A party in a divorce action who seeks to compel a journalist to turn over information or documents must meet an extraordinary burden.

So held New York County Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Mills in an August 21, 2014 decision Matter of Hamm (Zuckerman).

Petitioner, Sue Ann Hamm, and her husband, Harold Hamm, are parties to an Oklahoma divorce action. By this application, Ms. Hamm sought to enforce a subpoena issued to New-York based journalist Gregory Zuckerman of the Wall Street Journal, author of the book, The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionare Wildcatters, in which Mr. Hamm is featured. Mr. Zuckerman cross-moved to quash the subpoena and for a protective order preventing Ms. Hamm from deposing him and obtaining the materials demanded.

According to Wikipedia, in 2012 Hamm was ranked by Forbes magazine as the 30th richest person in America and 76th richest person in the world, with a net worth estimated at $11 billion, a figure increased to $17 billion in early 2014. In 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Hamm as his energy advisor, and thereafter Hamm made substantial monetary and advisory contributions to the election effort.

Here, Ms. Hamm sought documents and testimony from Zuckerman about topics in the book, arguing that Mr. Zuckerman had unique insight and knowledge concerning a pivotal issue in the divorce case of whether or not Mr. Hamm’s efforts, skills or expended funds contributed to the value of the marital estate. Ms. Hamm provided the Court with excerpts from the book which indicated that it was based on interviews with numerous witnesses, including her husband, who had personal knowledge of material facts about those contributions.


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The Second Department used its December 18th decision in El-Dehdan v. El-Dehdan to clarify the parties’ relative burdens of proof on an application for contempt where the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination has been invoked. The court also harmonized inconsistencies in case law as to the elements of civil contempt. The court held that there was no element of willfulness which needed to be shown to establish civil contempt, and that an adverse inference could be drawn from the invocation of the privilege against self-incrimination.

It is not necessary that the disobedience be deliberate or willful; rather, the mere act of disobedience, regardless of its motive, is sufficient if such disobedience defeats, impairs, impedes, or prejudices the rights or remedies of a party.

In this matrimonial action, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Eric I. Prus had held the husband in contempt of court for disobeying a court order dated January 29, 2010, which required him to deposit with the wife’s attorney the proceeds of a certain 2009 real estate transaction. Justice Prus imposed a civil sanction which allowed him to purge the contempt to avoid incarceration.

The husband appealed, contending that the wife failed to satisfy her burden of proof and that the Supreme Court improperly drew an adverse inference against him for invoking his privilege against self-incrimination during the contempt hearing.


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The plaintiff former husband brought this state-court action action against his first wife seeking damages for her alleged false statements to the Citizenship and Immigration Service. The former husband blamed those statements for the Service’s conclusion that the the couple had not established a life together as husband and wife. The plaintiff also sought a judicial declaration that the requisite relationship had, in fact, existed.

In his August 28, 2013 decision in Kenan v. Campuzano (2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3929 | 2013 NY Slip Op 32056(U), New York County Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron dismissed the action.

The plaintiff met his first wife face-to-face in 2006 when he came to New York shortly after finding her on JDate. They married four months later. Two months after that, the wife filed a petition to sponsor her new husband for US citizenship with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). The couple divorced a year later. At the same time the wife withdrew her petition to sponsor her husband for US citizenship.

Just 3 or 4 months after that, in January or February 2008, the husband married another woman. The second marriage, too, came to an end within a relatively short period of time. However, before it had ended, the second wife, too, petitioned for her new husband’s US citizenship. That petition was denied in part upon USCIS’s determination that the first marriage was “for the sole purpose of evading immigration laws and obtaining an immigration benefit.”

The now twice-divorced husband brought this action to redress the alleged false statements made by his first wife to the USCIS. he also sought a declaratory judgment that the parties had “established a life together under the meaning of the law.”

The first wife moved to dismiss the complaint. Justice Engoron granted that motion.


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Man stealing data from a laptop iStock_000013972877XSmall.jpgIn her June 25, 2010 Shreiber (PDF) decision, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Delores Thomas denied a wife’s second motion for the wholesale inspection of her husband’s (previously-secured) computer hard disk drive. A prior motion had been denied as premature and because the activities of the appraiser court-appointed to evaluate the husband’s solo law practice might