"That bill is quite stunningly enormous," said John-Paul Boyd, an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. branch family law subsection. Previously, he had heard of legal bills for divorce among the wealthy ranging between $400,000 and $600,000.
Senior B.C. family-law lawyer Lawrence Kahn has said the divorce battle between Vancouver businessman Bernard Lotzkar and his former wife, Marian, was one of the most complicated family-law cases in recent years in the province.
The case, described by the court as a carriage-trade lawsuit, involved the division of about $12-million in assets. The couple fought vigorously over almost every item that was part of their lengthy marriage: an inheritance that the wife believed was a personal, not a family, asset; expensive items such as works of art, jewellery and gold coins; and minor assets such as airline points. They also contested ownership of shares in the family business, and real-estate holdings.
The couple married in 1958 and had three children. Mr. Lotzkar had built up a successful scrap-metal business. His wife did not work outside the home throughout the marriage. Strains in the marriage surfaced in 1995, court documents show. Several marriage counselling sessions failed to save the relationship and the marriage formally broke down in late January of 1999, according to the court records.
The court dealt with the division of their property for 29 days over 3½ months in late 2002. The appeal court spent two days on the case in 2003. The former Ms. Lotzkar, who remarried 2½ years after her formal divorce in 2000 and now uses the surname Levitt, was awarded about 64 per cent of the assets, worth about $5.7-million. Her larger share reflected mostly her claim to a larger portion of the inheritance from her parents. The court decided each side should pay their own lawyers' fees.
Despite her success, Ms. Levitt felt the results at trial were disastrous for her and the appeal court ruling scarcely any better. She also was not pleased with the high cost of her divorce.
A review of the legal bill before a district registrar of the B.C. Supreme Court in 2005 went on for 10½ days. The registrar's decision was subsequently considered by the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal. The appeal court decision was issued earlier this month.
Ms. Levitt's lawyer, Irwin Nathanson, declined to comment on the bill that his firm Nathanson Schachter & Thompson sent to his client.
Ms. Levitt also refused to say anything about the legal bill or her divorce. Mr. Lotzkar did not respond to a request for an interview.
However a picture of the highly contentious divorce case and the law firm's work can be pieced together from the legal rulings.
Mr. Nathanson, a Queen's Counsel, is recognized as one of the leading commercial litigators in B.C. and normally does not handle matrimonial cases. He was retained without a written agreement on the understanding that he would charge "a fair fee," the documents indicate.
The legal bill for the initial lawsuit and appeal included $833,400 for legal fees and $185,061 for taxes and disbursements such as preparing transcripts and documents for submission to court. Mr. Nathanson billed for 904 hours; his associate James MacInnis for 1,464 hours. Bills were also sent out for two lawyers who spent a total of 210 hours on research. Ms. Levitt's legal team also retained a land-value appraiser, an accountant and a senior family law lawyer. Martin Taylor, a former Court of Appeal judge, was hired to review submissions for the appeal.
B.C. Supreme Court district registrar Murray Blok, in the initial fee review that was mostly upheld by the court on appeal, stated the fees were reasonable.
There could be no doubt the fees charged to the
client are very high indeed, he wrote. "I am
satisfied, however, that the client engaged top
counsel for a carriage-trade lawsuit," he stated.
"The fees must be measured with that in mind, along
with all other relevant circumstances.
The legal bill reflected the number of issues raised, the complexity of the issues, the expansion of issues as matters proceeded, the volume of documents, the manner in which the documents were disclosed by both sides, the complicated financial affairs of the couple and the businesses, the inability of Ms. Levitt to explain financial matters, and the misinformation that was given, Mr. Blok said.