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Also in 1985, after years of watching court proceedings from the sidelines, Brenda Feinberg enrolled, thanks to a student loans, in law school at the University of Miami. Wendy was fourteen at the time; she had a younger half-sister, and two older stepsisters. "I had to schedule classes around car pools," says Feinberg, who says she felt she needed a career to finally make herself financially independent. She graduated in 1988 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that year on Christmas Eve. "My goal was to help other women and children," she says now. "I always felt I needed to do something about the legal process. Something wasn't right in the system."
Feinberg's request for an increase in child support came before General Master Thomas Wilson in November 1988, three years after it was originally filed. The hearing lasted an entire day. Levine testified that his income had significantly dropped during the previous few years. He was only earning about $80,000 a year he said. He was forced out of a partnership at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius - a well-known Philadelphia law firm with offices in Miami - and was now working in Stuart Grossman's law firm, Grossman and Roth. Grossman himself testified that Levine was unenthused by his work; he didn't believe his employee's earning potential was all that good. "I'm telling you that I can't get the guy motivated," Grossman testified. Despite the unflattering testimony of Levine's boss, Wilson ordered that child support be increased to $700 per month.
Unsatisfied with the decision (she had requested $2100 monthly), Feinberg appealed, alleging that the general master had shown bias during the hearing when he called Wendy "a spoiled-rotten little kid who I think probably is an extremely manipulative child." Wilson also expressed his irritation with Feinberg during that hearing and later found her in contempt of court after she failed to appear at a subsequent hearing. Feinberg contended her presence at that hearing was not required. The contempt citation was eventually withdrawn, and Wilson recused himself from the case on February 28, 1989, because of a verbal argument he says he had with her concerning the case.
Wendy Levine, by this time a senior at Palmetto Senior High, was trying to decide on a college. She narrowed it down to three: Columbia University, Penn State, and Northwestern. Columbia rejected her application, but the other two schools accepted her. With both her parents' support, Wendy opted for Northwestern. Feinberg, as a matter of convenience, mailed off a $200 deposit to secure Wendy's place in the 1989 fall enrollment.
Divorced for more than fifteen years, contact between Feinberg and Levine was generally restricted to court appearances. In April 1989, after an appeal hearing concerning child support, Feinberg says she approached Levine on the courthouse steps and handed him a receipt for the Northwestern deposit. She asked how Levine planned to work out the tuition payment. "That's when he said, `Well, I'm not paying for college,'" Feinberg recalls. "I said, `What do you mean, you are not paying for college?' And he said, `Listen, you've got to stop coming after me. You're not getting college.'" According to Feinberg, Levine went on to say that if she didn't back away from her demands, he'd initiate a complaint against her with the Florida Bar.
Paul Levine says he doesn't remember any conversation about Wendy's college tuition on the steps of the courthouse. He doesn't recall how he came to inform Feinberg that he wasn't going to pay Wendy's tuition. And he denies ever threatening her with a bar complaint.
Instead of backing down, Feinberg took the 1973 and 1978 divorce agreements to Judge Stuart Simon and requested that he force Levine to pay her daughter's tuition. Simon refused, ruling that in his estimation, the agreements did not technically include college tuition; they referred to "schooling for minor child." Now that Wendy was eighteen, he reasoned, she was no longer a minor. Feinberg says the agreements were worded "for minor child" because at the time they were written, Wendy was three and seven years old, respectively. More important, Feinberg says, the agreements state that benefits will continue until Wendy is 22. And finally, she argues, if the original agreement was vague, it's Levine's fault because he wrote it.
But what amazed her about Simon's ruling, Feinberg says, was that the judge never held an evidentiary hearing to take testimony about the matter. Attorneys Edgar Lewis, who represented Feinberg during the divorce, and Nard Helman, who represented her in 1978, were each prepared to testify that the agreements included college. "It's clear, plain English," Lewis stated recently in a sworn deposition. And, he says, Levine knew the agreement included college. "Paul drafted the agreement," he says. "Paul signed the agreement. He knew very well what was in it."
Feinberg appealed the ruling, and she also filed a lawsuit against Levine on May 2, 1989, alleging that his failure to pay Wendy's tuition amounted to fraud. His repeated assurances that he and his parents would cover the costs of her daughter's college education, Feinberg claimed, had led her to accept less money in child support than she felt she was rightfully due. The next day she sent a letter to Levine's parents, demanding that they and their son live up to their agreements and that Levine increase monthly child-support payments to $1300. If Paul's parents rejected her demand, she wrote, it would cost them more money in the long run, and they, too, might be subject to a lawsuit.