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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Law(yers) Is a Ass, a Idiot: Stupid Epithets, Bickering Attorneys, and Outrageous Legal Fees

Mr. Brownlow: The law assumes that your wife acts under your direction. 
Mr. Bumble: If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot! If that's the eye of the law, then the law is a bachelor. And the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience. 
       From "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens

"Mr. Beslow, how much do you charge per hour?," asked Judge Linda Monroe.  "I don't know, your honor."  He seemed taken aback by the question, maybe because he was embarassed that he planned to charge his divorce client, Mr. Callahan, for the time he was spending in court to defend against the other lawyers' claim that Beslow had called Attorney Batty, a young female lawyer, "a piece of shit."  Or a "little piece of shit," depending on which lawyer was testifying under oath about the interaction which gave rise to this court hearing in Middlesex Superior Court.  On the docket was a motion by the opposing lawyers to disqualify Beslow from continuing to handle the divorce case in Connecticut.

Attorney Beslow is a New York lawyer.  He is representing Mr. Callahan in the client's divorce from Mrs. Callahan.  The Callahans are obviously well-off people.  They live in Fairfield County, down near New York City. There divorce was brought in Stamford Superior Court, just 30 miles north of The City.  The Missus is represented by two Stamford lawyers, Attorney Farrow and his young associate, Attorney Batty. It was Attorney Batty, I quickly realized, to whom Attorney Beslow had applied the appellation "a piece of shit" or, if he is to be believed in his equally sworn testimony, merely "a little piece of shit," as if the adjectival modifier diluted the offensive bite of the expletive.

Mr. Callahan didn't hire Attorney Beslow, his lawyer did.  Attorney Meyers is a tiny, unassuming man.  He looks like a bookeeper in "A Christmas Carol" would look, if only he were wearing a green eye shade.  He has that bookeeper's "stooped-over" look.  And although he's probably a great lawyer if you ned a will drafted or a real estate sale processed, he's clearly not the type of lawyer you'd want to represent you before a jury, if your assets or your life were on the line.  So Meyers brought the Big Apple Schyster, Beslow, into the Callahan divorce case.  Because Beslow is not a member of the Connecticut Bar, he can't appear in court for anyone in Connecticut unless a Superior Court judge grants him Pro Haec Vice status.  To do that, Attorney Meyers had to sign a sworn affidavit that Attorney Beslow is a lawyer in good standing in New York City and a person of  good charcater.  Meyers also had to swear that Beslow would at all times be supervised by Meyers and that Beslow would abide by all the provisions of the Connecticut legal ethics code.  Nowhere in the code is there any provision which authorizes one lawyer to call another lawyer a "piece of shit" or even "a little piece of shit."

Beslow was wearing a light brown suit, checked light-colored shirt, and had shoes with several colors of leather.  What struck me most though was his glasses.  They had unusually wide temple pieces, which were widest where they hinged into the lenses and tapered more narrowly as they reached his ears.  The lenses were surrounded by boxy brown plastic.  The overall effect of his outfit made me imagine that he easily could have played The Joker in the Batman movie series if he'd been wearing a large funny hat and his face were heavily made-up with clownish face paint.  The joker-like effect was only intensified by the fact he was taking himself so seriously at the hearing I was watching on the motion to, essentially, kick Beslow out of the Connecticut courts.

The date was October 13, 2011, not a lucky day for Mr. Beslow, nor for Stephen Morgan.  I was in the courthouse to observe a preliminary hearing in the murder case of State vs. Stephen Morgan, the man who shot the Wesleyan co-ed to death back in 2009.  While waiting for the Morgan case to be heard, at which time the defense was going to inform the court if the case would be tried to a jury of a three-judge panel, I wandered down the hallway on the third floor of the courthouse and wandered into a Writer's Dream, the disqualification hearing in Callahan v. Callahan.

When I first entered the Callahan hearing, Mr. Beslow as cross-examining Mrs. Callahan's senior lawyer, Attorney Farrow.  Farrow is a somewhat heavy-set man who exudes an air of over-confidence and high self-regard.  He and Beslow were quibbling about the procedural history of the Callahan divorce, and neither Big-Egoed lawyer was going to give an inch to the other.  Beslow loves an audience, because he had an annoying way of taking hold of the left temple part of his glasses with his left hand, whipping off the glasses, and turning back towards the audience in the courtoom like a little boy searching for his Mommy's approving and encouraging facial reaction.

On the left side of the courtroom, at counsel table, were Mrs. Callahan's lawyers.: Mr. Farrow, who's about 50-something.  Ms. Batty, who's probably 27, and the lawyer Farrow hired to pursue the motion to disqualify Beslow, H. Reece Norris, Esquire, of Hartford.  Norris is a very high-energy, balding lawyer with an air of extreme seriousness of purpose.  As it turns out, he was also one of the lowest paid lawyers mixing it up on that beautiful New England fall morning.

After all the lawyers had testified about what they recalled of the incident in which Mr. Beslow called Ms. Batty some expletive, the precise terms of which they disagreed about, Judge Munro heard legal argument about whether Beslow should be disqualified from this case.  Once the lawyers had released as much hot air from their lungs into the courtroom's atmosphere, the judge spoke.

"Mr. Farrow, how much do you charge per hour?"  "$750," he replied, without any hesitation.  Now I KNEW these were Fairfield County and New York City lawyers.  "Ms. Batty," asked the judge?  "$400," she replied, also without any recognition that even that lower rate seemed appallingly high.  "Mr. Norris?"  "$500."  Oh my goodness, I thought, my hourly rate when I left the firm in March of last year was only $250 an hour.  No wonder I was still a member of the Middle Class.  I just never charged enough for my services.

As I noted at the beginning of this story, Attorney Beslow couldn't recall how much he was charging Mr. Callahnan in this case.  So the judge suggested, "Why don't you ask your client, Mr.Callahan, Mr. Beslow?"  Sheepishly, Beslow turned around and looked back at Mr. Callahah, who was sitting behind me in the next row.  "Your bills say your hourly rate is $650," said Mr. Callahan, who didn't seem too pleased at the spectacle of all these highly-compensated lawyers fighting a battle, at his expense, over a war of words which may have reminded Mr. Callahan why he and his about-to-be ex-wife were sitting in divorce court in the first place.

Judge Monro was not pleased by Mr. Beslow's memory lapse about his own legal fees.  "Mr. Beslow," Judge Monroe began, "I think if I had ever charged $650 an hour when I was in private practice, I'd have remembered it."  The judge continued.  "Be that as it may, I am ready to make my ruling in this case.  If I were hearing this case 20 years ago, I'd probably disqualify you Mr. Beslow.  But now I realize that in the heat of argument, we all sometimes do or say things we later regret.  Now it bothers me that you've never even apologized to Ms. Batty for whatever it was you said to her after that hearing."  Beslow perked up and interrupted the judge at this point.  "Your honor, I sincerely apologize for what I said to her," Beslow pleaded.  "But Mr. Beslow, you didn't make ANY effort to make the apology until just now, when you're in court on whether I should disqualify in this case.  Isn't that a little bit late?  It also bothers me that you were ready to have your client disclose a confidential communication with you without first canvassing him to make sure he understood that you were doing that and making sure he was willing to waive the confidential communications attorney-client priviledge," said the judge, in effect scolding Mr. Beslow like a schoolmarm upbraiding a knicker-suited schoolboy for pulling the pigtails of the girl sitting in front of him in social studies class.

The judge continued.  "It is the judgment of this court that Mr. Beslow may, for the moment, remain in this case.  However, I order you, Mr. Beslow to pay for the time which Mr. Norris, Mr. Farrow, and Ms. Batty have spent in pursuing this motion to disqualify.  Mr. Norris,  Mr. Farrow, and Ms. Batty, how many hours do you estimate you've spent on this aspect of the case?"  They gave their estimates.  The judge continued.  "Mr. Beslow, that works out to 12 hours of lawyers' time at each of their hourly rates.  I also order you NOT to charge Mr. Callahan for the time you've spent on opposing this motion and to remiburse Mr. Meyers for the time he's spent helping you.  You also are ordered to donate $7,500 of your own money to the Connecticut Client Security Fund.  I also want you to make a written apology to Ms. Batty within the next 30 days."

"Finally," observed Judge Monro, "I want to note for the record that my next assignment will be Stamford Supeior Court, down in Fairfield County, where the events which are the subject of this motion took place.  I always wondered whether I would enjoy having more regular contact with New York-oriented lawyers, since Stamford is in Connecticut but very close to New York.  I know that I want to continue to hang around mainly with Connecticut lawyers, now that I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about your interaction with Attorney Batty."

Mr. Beslow, New York divorce specialist, vainly tried at this late point in the hearing to rationalize his behavior by alluding to health problems of his wife.  The judge had lost interest in his attempts to rationalize his behavior and actions.  "Mr. Beslow, I'd be a lot more sympathetic to you if you hadn't also failed to mention in the motion for pro haev vice status that you had earlier been the subject of a disciplinary complaint before the New York grievance authority."  Said Mr. Beslow, "But your honor, because that was eventually dismissed as without merit, and because it was so heavily publicized in the legal community, it slipped my mind as something which everyone would be aware of, without my having to mention it explicitly in the motion."  Judge Monro: "Mr. Beslow, I've heard enough.  I've made my ruling.  If you want to appeal it, please feel free to do so."

With that, the judge adjourned court for the day.  I had no idea when I went to court that morning to watch the preliminary proceedings in the murder case that I'd be fortunate enough to bare witness to what I considered the legal pathology of five lawyers in a divorce case fighting a battle over the silly bickering of the lawyers rather than the sad bickering of a once-happily married rich couple.

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