In my last article from this series, I described how easy it is for love to turn to hate when a parent’s efforts to use their child as a pawn in order to “harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge” against the other parent doesn’t play out as they had intended. In my case, my father first caused me to transfer schools because he stopped paying my tuition at Brandeis University and essentially disowned me for refusing to completely and permanently sever all ties with my mother. Unfortunately, that was not quite enough punishment for my disobedience of his wishes. The next thing I knew, I found myself being prosecuted for a crime I did not commit. As I mentioned before, I was being falsely accused of criminal assault and battery against my step-mother. A very well-regarded criminal defense attorney by the name of Godfrey Isaac was retained by my mother to defend me in that matter. While the criminal matter was still pending, I found myself a defendant in a civil action filed against me based upon the same false allegations.
I very clearly recall the day I received a call from Godfrey Isaac and he explained to me that what occurs in court is more about perception than reality. He asked me if I had read the Los Angeles Times that day. I told him that I had not read it and asked him the reason for his question. He then explained that he had just gotten a criminal defendant acquitted of a crime that the defendant had in fact committed and that it was covered in a story in the paper. He then told me that although he knew that I was innocent, that his hands were tied because of arsenal of false evidence against me. He said that my only evidence to the contrary would be my own testimony and that I would not make a good witness because I looked so angry every time I said anything about my father or stepmother. He said that although I was clearly angry because of the false allegations against me, a jury would believe that I had committed the crime because of my anger for the way in which they treated me prior to the alleged incident. He therefore strongly advised me to plead no contest to the charge. He said that I would otherwise most certainly be found guilty of the crime, which would impact the civil action they had filed for damages. A no contest plea to a crime is treated the same as an admission of guilt, except that it cannot be used as an admission of fault in a civil lawsuit.
The judge accepted my no contest plea and placed me on summary probation for three years. As a result, I was able to avoid jail time and no probation officer was assigned to supervise me. My attorney also made certain that he could have my record sealed as long as I did not violate the terms of my probation. After three years had passed without incident, my attorney returned to court to have my file sealed, which means that it is hidden from the public but is still on record.
Meanwhile, my mother and step-father somehow managed to get her homeowner’s insurance to cover the civil matter. To my dismay, the insurance company paid my father and step-mother the policy limits based merely upon the “evidence” against me. I was never asked to give a statement and our civil attorney never even met me.
I can’t even begin to describe how difficult it was for me to focus on my coursework while suffering such abuse by my father, step-mother and our system of “justice.” To this day, I don’t know how I managed to maintain my honor’s status in college and to graduate cum laude. Although I then decided to attend law school, it can be no surprise to anyone that I never actually intended to practice law in what I perceived as such a faulty system. However, I felt that I would benefit from learning more about our legal system, so that I could use my knowledge to help people and/or businesses to steer clear of any possible misuses. Moreover, not one of the law professors in whom I confided could be certain that I would ever be admitted to practice law because of “my background.”
When the time came for me to apply to take the Bar exam, I decided that I had no choice but to make full disclosure of both the criminal and civil matter. Both Godfrey Isaac and the attorney who handled the civil matter agreed to meet with me and help me to compose an explanation in the Bar application. Interestingly enough, as soon as the civil attorney saw me in person, he said that he had wished he had seen me before recommending that the civil case be settled. He said that just by looking at me and the way in which I am built, there was no way that I could have done what they had alleged. I must admit that after all I had been through, such a statement only made me feel worse about what had occurred. Nevertheless, the Bar obviously accepted my explanation of the situation because I was admitted to the practice of law. However, since no non-legal jobs were available to a recent law school graduate, I found myself essentially forced into practice law.
To say that my perceptions and the way in which I have always practiced law were deeply shaped by my personal experiences would be a grave understatement. We all have different tools in our “tool boxes,” based upon our personal backgrounds and life experiences. Some of the tools in my “tool box” were learned long before I ever attended college or law school. I really wouldn’t recommend acquiring tools in such a manner, but it sure has given me a very unique “lens to look through.” It has also given me my passion to help others not to suffer or cause others to suffer a similar fate. My personal nightmare gave me a unique perspective and I believe that my clients are the beneficiaries of the “lessons I learned from my parents.”