hendrickson based on the secret judge club the Vanguard exposed earlier this year in the ongoing Tainted Trials, Tarnished Headlines, Stolen Justice series.

After Myers became Yuval’s attorney, she assisted her client in filing a request for DVRO against Julia. That request resulted in Julia being abruptly removed from the home the spouses had agreed to share through a nesting arrangement. The request also resulted in Julia being kept from her children for eight months as she waited for the matter to be addressed by the family court during the pandemic.

As court closures related to COVID19 made access to the court difficult in 2020, Hahn and Myers suggested the use of private judge, Michael Smith. As noted in an interview Julia did with this publication, Myers and Hahn told Juila use of a private judge would expedite the divorce, reduce litigation expense and address dueling allegations of domestic violence.

However, the costs charged to Julia for Smith’s private judge fees prohibited her from continuing to pay Hahn’s fees. Shortly after private judge Smith was appointed as a private judge in the case, Hahn withdrew, leaving Julia to represent herself.

Julia is suing Hahn for malpractice in connection with the private judge and Myers is seeking to have Julia sanctioned for private judge Smith recusing from the case following a media request made by the Vanguard.

According to court documents in the malpractice case, Hahn encouraged Julia to hire Smith as a private judge when he knew she could not afford his fees. Hahn also reportedly knew Smith had no known history of actually reducing the cost and expense of a modern divorce as Hahn had represented to his client he did.

Hahn is represented in that malpractice case by the Long & Levitt. A law firm widely known for defending JAMS.


Lawsuit filed against a divorce attorney in connection with the use of a private judge.

JAMS is the largest private judge, mediation and arbitration business in the state of California. The business was founded by attorney Jack Trotter. JAMS is known for its close ties to now bankrupted, disgraced and criminally indicted celebrity attorney Thomas Girardi whose wife, Erika Jayne of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills filed for divorce during the pandemic.

The Los Angeles Times has reported widely on the State Bar of California’s failure to protect the public from harm inflicted by attorneys including Thomas Girardi.

Julia, and countless others, have filed multiple complaints with the state bar as it relates to the conduct and fees of family law attorneys working in connection to private judging. The bar has failed to properly investigate, or prosecute, these complaints as noted in official communications reviewed by the Vanguard.

Self- Represented Family Court Litigant Sanctions and Losses

In the Minkowski divorce, Julia repeatedly filed motions requesting attorney’s fees, and religious freedom accommodations, which Myers opposed and Judge Hendrickson denied. Nicole Myers recently filed motions in Santa Clara County Superior Court requesting the forced sale of the Minkowski family home to accelerate payment of her fees. Including payments in the form of sanctions from Julia.

After Vanguard reporters noted irregularities in the domestic violence orders and use of private judge Michael Smith in the Minkowski case, a media request was made to assure proper reporting on those irregularities. Smith immediately withdrew from the Minkowski divorce case upon the media request being submitted.

Since that time, Nicole Myers has repeatedly sought court orders for sanctions against Julia for speaking to the media about the case and private judging in general.  Myers has supported her request by falsely alleging Julia was responsible for Smith’s recusal such that she should be ordered to pay Myers’ attorney’s fees in the amount of $40,000—a request made as Julia has been unable to pay an attorney herself.

Julia’s self-representation in her divorce has resulted in challenging legal outcomes and significant fees, including sanctions totaling over $38,000, largely due to alleged failures to comply with discovery requests or improper submissions to the court.

Without an attorney Julia was compelled to represent herself during a trial on final property division. When that trial was set in conflict with her religious activities, Juila requested to have the trial continued pursuant to the First Amendment. Judge Hendrickson denied Juila’s requests as she has every other request Julia has made since the case was returned to public court following Michael Smith quitting the case.

When totaling the costs and expenses outlined in Myers’ legal pleadings, Julia is likely to receive less than 3% of her community property, primarily due to her forced self-representation, inability to pay court fees and costs, and the involvement of a private judge which she agreed to at the urging of her own attorney, James Hahn.

In addition to the legal costs and harm Julia faced representing herself in court, she also has been subjected to a domestic violence restraining order, which precludes her from discussing settlement with her former husband as she had routinely done prior to an employee in the District Attorney’s Office referring her former husband to Nicole Myers for representation in a divorce. A divorce proceeding now entering its fifth year of litigation following a 22-year marriage that produced three children and saw the husband’s self -proclaimed separate real estate assets grow substantially.  Claims Julia was defenseless in opposing as a self-represented litigant.

Myers is requesting the family court order the sale of the Minkowski family home to assure the sanctions and fees charged to Julia will be paid within the divorce proceedings. A pattern seen more frequently in modern divorces.

This article was updated on 10/9/2020 for clarity purposes. It was originally published on October 8, 2023.

The Vanguard remains committed to reporting on the impact of family court proceedings and individuals associated with industry. This reporting appears in the Tainted Trials, Tarnished Headlines, Stolen Justice series, and associated spinoff reporting. Content focuses on newsworthy issues and is intended to inform the public about family court related issues with links to court documents, news reports and associated laws.  To support this reporting, please donate, and subscribe to the Vanguard. Your donations may be tax deductible. To reach reporters covering this series, or directly support their work, please contact Susan Bassi via email or DM on social media. Information can also be sent through US Mail to: Susan Bassi- P.O. Box 2220, Los Gatos, CA 95031

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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