Today was a good day.
I’m an attorney in family court, and unlike other lines of litigation, I typically don’t like to couch cases in terms of winning and losing. Sometimes it makes sense to put it that way, but often, due to the nature of family court, it’s not very accurate.
I had two adult clients that I met with today. They are two very different people, but in each case they’re losing.
The first is a man about my age. He had a good life: wife, kids, house, good job. But then his mind betrayed him. I’ve only been involved recently, but for the past several years he has been in and out of psychiatric facilities. Now, his wife is going to divorce him, he has limited access with his kids, and he has been in the pysch unit of a hospital (Author’s note: I know it’s now referred to as the Behavioral Health Unit, but in our parlance, we refer to it as the psych unit) for about two months and is going to be transfered “temporarily” to a more intensive psychiatric hospital. All he wants to do is see his kids, and he is very concerned that the judge in the case is going to be mad at him for missing court because he’s been in the psych unit. He very much sees things in a black and white dichatomy. He is very much afraid of losing.
Every time I meet with him or speak to him on the telephone, I have to reassure him that all anybody wants is for him to get better, because even his soon-to-be ex-wife’s attorney is not happy about this case. (Can he go too far in his representation of his client? Absolutely, but there are too many unknown variables.) There was a plan, but his brain betrayed him, and now, we’re all just fumbling along. There are no winners, but sometimes it’s ok to simply accept how things are, and do what’s best for everybody, as best as we can.
As nice and as pitiful as he is, my other adult client today is the complete opposite. She is a mean, bitter woman. Think about a stereotypical mean grandma in any Hollywood comedy and that’s my client. (Author’s note: I don’t mean to sound sexist here, but she really is like that.) She filed what’s known as a Family Offense petition against her adult daughter. (A Family Offense proceeding is similiar to a criminal proceeding, except it’s in a civil court, and the only possible outcome is an Order of Protection.) I’m not going to say nice things about the daughter because she’s not much better than her mother. As far as I can tell, from what’s been conveyed to me by other attorneys who have been involved for over 15 years with these two, this is just the way they are: crazy and mean.
I’m assigned to represent this woman, and I had to draft an amended petition because the one she filed didn’t allege anything close to a family offense, and when I went over at that early stage what the allegations would be, looking at the evidence, I knew there was no family offense. But I took what there was, cobbled it together, and we ended up in a trial. After the presentation of all of the evidence, the petition was dismissed.
Now, was it unethical for me to have done an amended petition and gone to trial on it, knowing it wasn’t proveable? Slightly, but here’s the thing when you represent indigent people, and this is where I can be very cynical: Sometimes, all they want is to have their day in court and be heard. I could have sat down with my client and gone through the evidence and pointed out how everything she was saying was not a family offense. But it would have done no good, and as assigned counsel, I don’t have the luxury of telling people “no” in situations like this.
The absolutely correct decision by the Judge was to dismiss it, for my client to have “lost” her case, because she created this situation many years ago in how she raised her and treated her and still treats her, and as mean and “crazy” as her daughter is, it wasn’t anything illegal, just incredibly stupid. Of course, the icing on the cake was that my client’s bf said to her as they left the courtroom was that they’d get enough money to hire a real attorney, but I’m not surprised by that one either.
As for me, I have a reputation around court of being able to handle very difficult clients. Very things rile me up (although there is one attorney I absolutely lost it with because she did do something completely unethical, and I shocked everybody because I let her have it, causing such a commotion that Court security came running), and I don’t let the clients bother me. She isn’t the first difficult client I’ve had, and she won’t be the last, and you just have to roll with it. Because otherwise, you can end up losing and that wouldn’t be a good thing.