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In re Estate of Assimakopoulos

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

June 23, 2017

In re Estate of Paula X. Assimakopoulos, deceased; and In re Trust Administration of the Paula X. Assimakopoulos Trust U/T/A 4/15/2008.
NICOLLE ASSIMAKOPOULOS-PANUTHOS, individually and as personal representative of the estate and as cotrustee of the trust; GARY M., FERNALD, as curator of the estate; ALEXANDER P. ALEXANDER; and PLATO J. ALEXANDER, Appellees. EVA LANA, Appellant,


         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Jack St. Arnold, Judge.

          Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik of DPW Legal, Tampa, for Appellant.

          George J. Felos of Felos & Felos, Dunedin, for Appellees

          Alexander P. Alexander and Plato J. Alexander.

          Jeffrey A. Eisel and Hamden H. Baskin, III, of Baskin Fleece, Clearwater, for Appellee Nicolle Assimakopoulos-Panuthos.

          No appearance for Gary M. Fernald.

          VILLANTI, Chief Judge.

         In this probate proceeding, Eva Lana appeals the probate court's order awarding sanctions against her pursuant to section 57.105, Florida Statutes (2015), and two other judgments against her awarding expert witness fees to another party's attorney and to the curator of the estate. While Lana challenges the sanctions judgment on numerous grounds, we find merit only in her contention that that judgment improperly includes an award of expert witness fees. We also find merit in her contention that the expert witness fees awarded to the personal representative's attorney, Hamden Baskin, and to the court-appointed curator of the estate, Gary Fernald, were awarded in violation of due process. We therefore reverse the sanctions judgment in part and the judgments in favor of Baskin and Fernald in total. In all other respects, we affirm.


         While a recitation of the long, contentious, and convoluted history of this case is unnecessary to our resolution of this case, some background is necessary to understand our ruling. The death of Paula X. Assimakopoulos ignited numerous disputes between her two daughters, Lana and Nicolle Assimakopoulos-Panuthos, and their uncle and cousin, Alexander P. Alexander and Plato J. Alexander. The first dispute centered on where Assimakopoulos's estate would be probated. Ultimately, after some not insignificant wrangling, Lana agreed that the Florida courts had jurisdiction to probate the estate. Probate was opened in Pinellas County, Lana and Panuthos were appointed as co-personal representatives, and probate proceedings began. Later, after proceedings became bogged down due to disagreements between the co-personal representatives, Lana was removed as a co-personal representative, although she remained active in the case as a beneficiary.

         As the family disputes continued three years after the estate was opened, Lana filed a petition to revoke probate, alleging that the documents initially used to establish Assimakopoulos's domicile in Florida were incomplete and falsely presented and that a full review of all of her documents and affairs would show that probate jurisdiction was properly in New York rather than Florida. In response to this petition, the Alexanders and Panuthos filed motions to dismiss, which were granted after an evidentiary hearing. Hence, the petition to revoke probate was denied.

         Lana initially appealed the probate court's order denying her petition; however, shortly after the notice of appeal was filed in this court, Lana filed a motion asking this court to relinquish jurisdiction so that the probate court could entertain a motion to vacate the denial of the petition under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540. This court granted that motion and relinquished jurisdiction. Lana then filed her rule 1.540 motion, and the probate court held an evidentiary hearing on it. At the conclusion of the hearing, the probate court denied the motion.

         Shortly thereafter, the Alexanders filed a motion for sanctions in the probate court under section 57.105(1) based on Lana's filing of the above rule 1.540 motion, which they asserted was not supported by either the facts or the law, and they noticed their motion for hearing. In preparation for the hearing on this motion, Lana subpoenaed Baskin as the attorney for the personal representative, Fernald as the court-appointed curator of the estate, and her own former attorneys. In response to Lana's subpoena, Baskin filed a notice of intent to ...

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