When attorney William Barnes listened to the message on his answering machine, he was surprised at what he heard: An emergency motion. 10 a.m. Sunday. Jan. 7. Unit 1101. The Villa Regina condominium.
The residence of Dade Circuit Judge John Gale.
When Barnes arrived, he was surprised at what he saw: Floor-to-ceiling windows. A panoramic view of Biscayne Bay. Breathtaking balcony. Enormous mirrors. Marble floors. A five- foot-tall marble bust of a classical Roman. A cut-glass coffee table.
And immaculate white leather couches.
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Standing at the door was his opponent in the case, attorney Harris J. Buchbinder. He wore a polo shirt, white shorts and tennis shoes. Buchbinder's wife was seated on the couch, also dressed in tennis clothes.
Judge Gale had on a pair of white slacks and white shoes.
"I felt real uncomfortable, " said Barnes, wearing a suit and tie and making his first appearance at a Sunday hearing in a judge's living room.
The opposing attorneys were at the Villa Regina in connection with a divorce dispute between an Israeli man and woman.
The man, Jacob Ben-Ari, and his former wife, Bat-Schewa, had gotten a divorce in Israel. Afterward, Jacob Ben-Ari moved to South Florida.
His former wife claimed he had stopped support payments to her. So she hired Barnes' firm to get a judgment against her former husband.
After Ben-Ari declined to disclose his assets and other financial information on several occasions, Dade Circuit Judge Robert Kaye cited him for contempt and ordered him to the county jail for 10 days.
That was on a Thursday.
On Friday, Buchbinder got a call from Ben-Ari's new wife. She wanted to know if he'd take the case and help get her husband out of jail. He said he would. He said he didn't know why she chose him.
Within 48 hours, Buchbinder got an emergency hearing before Gale and got his client out of jail.
He said he did it by following strict courtroom protocol.
The emergency-duty judge that weekend was Mary Ann MacKenzie. She had to be disqualified, he said, because of a conflict of interest.
He tried two other judges, but one had an unlisted number and the other wasn't home, said Buchbinder.
He had Gale's home number, he said, so he called for advice. Gale agreed to hear the motion to release his client from jail, Buchbinder said.
Attorney Barnes said he told Buchbinder that "I have very strong reservations about this being heard in front of Judge Gale."
Barnes said it was his impression that Gale and the Buchbinders had just finished breakfast. He said Buchbinder patted Gale on the shoulder at one point, making some comment about the breakfast.
Buchbinder said he and his wife did not have breakfast with Gale. He said they had both arrived only moments before Barnes did.
"I didn't think it appropriate for Gale to rule on the matter because Judge Kaye would be in the next day, " recalled Barnes, who said Buchbinder has been very cooperative in the case. "It seemed very strange to me that it couldn't wait 23 hours."
Twenty-three hours is a long time to wait if you're sitting in a jail cell, said Buchbinder.
Both Gale and Buchbinder said everything was done on the basis of appropriate administrative procedures. "I entered an interim order expressly effective only until 9 a.m. the following morning, at which time the parties were instructed to bring the issue for determination before Judge Robert Kaye, who is the judge to whom the matter was assigned, " Gale said.
After hearing both sides, Gale granted the motion releasing Ben-Ari from jail.