A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 5 of a Series

This is the fifth of a series of articles wherein I share a conversation I had with the executive producer and director of “Divorce Corp.” wherein we discussed the 58 reasons why I was unable to endorse the film. Since my last article covered points 16 through 20, I will start this article with my 21st point. In an effort to eliminate any possible confusion, the items in italics are my responses to Mr. Sorge. They are in italics because those responses were never sent to him.

Mark Baer:
“Twenty first, did Commissioner Gretchen Taylor know or have reason to know about Dr. Kenan’s background when she appointed him as a child custody evaluator in cases pending in her courtroom? The issue as I see it is that many custody evaluators are inept and judges are human and humans are biased. Judges therefore favor certain custody evaluators. This is a human condition more than anything else.”

I have written extensively on this issue in the following articles: “Judicial Bias – A Variable that Is Often Overlooked in Family Law Litigation,” “Judicial Bias in Family Court,” “Should Lawyers Be Required to Take Continuing Education Courses on Human Mental Processes?,” “Important Distinctions Between Litigation and Mediation,” “When the Law Is Involved, Do Feelings and Notions of Fairness Matter?,” “When the Law Is Involved, Do Notions of Fairness Matter?,” and “Is Mediation about Reaching the Same Result in a More Efficient and Economical Manner?.”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed.”

Mark Baer:
“Twenty second, are courts trying to protect themselves at any cost? I think judges are human and humans tend to try and protect themselves at whatever cost. This is a human condition and applies far and beyond the family law court.”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed.”

Mark Baer:
“Twenty third, custody evaluators are biased – duh! All human beings are biased – it is a human condition.”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed.”

Mark Baer:
“Twenty fourth, judges can be malicious and vindictive? No doubt. Power corrupts. The same is true in politics, corporate America, etc.”

There is a concept that psychologists refer to as the “paradox of power.  The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power.  Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.  In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded….  While a little compassion might help us climb the social ladder, once we’re at the top we end up morphing into a very different kind of beast.

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, says, ‘When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools.  They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.’  Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making.  Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office….

According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others.  For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people.  They also spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person without power is talking….

At its worst, power can turn us into hypocrites….  Although people almost always know the right thing to do – cheating is wrong – their sense of power makes it easier to rationalize away the ethical lapse.”

In all fairness, another study found that “power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies.  Which brings to mind another maxim, from Abraham Lincoln: ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.'”

The following is a quote from an article titled the Psychology of Power, that was published in the January 21, 2010 edition of “The Economist”: “Power corrupts, but it corrupts only those who think they deserve it.

Power isn’t corrupting ; it’s freeing, says Joe Magee, a power researcher and professor of management at New York University.  ‘What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge,’ he says.  ‘More of us walk around with kinds of social norms; we work in groups that exert all pressures on us to conform.  Once you get into a position of power, you can be whoever you are.’

This manifests itself in several different ways.  For one, the powerful are seen to be less likely to take into account the perspective of others….  Power lends the power holder many benefits.  Powerful people are more likely to take decisive action….  Power reduces awareness of constraints and causes people to act more quickly.  Powerful people also tend to think more abstractly, favoring the bigger picture over smaller consequences.  Powerful people are less likely to remember the constraints to a goal….

‘What it means to have power is to be free of the punishment that one could exert upon you for the thing you did,’ says Magee.  Which paves the way for another hallmark of the powerful – hypocrisy….  The authors explain how these tendencies can actually perpetuate power structures in society: ‘This means that people with power not only take what they want because they can do so unpunished, but also because they intuitively feel they are entitled to do so….'”

Joe Sorge:
“AGREED!”

Mark Baer:
“Twenty fifth, most people in my jurisdiction cannot afford minor’s counsel and therefore they are paid though the system. They make about $125.00 per hour, which is far less than any lawyers I know. I have not been interested in doing such work for many reasons, not the least of which is the very low fees. You think that if I handled regular family law work and minor’s counsel work, I would want to get appointed on more minor’s work? I would make less money. The argument makes no sense. In any event, I don’t know how the billing works elsewhere, but in California those bills are reviewed.”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed, but we have heard that some attorneys want minor’s counsel work when the parents are well off. Again it’s a tragedy. BTW $125 per hour is 5 times what the average American earns.”

Minor’s counsel is sometimes appointed in high conflict cases, when it appears to the court that neither parent is doing what is in the best interest of the child(ren) and therefore the child(ren) need representation of their own.  If the parents are financially able to pay for the cost of minor’s counsel, that is their responsibility.  After all, if they were doing what was in the best interest of the child(ren), Minor’s counsel would not have been appointed in the first place. 

Really? First of all, lawyers have graduated from college and law school and have passed the Bar examination. A great deal has been written about the tremendous amount of debt people have when they graduate from law school. Is the same true for those who earn $25.00 per hour? Furthermore, billing $125.00 per hour is not the same as earning $125.00 per hour. My office overhead expenses are about 50% of the gross revenue I receive.

Furthermore, I want to be clear about the distinction between billing for time spent and receiving payment for those bills. Did you know that “approximately 30 percent of family law generated accounts receivable go uncollected?

Considering uncollectable fees, the $125.00 per hour needs to be reduced to $87.50. If the cost of doing business for the attorney is 50%, the $87.50 per hour now needs to be reduced to $43.75.  Did you know that “a family lawyer’s salary range is usually between $38,619 and $103,658 in annual record.”  Did you know that of the ten practice areas listed in an article titled “Lawyers and Their Salaries,” the family lawyers were the lowest?  Interestingly enough, Joe Sorge was able to finance “Divorce Corp.” himself, at a cost of $2 million.  Since Mr. Sorge likes the Scandinavian countries so much, it is only suiting to end this segment with the following quote from Shakespeare:  “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”  If you are interested in knowing just what that might be, I would suggest that you read a 2012 family law case titled, “In Re Marriage of Sorge.

To be continued…

4 comments

  1. Jan Newcomb says:

    I saw the movie this afternoon. Not many people there – but it was NFL playoffs day!

    From my personal experience with the family law system, I thought it was pretty accurate. However, I agree with your comments about human nature – I am seeing a lot of corrupt behavior everywhere, not just in family law.

    The movie was long on identifying problems and short on suggested solutions. The link with what goes on in Scandinavia was was not well presented and, frankly, didn’t add much to the movie. Their culture, values, etc., as you mention, are different and you can’t compare apples and oranges. However, if the movie gets a dialogue going about what we can do to reform the system, that will be good.

    I took notes, am going to think more about this, and may have some other comments to offer later. You were smart not to endorse the movie.

  2. Thank you, Jan. I completely agree. I look forward to hearing your comments and don’t forget that I haven’t even released half of the comments I had — more to come.

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