Sunday, March 10, 2013
The (mis)adventures of a family law attorney (part 1)
The (mis) adventures of my first seven years as a family law attorney and the lessons I've learned:
When I look back on the last seven years of practicing law, I thank my lucky stars for the experiences I've had and by the same token, thank god they are behind me. After graduating law school, I knew I did not want to spend the next several years learning law in the basement of a law library, going through 1000's of boxes full of Discovery. Nor did I want to spend hours and hours writing legal briefs and researching obscure areas of law that touch very few people. So I found a small law firm in Fairfield that was looking for an entry level attorney to immediately manage their own case load and litigate divorces. Sure I was frightened. After all, I was the girl in law school who slumped as far down in my chair as I could -- hoping to become invisible so I wouldn't be called upon. Yet something yearned inside me to get out there and learn the ropes. My naiveté, enthusiasm and altruistic motives were as helpful as damaging -- encouraging me to work diligently and passionately but attracting me to the most dysfunctional of situations (and sometimes, clients).
"Mr. Murphy, Don't Shoot" (names changed to protect the incident)
Eager to resolve my first big case, I was willing to do just about anything. I was representing an 85 year-old man divorcing his (very) young bride and it was ugly. We were down to the nitty gritty, only personal property needed to be divided (think: toaster). After a ridiculous amount of negotiation, a Judgment was prepared which carefully provided for the disposition of every item of joint and separate property in the family residence. Mr. Murphy was to keep the home but Wife's share of the property needed to be transferred to her. Arrangements were made that Ms. Murphy would rent a U-Haul and bring a couple family members to help her. Mr. Murphy was entitled to have a "support" person there with him while she loaded up the truck. The night before the planned exchange, Mr. Murphy declared that he would only go through with property division if I accompanied him on the day of. I really really didn't want to because I knew just how volatile both parties were. By the same token, a failure to finalize the "agreement" would mean a delay in the final Judgment. I couldn't live with myself if the ill and feeble old man passed away still married -- and I knew he'd haunt me from his grave should his (ex) wife receive all of his hard earned assets. So, I agreed.
It must have been the hottest day of the year and my client refused to turn the air conditioning on. The fragile old man I had come to love had the stance of a 25 year old marine ready to do battle. I contemplated throwing jeans on but wore my best skirt suit in an effort to please my conservative client. Right from the start we encountered problems. Which bedroom set would wife get? Why would I have thought that she wanted the only set that Husband purchased before they met? What about the figurines and other ‘art’ we had failed to contemplate in the agreement? Each time the energy became tense, I used my best mediation skills to try and defuse the situation. When that failed, I called the police.
The first time the cops came out they thought it was a joke (on them) and they weren’t very happy about it. What lawyer would spend her Saturday at a client’s home dividing silverware? They must have seen the look of desperation in my eyes and after what felt like a lifetime of snickering, they stood by for the division of one room. Then they left. The afternoon continued like that, with law enforcement never sticking around for more than 10 minutes. Each time I held my breath as they left, knowing that everyone was only getting more agitated as the day progressed.
Finally, the last room. How difficult could it be? It was Mr. Murphy’s Den: where he sat in a late 1970’s lazy boy, ate tv dinners (because she “wouldn’t cook worth crap”) and watched MTV’s the Real World. I suspect his wife had never even set foot in the man cave. Nonetheless, she wanted to check it out to ensure she had not missed a thing. My back was to the door as I watched the Mrs. unplug the 10 year old DVD player. I suddenly noticed a wild look in her eye (a nice change from the general look of disgust and disdain). But when I turned my head, to my horror I saw (out of the corner of my eye) Mr. Murphy standing in the doorway holding up a shotgun. I screamed, and threw myself to the floor, skirt over the head and full-on panty exposure. “Mr. Murphy, Don’t Shoot!”
To which he replied: “What the hell are you talking about Ms. Erin. I ain’t gonna shoot nobody. I’m just showing my lovely wife her gun, this damn thing she made me keep under her godforsaken side of the bed. She can have it back cause I want no part of this bitch’s bullshit.”
[gigantic sigh] [scrape up what’s left of my dignity and dust off my knees] um, er…well… ‘I think we have accomplished all that can be done in a day. Thank you everyone for your patience and assistance in get this, um, resolved in a day.’
Lesson learned: Never intentionally insert yourself in a situation that could potentially make you a percipient witness.
"Your Honor, the Lady is E-V-I-L"
After we (my now husband) had been dating for awhile, I thought it would be a good idea for him to see me in court. After all, it is an integral part of my life. I picked a fairly ‘routine’ hearing and where the opposing party was unrepresented. Sky sat in the back of the courtroom as I argued the case on the record. I then submitted and waited for the ruling. Surely it would be in our favor. This was an issue that I was very well versed on the law and the facts fit perfectly. Your Honor asked Mr. Martinez if he had anything else he would like to say. Calmly, my opposing party looked over at me and then back at the Judge. Then he raised his finger and pointed it directly at me, ‘your honor, this lady is EVIL, full on evil. I see the devil in her eyes when I look at her. You need to know this Judge… before you make your order. She is E-V-I-L. Evil.'
Oh boy. I scanned the courtroom for my man. Surely, he would feel protective. Would he do something he’d regret? That would land him (or me) in contempt of court? Oh please please please don’t be protective, let me handle this with grace, I’m a big girl. And then, as my eyes locked on my fiancé, I see him sitting in the corner, with a smirk on his face, nodding in agreement! He thought it was hilarious and now I’ll never hear the end of it.
Lesson learned: expect the unexpected.
TO BE CONTINUED