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Divorce lawyers duke it out

You would have thought the lawyers were going through the divorce.

I’ve seen some heated courtroom exchanges, but nothing like what I saw during a contempt hearing Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The hearing stemmed from the divorce proceedings of Michael C. Hodes of Hodes, Pessin & Katz P.A. and his wife, Lois.

At issue was, of course, money — specifically, how much of it Mr. Hodes owes Mrs. Hodes at this point, based on a November 2008 marital settlement.

Mrs. Hodes’ lawyer, Steven M. Caplan, put the figure at more than $100,000, including an installment payment and interest on it dating from November 2009.

Craig J. Little, Mr. Hodes’ lawyer, countered with zero, claiming the duty to pay is triggered only by the sale of the couple’s former homes in Baltimore and Cambridge. The Baltimore home was sold at the end of last year, but the Cambridge house remains on the market, according to courtroom testimony.

An animated Caplan alleged Mr. Hodes is inflating the price of the Cambridge home just enough so it will not sell, allowing him to use “the vacation house” and not comply with the settlement.

“He gets to effectively borrow … from my client for an unlimited amount of time, at no interest,” Caplan said.

Little vehemently disagreed with the characterizations and said a flood at the house – which Caplan derisively called “a flood of locusts” – created a year’s worth of repairs. The house is now on the market.

“He’s acting in a reasonable manner,” Little said of his client. “He wants to get this house sold.”

“I don’t care if he’s acting reasonably or unreasonably,” Caplan responded. “The provision is clear.”

So it went for more than a half-hour. Each lawyer tried to talk over the other at times, with Caplan’s voice usually being louder as Little smiled and shook his head. Judge Timothy J. Martin put his finger to his mouth several times to quiet the lawyers, often to no avail.

“This is getting out of hand,” he said. (Note: I don’t think he had a gavel with him on the bench, but if there ever was a time for the TV/movie judge command “Order in the court!,” this was it.)

Judge Martin said he would issue a ruling at a later date but “at first blush” sided with Mrs. Hodes on the reading of the marital settlement. He also noted the importance of the Cambridge house in resolving major elements of the dispute.

“The whole key to this is to sell the property,” he said.