Hartley, Maxwell, & Castellano Attorneys at Law
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A Pricey Bottle of Tequila

A Pricey Bottle of Tequila

Many years ago, when I was a young and impressionable law student, I recall watching a case play out in our local Family Law court. That judge has since retired, but the story has stayed with me all these years. It’s worth sharing.

It all started when two people fell in love when at their wedding they were gifted with an extraordinarily expensive bottle of tequila. As I recall it was a Patron of some type... I don’t recall the series. At the time of the marriage, the bottle purportedly was valued at $125.

The couple was so thrilled with the gift that they vowed to hang onto that bottle and save it for some significant date in the future.

Well over a decade drifted past. The couple had three children but didn’t break out the tequila bottle for the birth of any of their kids. One spouse graduated from college; the other obtained a master’s degree. Those were not big enough occasions to break out that bottle, either. One begins to wonder what was...

Two careers, three kids - the parties drifted apart. Wife got lonely and found comfort elsewhere. The other found out and filed for divorce. They agreed on a custodial timeshare, agreed on the disposition of the house, retirement accounts, savings accounts, and vehicles.

What did they fight over, you ask?

Why that darn bottle of tequila. It had substantially increased in value over the years. The wife felt she should get it because it was from her family. Husband felt he should get it because it was a wedding gift and Wife had betrayed the marital vows (his language was far saltier). Each was convinced the other was utterly unreasonable.

The trial was limited to two issues: attorneys’ fees and costs, and the disposition of that bottle of tequila. At trial, testimony and evidence were offered to the effect that the attorneys had exchanged 20 to 30 letters on this issue (and trust me, those letters were expensive all by themselves). Each accused the other of behaving in a manner to frustrate settlement. The judge did a great job controlling the courtroom and remaining quite, quite calm, even though the initial 3-hour trial time was exceeded, and the court had to order the parties and counsel to return to complete the hearing (those fees, for trial prep and trial, had to be costly, too). The judge stated he was contemplating ordering the sale of the bottle, and asked both attorneys to prepare arguments as to why he should not do so. The judge ordered Husband, who had possession and control of the bottle, to bring it to the court, as Wife was claiming Husband had already disposed of it (some hearsay told her so).

How did it end...?

On the continued trial date, Husband’s attorney noticed the bottle was not intact, and Wife’s attorney quickly noticed that as well. Upon examination, Husband testified - so reluctantly! - that, fearing he might be deprived of the treasured contents of that bottle, he had cracked it open with his girlfriend the night before. They drank it dry.

The outrage! The drama! The impassioned arguments suddenly shifted from mere distribution of property to willful “waste” of a community asset, and - NOW WE’RE TALKIN’ - breach of Husband’s fiduciary duty to Wife, by engaging in an act that deliberately deprived her of her interest therein.

The bottle did in the end, go to Husband. But it cost him the following:

His attorneys’ fees for all those letters about the bottle;

A substantial award to pay for Wife’s attorney’s fees for the letters about the bottle;

Both parties’ attorneys’ fees and costs for trial; and $6,000 for the value of the bottle and breach of his fiduciary duty to Wife.

This actually worked out pretty well. The husband was happy: he got the tequila (and the empty bottle left the courthouse with him, too). The wife was happy: she got a lot of money for that bottle, far more than it was worth. The attorneys were happy because their clients were happy.

And I bet the judge was happy because he didn’t have to hear another word about that bottle.

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