Attorney Ray Boucher is surrounded by plaintiffs as he addresses the media… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
Ray Boucher walked out of a downtown Los Angeles courthouse six years ago the envy of the legal field. As the lead attorney in the landmark $660-million sexual-abuse settlement with the Catholic archdiocese, he had won long-denied justice for hundreds of victims and made himself and other attorneys very rich. Flanked by grateful clients, he faced a crush of cameras with the confidence of a man who had achieved a new level of professional acclaim and personal wealth.
These days Boucher returns frequently to that same courthouse. He walks alone up the steps where reporters once mobbed him, rides the elevator past the courtroom where a judge praised his tireless work for victims and trudges into his divorce trial. The site of his greatest glory, he says, has become a place he dreads.
Boucher's wife left him in 2007, shortly after the clergy settlement was announced. What followed has been a divorce fight epic even by L.A. standards. For the last five years, the former couple has clawed at each other over money. The jaw-dropping cost of the court battle — $8 million in legal bills and growing, by Boucher's estimation — drove him to file for bankruptcy last year.
"There was just nothing left. Everything was gone," he said.
Boucher vs. Boucher has all the usual elements of a nasty split: restraining orders, allegations of infidelity, public screaming matches. The real conflict, however, is over what her attorneys have called "the single largest asset" of the marriage: the clergy fees. Under California law, Christine Roberts, the former Mrs. Boucher, is entitled to 50% of his earnings during their 10 years together.
But how much of the clergy case fees Boucher earned after the separation — to which Roberts has no right — is in dispute. As a result, the trial that has played out in fits and starts over the last year and a half has been a rehash of what happened behind the scenes in the litigation with the L.A. Archdiocese.
The couple was legally divorced in 2008, but the feud over finances continued to churn on, filling more than 30 volumes stacked along the wall of L.A. County Superior Court Judge Marc Marmaro's courtroom.
Boucher was a leader in litigation against the Catholic Church in California. He pushed for a temporary easing of statute of limitation laws a decade ago and ended up with hundreds of clients across the state. Fellow plaintiffs' attorneys voted him as their chief negotiator to speak on behalf of more than 500 people who alleged they had been molested by priests in L.A. For their work, Boucher and other lawyers got about 40% of the settlement. Roberts' attorneys estimated that Boucher walked away with $13 million before taxes, a sum that he said in an interview was "probably right."
Determining how much of that belongs to Roberts is a key issue at the trial. Testimony concluded Friday, and a judge is expected to render a decision this spring.
Boucher claims that his work on the settlement continued for many years beyond their 2007 separation as he sought to force the archdiocese to turn over the personnel files of abusive priests. Those records were finally released in January. Boucher argues that this work after their separation means Roberts should receive far less than half of the clergy fees. One client, Manny Vega, told the judge in a declaration that he would have sued Boucher for legal malpractice if he had not pursued the documents. Roberts' lawyer has suggested that Boucher is overstating the amount of work he did on the file release.
On a recent Wednesday, Boucher sat on the witness stand, his shoulders slumped. It was his eighth day of testimony and he delivered his answers about wire transfers of client money in a monotone. When the judge called the lawyers into chambers, the former husband and wife were left alone in the well of the courtroom. As the minutes ticked on, they stared straight ahead, never acknowledging one another.
"It's hard for me to go to court anymore," he said. When people talk about the failures of the justice system, he said, he now can relate. "And that's a taste I would prefer not to have."
Roberts has cycled through five lawyers, including some of the city's priciest divorce specialists, and Boucher's counsel, who has counted Jennifer Lopez and Robert De Niro as clients, bills $900 per hour. Even so, Boucher ends up questioning witnesses.
He cross-examined his adversary in the abuse litigation, archdiocese general counsel Margaret G. Graf, as well as a former junior lawyer in his firm. That attorney, Anthony De Marco, kept glancing at Boucher, his former boss, as he answered questions about how the money was divided between victims.
"We have to translate human suffering into dollar figures, that's the nature," De Marco testified.