Saturday, February 20, 2010, 08:55 AM
Posted by Administrator
I believe that the Bar has some rules about criticizing the judiciary. So, let me be clear from the start: all judges I have ever met have been fair, honest, God-fearing men and women whose mistakes....if there are any, ever...are few and far between. It would have to be a very cold day in my Northern Wyoming cabin....right next to the Canadian border...before I would say anything bad about a judge. But, still, I am going to change the name of the judge I am going to write about. (Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean that people aren't out to get you.)

Judge Jim Tessel hated me. He never told me that he hated me but every time I walked into his courtroom he visibly stiffened. Though he hated me, he didn't necessarily rule against my client. I remember one case, about 10 years back, (and I don't really remember what kind of case it was) where, after we had a half day hearing, he gave me everything I asked for. He even took the trouble to write his own 3 page order. In the order, he detailed who had said what.

I remember that another lawyer, Kim Todd, had come with me. She had referred the case to me and she had some limited role at the hearing. But, Tessel's Order didn't mention me. Everything I said and did he attributed, by name, to Kim. I pointed this out to Kim and she said "But, he hates me, too."


It didn't seem that he liked anyone except for...maybe...older lawyers who had helped him get elected in the past? (Note: This doesn't mean that he ruled in their favor...just that he didn't stiffen up when they walked in the courtroom.) The local Bar Association...every year...would ask the local lawyers to rate all of the Judges by grading things like their demeanor in the courtroom, fairness, knowledge of the law. Tessel always came in last, so, I guess, feelings were mutual.

Since, in Florida...except when a seat is left vacant mid-term and the vacancy is filled by the govenor...we elect our judges, it seemed strange that nobody ever ran against Tessel. One day, years ago, a lawyer told me this more or less these words:

"Once, a lawyer filed to run against Judge Tessel. One night, two men came to his house and they said to him "You don't want to run against our friend, Jim."

According to the lawyer telling me the story, the rival dropped out of the race. But, just so that nobody thinks that I am accusing the Judge or his supporters of trying to strongarm the man out of the race, I would like to mention the following:

-Back in the mid-70's, I was out on a date in Seaford, NY and, after we had dinner, my purple Renault R-17 Gordini wouldn't start (probably because fate decided that it wasn't bad enough that I was trying to impress a girl with a purple French car so it needed, also, to not start). I had the car towed to my mother's house. The driveway at her house angled up for about 10 feet and there was a high spot where it angled back to level. When I looked at the car after it arrived on the back of the tow truck, I saw that there had been damage to the CV joint boots that looked like it had been caused by the front wheels....locked in gear...hitting that high spot in the driveway leveled off. I called the tow company and asked them to pay for the repairs...they said "no".

A few days later, I drove over to the tow company with my friend Bruce who is a foot taller than me. I told him to come in with me but not to say anything. This time when I asked them to pay for the repairs to the car, they said "yes".

-Years later, then a (highly successful, premier) caterer (to the stars) in slightly upstate New York...was having trouble collecting money. This is what I told him: "Have you got a friend with a deep voice? Have the friend call the person who won't pay and say "I would really appreciate it if you would pay my friend Bruce by Friday." "Be careful", I said, "no threats...just that they would appreciate it if you got paid".
I do not know whether or not Bruce did this.

It is certainly not your fault if you have friends with low voices or friends who are big. It is not your fault if someone is intimidated as long as your friend says or does nothing meant to intimidate. I have a low voice (in addition to my regular voice)...sometimes, when I leave a phone message to someone who isn't being responsive...I use it. Sometimes, I think, it works.

Bob continues: Okay, back to Judge Tessel....

One day, I had a hearing in front of Judge Tessel on a probate casea. It was a long time ago and I don't remember much about it except that I was asking the Judge to order a brokerage company in New York to do something I had no business asking him to order them to do. This was the idea of a lawyer from Vermont who was the best friend of my then-partner's cousin. I didn't think that my request passed the laugh test...but, they were smarter than me and they were paying.

Judge Tessel said "no" to what I wanted and then, out of the blue, this what he said to me: "Bob, you aren't ever going to make any money in the legal business unless you take these Wills over to the law library and spend a few hours analyzing each one."

Now, most Wills are just boilerplate. And "boilerplate" is the term lawyers use to describe:
-A document with a lot of legal sounding verbiage most of which doesn't amount to much...
-That they copied from another lawyer's form and which..
-That lawyer copied from another lawyer....
-Who went to Harvard or Yale and was good for nothing else except for writing things that sounded lawyer-like.

In other words, my 2 and 1/2 year old nephew, Barney, could read a Will and know what it means: Cousin Molly gets 30% and Uncle Bob gets the rest unless he dies before Molly and then his share goes to Molly's kids, Simon and Betty...with this followed by a bunch of that boilerplate stuff. Spending a few hours analyzing a Will would mean a higher bill for the client but, except in the rarest case, absolutely no benefit for anybody except for the lawyer getting paid the higher bill.

I remember a deposition a few years ago. I had just taken on a new divorce client from another lawyer and I was deposing her husband. I asked the husband how much he had paid his divorce lawyer so far, and the answer was "$15,000". On the one hand, this surprised me because the case wasn't complicated; there hadn't been any court hearings; and all his lawyer had done was demand, receive and look at a bunch of financial papers and then reach a temporary agreement on a few of the issues. On the other hand, the lawyer worked for a law firm of middl'in size and associates at law firms either bill a bunch of hours or lose their jobs. So, was the $15,000 unnecessary work just to bill hours? I am not going to be the judge of that.

Prospective clients would frequently ask me...before they hired me...what my hourly rate was. I would tell them "$300 per hour..but" I would say " asked the wrong question." The right question is: How many hours do you think it will take? It is less expensive to be fairly billed at $350 per hour than it is to be overbilled for value-less, made-up work at $275.

And, while I guess I felt grateful that Judge Tessel was concerned about my making money...I never could bring myself to cloister myself in the law library and analyze Wills.

NEXT UP...........HINDU MARRIAGE.........

+Note the "Bruce" referred to in this story is no relation to Bruce the dog.... who bit Steve Duhl's pantleg in his entry NEW YEAR'S UPDATE. Bob apologizes for any confusion.
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