A Man Who is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool For a Client

_DSC4851In 1814 British scholar and writer Henry Kett wrote “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”, a truism if there ever was one, and later adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States who wrote “the adage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” is the product of years of experience by seasoned litigators. (Kay v. Ehrler, 499 US 432, 437 (1991)

A classic example of the danger of acting “pro se” or for one’s self is illustrated by Anthony Zappin, a 30-year-old New York lawyer who made the disastrous mistake of acting for himself in his own divorce.

Married to lawyer Claire Comfort in 2013, the couple separated shortly after their son was born. Zappin’s path to self-destruction began after he entered into a consent order dated November 2013 where he agreed to have no contact with his wife and supervised access to his son.

In April 2014 Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein found that a motion filed by Mr. Zappin was “replete with intemperate and uncivil language…redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous”. Judge Epstein also criticized his counsel skills, a comment that Zappin, a junior lawyer, took great exception to.

In May 2014 Judge Epstein rendered a further decision throwing out Zappin’s application that he reconsider his prior ruling. By this time, Mr. Zappin’s bad behavior was escalating as evidenced by the handwritten note he attached to his reconsideration motion that read “You’re pathetic! (Judicial Complaint Forthcoming)

On March 3, 2015, Justice Deborah A. Kaplan rendered oral reasons in open court that apparently displeased attorney Zapping. When she concluded she asked Mr. Zappin if there were any other matters for her to consider. He answered:

MR. ZAPPIN: I just want to make it known on the record that I am tired of the lies coming from the court and tainting of the record, knowing full well this is going to go to the Appellate Division. And we’re gonna be in the Appellate Division tomorrow, getting a stay, and then we’ll go back down to D.C. on Friday, and we’re going to open up to Ms. Comfort’s domestic violence petition, and we’re gonna have a hearing down there in from of Judge Blant, because that’s who she lied to, saying that she filed the motion and we’ll have him make a finding of domestic violence. So that’s all I have to say.

THE COURT: Are you finished?

MR. ZAPPIN: Oh, I’m finished, your Honor.

Penning the disciplinary judgment in respect of Anthony Zappin, Justice Matthew F. Cooper wrote:

(Zappin’s) “contemptuous remarks directed towards Justice Kaplan — made to her face in her own courtroom in front of attorneys, litigants and court staff — were not restricted to the statements quoted above. Without reciting the other deeply personal, and frankly outrageous, verbal attacks that plaintiff launched against Justice Kaplan when he was before her on March 3, 2015, they can only be described as words not said in civil discourse, let alone ones that should ever be uttered by an attorney to a judge in the context of a court proceeding.”

But Justice Kaplan was just one of Mr. Zappin’s victims. He also targeted a lawyer ordered by the court to represent his son’s interests, regaling her with scathing comments. Later he established a domain site in her name and on this website wrote missives like:

“Harriet You’re a very sick and greedy woman. I pray for you and hope you seek help. Also, “I intend to keep the public apprised of your misconduct and disturbing behavior.”

The child’s lawyer retained a court ordered psychiatrist to provide expert testimony, a task that was met with Mr. Zappin’s pernicious complaint to the psychiatrist’s professional organization, and although quickly dismissed, caused considerable anxiety and harm to the innocent expert.

Most damaging, however, was Justice Cooper’s conclusion that Mr. Zappin’s “ill-advised behaviour seriously calls into question his fitness to practice law” and indicates a “personality that makes (him) incapable of properly parenting the parties’ child”.

Zappin was fined $10,000. The trial to resolve the issues takes place in November 2015. After all this, one can only hope Zappin finally hires a lawyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

$1,000 an Hour Lawyer Disbarred for Appealing an Arbitration Award

BarristerRobert Bennett was a high-flying attorney in Texas with a big reputation as a go-to litigator. He included among his clients uber-wealthy financier R. Allen Stanford, sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion dollar Ponzi scheme arising from the fictional Stanford International Bank in Antigua and wrongfully convicted death row inmate Anthony Graves, exonerated in the murders of six people and released from prison.

But the case that has ended his career relates to client Gary Land who retained Mr. Bennett in 2011 to handle a breach of contract case and a potential civil rights violation action. The latter case had been turned down by other lawyers as it involved an improbable allegation that Mr. Land was being secretly surveilled by unnamed persons, possibly federal agents.

Bennett asked for and received a $50,000 retainer. Bennett was instructed by his client to forward his bills for legal services to him by email as he would be engaged in extensive travel. Bennett’s first bill arrived by email but the rest were mailed to Mr. Land’s parents’ home. When Mr. Land finally received the posted bills he learned that Mr. Bennett had already billed for $75,000 worth of legal services. Land fired Mr. Bennett and challenged the legal fees.

When Mr. Bennett agreed to act for Mr. Land he asked him to sign an agreement that any fee dispute would be subject to binding arbitration by the Houston Bar Association Fee Dispute Committee. Mr. Land had agreed and an arbitration was scheduled.

Mr. Land’s position that he had been charged excessive fees for very limited legal services was upheld by the arbitrators whose award included a provision that Mr. Bennett would not receive the outstanding amount of $25,000 and that $27,500 in legal fees would be reimbursed to Mr. Land by Mr. Bennett. The award was binding, conclusive and not appealable in accordance with the agreement between Mr. Bennett and his client.

Rather than paying the award, Mr. Bennett filed an application to the Committee for a Modification and Clarification of the award. His application was denied. Mr. Land then applied to the district court who turned the award into a court order. Bennett still refused to pay and appealed the court’s order.

That’s when the Texas State Bar commenced disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Bennett seeking a two-year suspension from the practice of law.

In a rare three-day hearing in district court Judge Carmen Kelsey upheld the Bar Association’s findings of professional misconduct based on Mr. Bennett’s failure to pay the arbitration award and his pursuit of several appeals that were barred by agreement between the parties. However, Judge Kelsey ignored the Bar Association’s submission that Bennett be suspended. She ordered him disbarred. In Texas a lawyer who has been disbarred cannot apply for reinstatement until five years have passed.

But this case is not over. Last week Mr. Bennett’s appeal from the order of the district court was argued before three judges of the Court of Appeal. Most impressive were the one thousand amicus briefs filed by local lawyers in order to show solidarity with Mr. Bennett’s position that disbarment is out of proportion to the alleged offences.

I still can’t figure out why such a notable and successful lawyer would refuse to reimburse his client a mere $27,500, only to engage in protracted, expensive, high-profile disciplinary and court proceedings?

The appeal is under reserve.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Lawyer Clandestinely Hypnotizes Female Clients

_DSC4179 - Version 2In a bizarre case out of Ohio, attorney Michael W. Fine, age 58, has been charged with numerous sexual offences arising from private appointments with a number of female clients, either in his office or in counsel rooms at the local courthouse.

The charges include rape, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, attempted rape, 15 counts of kidnapping, three counts of attempted kidnapping and two counts each of attempted sexual battery, attempted gross sexual imposition, gross sexual imposition and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

Mr. Fine’s abusive activities were fostered by his ability to hypnotize his clients and take advantage of them while they were under hypnosis. The first client who blew the whistle on Mr. Fine recounted an uncomfortable feeling every time she left her lawyer’s office, with her disheveled clothing and a feeling she had lost track of time.

She reported the situation to the local police who told her not to return to his office, but she had a better idea. She continued to see her lawyer and secretly recorded what occurred. Later she played the recording and in shock and embarrassment returned to the police where they listened with mouths agape as they heard Michael Fine put her into a trance and then make outrageous sexual suggestions and physical overtures to her.

They asked Jane Doe #1 if she was prepared to wear a wire and video recorder which would be monitored by the police. The plan was that if and when Mr. Fine began his reprehensible acts they would burst into his office and arrest him. And that’s what they did.

The local bar association immediately suspended Mr. Fine from the practice of law and with the accompanying publicity 30 more women presented themselves as victims of his sex crimes. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Fine gave up his license to practice law.

The current indictments against Mr. Fine involves six women only, as many of his other victims are unable to provide sufficient evidence to satisfy the criminal burden of proof. However, police say they are continuing their investigation.

Not surprisingly, at least one victim has filed a civil suit against Michael Fine and the law firm that employed him. Her case is particularly alarming as she retained Mr. Fine to bring a civil suit for sexual abuse she endured as a child. She reportedly became close to him and considered him a second father.

Fine’s tactics included schooling his clients on relaxation and “mindfulness” techniques, a front for hypnotism and his own selfish sexual gratification.

He has plead not guilty to all charges.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Perjury in Family Court

GEO#1People tell lies, so-called “white” lies, they tell half-truths, they prevaricate, fabricate, distort, and tell “whoppers”, and they can, unless they are in a court of law or a government hearing where they are “sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Yet nowhere is the truth more elusive than in a family law trial and the recent case of Kneller v. Underwood 2015 BCSC 1410 is a prime example of perjury under oath.

The issue was whether or not 36-year-old Twyla Kneller and Jim Greenwood of Cranbrook, B.C. lived together in a marriage-like relationship for nine years, as Twyla testified, or whether they simply were “friends with benefits” as he maintained.

If they were in a spousal relationship, Ms. Kneller would be entitled to share in his property in light of the 2013 law that gave common law spouses the same property rights as married spouses.

Ms. Kneller described a traditional relationship where Mr. Greenwood worked and paid the bills, while she maintained the home with its wood stove, doing the grocery shopping, cooking, baking, canning, cleaning, laundry, and gardening. The parties initially resided in a trailer on bare land and later in a renovated home on acreage, all owned by Mr. Greenwood.

Mr. Greenwood’s parents and grandparents lived on adjacent properties and Twyla became close to his mother.

Interestingly, despite his family’s obvious knowledge of their son’s living arrangements, they were not called to testify, although many other witnesses paraded through the courtroom.

During the nine-year relationship the parties separated on one occasion for three and a half months, not surprisingly, considering Ms. Kneller’s evidence that Mr. Greenwood’s physical
assaults landed her in hospital twice. She testified to regular punching, slapping, kicking, and other abuse. She said that initially Jim would apologize for this behaviour but after a while he didn’t bother. She stayed because she loved him, an oh-so-familiar sentiment in cases of domestic violence.

When it was time for Jim Greenwood to testify his evidence could not have been more different than Ms. Kneller’s.

He swore they never lived together, although she spent some nights with him. He said she lived in Cranbrook with her mother. He apparently forgot that in an earlier affidavit he said “they lived together off and on”. He testified their finances were completely separate and they each filed “single” status tax returns, a misstatement he was forced to correct when his 2010 tax return showed he claimed tax deductions in respect of his “common law spouse”.

He denied he gave her a “promise” ring and was cornered when it came to light he had added her to his medical and dental insurance as a common law spouse. He recounted a denigrating anecdote to the court where he felt it necessary to “take her home”. When it was apparent the “home” he referred to was his, and not Twyla’s Cranbrook home, he squirmed and became agitated and nervous.

When he abruptly asked Ms. Kneller to leave, he said she had almost nothing to pack, despite photographs showing a U-Haul with furniture and personal chattels piled in. He had forgotten that in an earlier affidavit he swore she took all of the furniture, although he paid for it all. He also couldn’t keep the date of their separation straight: Was it August 2013, as he first suggested, or October 2013?

Of course, who to believe was the central issue in the trial, a task that was not daunting for the trial judge. He found that Ms. Kneller was one of the “most genuine, down-to-earth, credible and engaging witnesses” he had ever encountered.

As for Jim Greenwood the court said:

“The respondent’s evidence, in particular, was disingenuous and lacking in credibility. It consisted almost entirely of vague, unsubstantiated and unsupported assertions. His evidence at trial contradicted his earlier affidavit evidence in many significant respects. The best he could muster when faced with the conflicts in his sworn evidence was to blame the drafter of the affidavits, to say he wasn’t a very good reader and to state, “that is what you get when you don’t look at the things you sign.”

The trial judge also declared that Mr. Greenwood’s blanket denial the parties ever lived together, and his testimony that he never physically abused his spouse were “devoid of truth”.

Finally, the trial judge said he didn’t believe or accept anything Jim Greenwood had to say that contradicted the evidence of his common-law spouse and her witnesses.

“In my view, the respondent would be well served by a recalibration of his moral compass.”

It’s called “perjury”, an indictable criminal offence with a possible 14-year jail term attached to it, and yet, liars are not prosecuted in Canada. Oh yes, Air India terrorist, Inderjit Singh Reyat’s acquittal in 2003 on murder charges prompted the Crown to charge him with perjury, securing a conviction and a nine-year prison term, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Not so in the United States where Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart and others faced charges, not for steroid use or securities fraud, but for lying.

Canada’s refusal to deliver consequences to parties who blatantly lie in court needs to be addressed. Mr. Greenwood was a poor liar but there are many cases where Mr. or Ms. Charming fool the court and justice does not prevail. Perjury is a serious issue, particularly in our family courts and steps must be taken to punish liars who make a mockery of their oath to tell the truth.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Former Toronto Lawyer Founder of Infidelity Site, Ashley Madison

_DSC4851Noel Biderman’s corporate slogan is “Life is short, have an affair”, although he says that personally he does not subscribe to his company’s philosophy.

A graduate of Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Biderman says he saw an opportunity after he noticed all the “sexual partner wanted” ads on Craigslist, and realized over 30% of the men and women on the list were married or otherwise “attached”.

His site, Ashley Madison, was hacked on July 12, 2015 by cyberpunks who call themselves “The Impact Team”, a sophisticated hacker crew that snagged 33 million personal files, announcing their attack by leaving a message on staff computers, accompanied by music, heavy metal group AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”.

The company operates in 50 countries and has 38 million users, many of whom are terrified their name, location, and email address will be released. The ramifications are enormous and include the possibility of extortion and bribery or worse. Toronto police say that already they are aware of two suicides related to the breach of security, including a police captain from San Antonio, Texas.

The already beleaguered former reality star Josh Duggar’s name also came to light, leading to his admission that despite his well-known Christian values and his anti-divorce stance he is a member of the site.

Media articles abound suggesting the Ashley Madison debacle will translate to enhanced business opportunities for divorce lawyers,

While Mr. Biderman has offered a $500,000 Cdn. reward for
information leading to the capture and arrest of the hackers, he must also contend with a class-action lawsuit that demands multi-millions of dollars in damages.

Mr. Biderman may wish he had never left the law as he now copes with the “largest data breach in the world”.

All we know for sure is that the Impact Team didn’t like Ashley Madison’s casual rejection of marital monogamy, although Biderman says that he’s not to blame if men and women wander outside their marriage. Not surprising for a practising Jew who critiques the Torah’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” as irrelevant and out of date.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Obnoxious Lawyers Converge, Clients Are Not Well-Served

DSC00507 (2)One of the worst possible scenarios for those unlucky enough to be involved in a lawsuit is when their respective lawyers are at each other’s throats. You may think you are being well-served by an aggressive, boorish lawyer whose focus is on denigrating and insulting opposing counsel, but you are not.

On the other hand, as a client you should be happy if you know or see that your lawyer has a good working relationship with opposing counsel, as you can be sure that the resolution of your case will not be hampered by ill-will between lawyers.

Oddly enough, some clients are disturbed when they see cooperation between their lawyers, misreading it as a sign of weakness on their lawyer’s part. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, there are lawyers who are so well-known for their cranky, obnoxious behavior that other lawyers refuse to take on cases where Mr. or Ms. Miserable is on the opposite side.

A recent example of bickering lawyers arose in a courtroom in Chicago, where last week the final act of an ongoing legal saga came to an end, with Judge Raymond Mitchell ordering both lawyers to resign from the case and their clients to retain new lawyers.

Lawyers Joel Brodsky and Michael Meschino treated their clients and the court to months of disturbing behavior while representing their clients in a business dispute, taking potshots at one another in open court, with no concern for their lack of professionalism and decorum.

At one point Mr. Brodsky called Mr. Meschino a “moron” and a “liar”. Meschino responded with words like “fat, short, and bald” complaining that “Brodsky was constantly shaking his bald head, so that a light was shining on me”. Over time, when the lawyers were in court, up to four sheriffs were present in the courtroom and on two occasions Mr. Meschino was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs.

Outside of court, threatening and insulting emails were the norm, and discovery of each party took place in the courthouse rather than in the privacy of a court reporter’s office, as is the usual practice.

Judge Mitchell advised Brodsky and Meschino that a copy of his order would be sent to the Illinois Attorney Discipline Commission so that appropriate action could be taken by the Illinois Bar.

Joel Brodsky is certainly no stranger to ethics complaints. He was the lawyer that acted for former police office Drew Peterson, who was accused of murdering his third wife Kathleen Savio.

Before the case was finished Mr. Brodsky was replaced by new counsel, an event that did not sit well with him. His public comments after his departure as counsel “shocked” the trial judge and resulted in an ethics investigation.

After Drew Peterson was convicted, the animosity between Brodsky and successor counsel, Steven Greenberg was so intense that Brodsky sued Greenberg for defamation, suggesting that Greenberg was a “pathological narcissist”.

Not surprisingly, Brodsky also suggested that Mr. Meschino was mentally ill.

While emotions can run high in hard-fought litigation, the behavior cited by Judge Mitchell has no place in our justice system and the harshest punishment should be levied against lawyers who embarrass themselves and the administration of justice. Sadly, it is their clients who suffer most.