A lawyer for the 34-year-old sister of actress and Studio City resident Ariel Winter Wednesday defended his client’s request for $160,000 to pay for his former law firm’s work for securing temporary guardianship of the 15-year-old “Modern Family” star.
Wednesday is the second day of a hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas that began June 12 and was then put off until now.
The judge must determine if payment of such fees from Winter’s estate would be for her benefit. Chrisoula Workman, mother of Ariel and her sister, Shanelle Gray, maintains the amount is excessive.
Attorney Michael Kretzmer, on behalf of Gray, testified that establishing her guardianship over her younger sister last October was a complex matter that took many hours work on his part and that of an associate attorney.
As they did during the first day’s hearing, Kretzmer and Workman’s attorney, Roy Penuela, repeatedly clashed over the appropriateness of the latter’s line of questioning.
After Penuela asked Kretzmer about whether he and his associate did all they could to prevent Winter from being the victim of fraud, Kretzmer replied, “You bet, Mr. Penuela, you bet we did.”
When Penuela asked Kretzmer if he was skilled in any particular area, the lawyer replied, “I’m pretty skilled with baseball, with music.”
Pressed by Penuela further, Kretzmer said he was an expert in the areas of guardianships and other areas involving child issues.
“I think I’m one of the better attorneys in the courtroom,” Kretzmer said.
Gray was named temporary guardian of Winter — who plays brainy teen Alex Dunphy on the Emmy Award-winning ABC series — on Oct. 3. According to court documents, the actress contended she had been subjected to mental abuse by Workman, leading to a delay in Winter receiving a new contract for her work on the show until about two months after other cast members signed their deals, Kretzmer testified.
“Miss Winter was in serious danger of being written off the show,” Kretzmer testified during the previous hearing.. “This was anything but a cookie-cutting guardianship.”
Levanas has said he will not let Workman testify and that he is dubious of her legal claim objecting to the attorneys’ fee request.
Workman has vehemently denied the emotional abuse allegations. She has filed multiple declarations from family friends who said they had never seen any such behavior on her part.
Penuela said Gray’s $160,000 fee request is “outrageous” and that she should receive no more than $20,000 to $50,000.
Workman’s husband, Glenn, was put in control of his daughter’s finances in December, an arrangement agreed to by all the parties involved. The judge had denied Gray’s request to put her in charge of her sister’s estate when he named her guardian of her person.
But Penuela said Kretzmer should have spent the time between October and December to make sure a guardian of the actress’ estate was established much sooner to more adequately protect her financial interests. Kretzmer has since left the firm of Kolodny & Anteau, which would be the ultimate beneficiary of any fees awarded by Levanas.
In a sworn declaration filed with Levanas, Workman says that Winter’s ability to pay for her high school and college tuition could be jeopardized “if her estate is depleted in … a significant way.”
In her own sworn statement, Gray defended her attorney’s fee request and said she has no personal interest in obtaining her sister’s money for her own personal use.
“Any and all fees which were incurred in this action in my name were incurred for Ariel’s benefit and for no other purpose whatsoever,” Gray stated. “This has been an extremely complicated matter in that there were numerous business and personal circumstances that were necessarily a part of the guardianship proceedings.”
The circumstances included finalizing the teen’s renegotiated contract with “Modern Family,” efforts to avoid damage to the actress’ reputation by other family members and to ensure her ability to work without interference from her mother, according to Gray’s statement.
Gray’s lawyers say Winter’s new agreement with the ABC show brought significantly more money to her estate.
Gray was blunt about her sister’s relationship with their mother.
“Ariel expressed on numerous occasions the severe difficulties which she was experiencing with our mother,” Gray stated. “These difficulties included substantial physical and emotional abuse and a variety of difficulties which were created for my sister in her work environment … on the television sitcom ‘Modern Family’ by our mother’s presence on set and interference with a variety of business situations and opportunities available to Ariel.”
Ariel Winter and the Battle for Bucks
A lawyer for the sister of actress and Studio City resident Ariel Winter Wednesday defended his client’s request for $160,000.
City News Service
July 3, 2013