Key Biscayne, FL: In one of the more complex and high-profile divorce appeals pending in the country—functionally, a commercial dispute in the guise of a family law case— Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently reversed a near-$40 million judgment that attorney Ashley Kozel obtained against her ex-husband, Todd Kozel, the founder and former CEO of London-based Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. Opinion Link.
The case has been a frequent fixture in the papers and tabloids, with numerous stories, including Ashley’s remarkable efforts to keep Todd’s new wife from receiving pregnancy treatments (on the basis that doing so would cost money and thus violate a worldwide all-assets injunction Ashley obtained against Todd).
The reversal in Todd’s favor came on the day before Thanksgiving. Given the history of the case, Todd has much to be grateful for: Ashley sued him shortly after he married his current wife, claiming that he had not properly met his obligations under the parties’ complex property settlement agreement back when Todd and Ashley divorced. In a Sarasota trial court, Ashley obtained not only an eight-figure judgment against Todd, but also a worldwide injunction freezing all of his assets.
After the initial brief was filed, Todd switched from Holland & Knight to Crabtree & Auslander of Miami—with appellate specialists John Crabtree, Charles Auslander, and Brian Tackenberg—handling the balance of the appeal. And what a balance that was! Most appeals simply involve an initial brief, an answer brief, a reply brief, and an oral argument. Not this time.
First, Ashley sought to dismiss the appeal—claiming Todd’s notice of appeal (filed by a predecessor counsel) had been untimely. After briefing, the court agreed with Todd that it was not late. But Ashley’s motion had struck a chord, and the appellate court raised its own jurisdictional challenge, issuing a show-cause order questioning whether the court even had the power to hear Todd’s appeal. Crabtree & Auslander responded with briefing that persuaded the appellate court that it had jurisdiction to review the judgment, and the appeal proceeded.
Second, Ashley moved to dismiss the appeal arguing that the Second District should end the case in her favor because the trial court had, post-judgment, found that Todd supposedly falsified evidence “in concert with” others to lease real property and additionally failed to deposit funds in escrow to protect Ashley from a tax liability. But Todd responded that there was no fraud by him (or, frankly, anyone else) because he had no ownership interest in the property and was not party to the lease, which was negotiated by an attorney for a corporation. As for the escrow, the issue had been previously mooted when Ashley’s tax refund exceeded the amount to be escrowed. Crabtree & Auslander responded with briefing, and that second motion was defeated.
Third, Ashley sought to win the appeal summarily by claiming that Todd should be held in contempt and had evaded the jurisdiction of the trial court. Crabtree & Auslander responded with briefing, and again Ashley’s motion was defeated.
In over 150 pages of legal argument presented by Crabtree & Auslander, Todd fought back Ashley’s repeated challenges to Todd’s right of appellate review. Once he was able to file his reply brief, the court held oral argument in May 2017, and the case was ready for decision. Yet, even after oral argument, Ashley tried another time to dismiss the appeal based on accusations made against Todd. The appeal continued.
Ultimately, the Second District Court of Appeal issued a 25-page decision on the day before Thanksgiving, carefully applying the terms of the parties’ contract and Florida jurisdictional law to reject the trial court’s award of an eight-figure damages award. The district court of appeal also overturned the worldwide injunction that the trial court had entered over Todd’s assets.
Vindicating the oil executive of the purported wrongdoing that had resulted in the damages award against him, the district court of appeal resolved, among other things, that Todd Kozel had indeed met his obligations under the parties’ complex property settlement agreement to deliver stock by a May 1 deadline and “made all of the additional equitable distribution payments required” by the agreement. The appellate court also held that Ashley and her legal team had improperly tried to litigate an independent claim for monetary damages before a family court, even though the parties’ contract gave her no legal right to do so. Finally, the appellate court granted Todd’s conditional request for appellate attorney’s fees and denied Ashley’s request for fees.
About Crabtree & Auslander:
Crabtree & Auslander is a Miami-based firm dedicated principally to representing businesses and individuals on appeal. Under the leadership of John Crabtree, Charles Auslander, and former Third District Court of Appeal Judge Linda Wells, the firm handles appellate matters in a wide range of legal areas. Recognized for their skills in legal research and the preparation of written and oral arguments, the firm’s attorneys are effective appellate advocates. Collectively, they have decades of experience in handling appeals in state and federal courts with hundreds of decisions to their credit.