Article published April 9. 2009 08:55AM
By Sam Strangeways
A divorce lawyer who appropriated child maintenance payments from a father to pay off legal fees owed to her by his ex-wife did not misuse the funds, a judge ruled yesterday.
Keren Lomas was found by a magistrate last year to have improperly used more than $5,000 paid to Lomas & Co. law firm by KJAZ 98.1FM owner Leo Trott for his teenage daughter with ex-wife Barbara Carroll-Trott.
Ms Lomas appealed the decision in the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Richard Ground found in her favour. He awarded costs to her in the sum of $1,500 — though her lawyer Juliana Snelling said her legal bill was close to $9,000.
Ms Lomas told The Royal Gazette: "I'm happy."
"I am thrilled that Mr. Trott has displayed such passion and commitment recently in the press and media with regard to his financial responsibilities to his daughter," she added. "Hopefully, he will work towards a more amicable relationship with his former wife in order to avoid further litigation."
Ms Lomas said she "might have been regarded as arrogant" in assuming Magistrate Tyrone Chin would know her clients could determine how money held for them in her trust account was used.
But she added that she was one of the few attorneys on the Island representing people on legal aid. Mrs. Carroll-Trott, her client, was initially denied legal aid.
"We arrived at a method of securing for her ongoing representation while I fought for her right to a legal aid certificate, which was subsequently granted," said Ms Lomas.
Mr. Trott, who represented himself, told this newspaper: "The Chief Justice is a fair man. His hands are tied by the laws, as antiquated as they are. I think that when a court order [for child maintenance payments] is granted, it should specifically state how the money is to be spent. It should leave no loopholes."
The 45-year-old part-owner of LTT Broadcasting, who has since remarried, said his relationship with his daughter was badly damaged because she believed he had not made the maintenance payments.
"Our relationship is out of the window now because of the portrayal of a deadbeat dad. We barely talk. She is 17 and she doesn't have much to say to me when I call her."
He said he did not regret pursuing Ms Lomas through the courts, adding that it had been a "worthwhile exercise", particularly in light of the limited costs he was ordered to pay by Mr. Justice Ground.
"The biggest loss is the loss of my relationship with my daughter. No financial settlement can repair the broken relationship."
Ms Snelling had argued on behalf of Ms Lomas that Ms Carroll-Trott, having been granted "care and control" custody of the child, could decide how best to spend maintenance payments.
She said since the legal fees were spent on trying to get the best possible maintenance award for the daughter, the girl benefited from the money.
Mr. Justice Ground agreed in his judgement. He said Mr. Trott made payments under maintenance orders "but that some or all of the sums were then appropriated by Ms Lomas to the payment of the mother's legal fees with that firm".
He added: "I think that it is enough to dispose of this appeal that the use of the monies to pay the mother's legal fees is capable of being a payment for the benefit of the child."
Mr. Trott was accompanied in court by Edward Tavares, co-founder of fathers' rights charity ChildWatch, who said the case highlighted the need for a shared parenting law. "It's a sad day," said Mr. Tavares. "How can it be the best possible child support or maintenance when it's going towards legal fees? How is this for the child?"