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Zilkha v. Zilkha

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 17, 2018


          Argued April 12, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk and tried to the court, Abery-Wetstone, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief in accordance with the parties' separation agreement and stipulation; thereafter, the matter was transferred to the judicial district of Waterbury; subsequently, the court, Maureen Murphy, J., appointed a guardian ad litem for the parties' minor children; thereafter, following a hearing, the court, Albis, J., set a new hourly rate for the fees charged by the guardian ad litem retroactive to the date of her appointment, and the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Edward N. Lerner, for the appellant (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Elgo, Js.


          DIPENTIMA, C. J.

         In this protracted and bitterly contested dissolution action, [1] the defendant, David Zilkha, appeals from the postjudgment order of the trial court increasing the fees payable to the guardian ad litem. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred by (1) refusing to permit evidence of misrepresentations by the guardian ad litem and (2) modifying the hourly rate of the guardian ad litem. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.[2]

         The defendant and the plaintiff, Karen Zilkha, were married in 1998; on May 31, 2005, that marriage was dissolved by the court, Abery-Wetstone, J. Zilkha v. Zilkha, 159 Conn.App. 167, 169, 123 A.3d 439 (2015). The parties had twin children in February, 2001. Zilkha v. Zilkha, 180 Conn.App. 143, 146, A.3d, cert. denied, 328 Conn. 937, A.3d (2018).

         The procedural events pertinent to this appeal[3] began in late March, 2015. On March 27, 2015, the court, Maureen Murphy, J., appointed Attorney D. Susanne Snearly as guardian ad litem (guardian) for the minor children and temporarily set her fees at the rate of $75 per hour, [4] without prejudice.[5] On February 17, 2016, the guardian filed a motion requesting an upward adjustment to her fees, retroactive to the date of her appointment. The court, Hon. Barbara M. Quinn, judge trial referee, granted the request and raised the guardian's hourly rate to $300. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to reargue, which was granted; the court, Albis, J., held a hearing on the matter on November 2, 2016. At the hearing, the guardian and both parties testified. On December 27, 2016, the court issued its ruling setting the guardian's hourly rate at $225 retroactive to the date of her appointment.[6] This appeal followed.


         The defendant first claims that the court should have allowed him to introduce evidence of misrepresentations by the guardian. The defendant acknowledges that the standard of review for this evidentiary claim is abuse of discretion. See Jewett v. Jewett, 265 Conn. 669, 679, 830 A.2d 193 (2003) (‘‘It is well settled that the trial court's evidentiary rulings are entitled to great deference. . . . The trial court is given broad latitude in ruling on the admissibility of evidence, and we will not disturb such a ruling unless it is shown that the ruling amounted to an abuse of discretion.'' [Internal quotation marks omitted.]). In support of his claim, the defendant refers to language in General Statutes § 46b-62[7] allowing the court to order the payment of ‘‘reasonable fees'' for an appointed guardian. With an extremely sparse analysis bordering on the inadequate, the defendant appears to argue that the preclusion of certain evidence, namely, of the guardian's background as an alleged abuse victim, her purported dislike of British individuals and her failure to disclose those alleged facts, was an abuse of discretion because a correct determination of the ‘‘reasonable fees'' required a consideration of this precluded evidence.[8] We are not persuaded.

         In denying the defendant's request to question the guardian on these topics, the court stated: ‘‘This is not a hearing on guardian ad litem alleged misconduct. This is a hearing on an appropriate hourly rate. The case is over and decided. You, yourself, have indicated that she's been paid the fees she put in for at the previously ordered rate.'' The court nevertheless allowed the defendant to make an offer of proof, which included a recitation of instances of alleged physical abuse in the guardian's childhood and early adulthood as well as documents purporting to prove that the guardian had a particular dislike of British men.[9]

         The court has the discretion to preclude irrelevant evidence in determining the amount and apportionment of fees pursuant to § 46b-62. See, e.g., Jewett v. Jewett, supra, 265 Conn. 679 (‘‘[r]elevant evidence is evidence that has a logical tendency to aid the trier in the determination of an issue'' [internal quotation marks omitted]); Rubenstein v. Rubenstein, 107 Conn.App. 488, 506, 945 A.2d 1043 (no abuse of discretion in precluding evidence of fault for dissolution where only issue at hearing was apportionment of guardian ad litem fees on basis of parties' incomes), cert. ...

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