December 28, 2007
STEVEN R. STEINBERG, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
SANDRA K. STEINBERG, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part, Hunterdon County, FM-10-16-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 17, 2007
Before Judges S.L. Reisner and Gilroy.
Plaintiff Steven R. Steinberg appeals from a February 16, 2007 trial court order holding him in violation of litigant's rights for failure to comply with a December 15, 2006 order, and awarding defendant an additional $1000 in counsel fees in connection with the litigant's rights motion. We affirm.
The underlying dispute revolves around plaintiff's obligation to cooperate in the preparation of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) respecting his New York pension. In an order dated March 15, 2005, Judge Rubin directed plaintiff to draft the QDRO.
Defendant moved to enforce the March 15 order, and on December 15, 2006, Judge Buchsbaum found that plaintiff "was in long-term noncompliance" with the March 15, 2005 order. He therefore entered an order requiring plaintiff to pay defendant $2355 in counsel fees by December 30, 2006. The judge also ordered that plaintiff's counsel have the QDRO drafted and executed by December 22, 2006, and filed with the New York State pension office by December 30, 2006. Plaintiff did not meet the December 30 deadline to either pay the fees or file the QDRO, and he did not file an application with Judge Buchsbaum to extend the deadline for good cause.
When plaintiff failed to pay the counsel fees and once again failed to finalize the QDRO, defendant moved on January 11, 2007, to have plaintiff held in violation of litigant's rights with respect to the December 15, 2006 order. In a written opinion issued February 16, 2007, Judge Buchsbaum concluded that plaintiff had again inexcusably delayed in contacting the necessary officials in New York to obtain the information needed to finalize the QDRO. The judge, therefore, ordered plaintiff to pay defendant $1000 in counsel fees for the expense of filing the current motion. He also concluded that insofar as "plaintiff is essentially requesting that the Court reconsider its December 15, 2006 order in regard to the counsel fee award . . . any such motion for reconsideration is out of time."
On this appeal, plaintiff presents the following points for our consideration:
POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT'S AWARD OF ATTORNEY'S FEES IS NOT ENTITLED TO DEFERENCE BECAUSE THERE WAS NO TESTIMONY TAKEN AND NO FINDING OF FACTS.
POINT II: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO EVALUATE THE REASONABLENESS AND NECESSITY OF THE AMOUNT OF COUNSEL FEES SOUGHT BY DEFENDANT.
POINT III: THE COURT IMPROPERLY SANCTIONED PLAINTIFF WHEN IT WAS CLEAR THAT HE WAS NOT ACTING IN BAD FAITH.
Having reviewed the record, we conclude that all of these contentions are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We affirm substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Buchsbaum's opinion. We add the following comments.
We agree with Judge Buchsbaum that insofar as plaintiff sought reconsideration of the December 15, 2006 order, that request was untimely, and he properly declined to revisit the counsel fees assessed by that order. Plaintiff did not file a timely appeal from that order either, and we decline to entertain his challenge to the December 15, 2006 order here.
We also find no abuse of discretion or other error in the court's imposition of $1000 in counsel fees for plaintiff's failure to comply with the December 15, 2006 order. Plaintiff was in what Judge Buchsbaum fairly characterized as "long-term noncompliance" with the QDRO order entered on March 15, 2005. Judge Buchsbaum's December 15, 2006 order set a firm deadline for compliance. If plaintiff could not meet the deadline, it was incumbent on him to file an application to extend the deadline rather than simply letting it pass without compliance. As Judge Buchsbaum noted, the $1000 fee award was imposed for violation of litigant's rights and therefore plaintiff's ability to pay this modest sum was not an issue the court was required to consider. See Yueh v. Yueh, 329 N.J. Super. 447, 461 (App. Div. 2000); Kelly v. Kelly, 262 N.J. Super. 303, 307 (Ch. Div. 1992).
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