Family Court, Part 3
I called the Bar referral number. To receive free
legal aid, you cannot earn more per month then roughly half the
cost of an average apartment. Nearly everyone is excluded. I
“But who on earth can qualify?” I asked.
“Anyone who earns less then the maximum allowed.”
“Yes but who are those people?”
I didn’t qualify for free or reduced fees. I was
given an ordinary referral. It was a lawyer with a high-powered
address directly across from a famous local landmark in the heart
of the financial district. I arrived at my appointed hour. The
attorney’s office looked worn, cheap, and filthy. The lawyer
looked like an aged used-car salesman. He had rows and rows of
blue law books behind his thriftstore-looking desk.
I took a seat.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
I explained I had been the victim of a fraudulent
domestic violence set-up and wanted to prove in court that indeed
the entire marriage had also been fraudulent.
In a polite legal way he told me he wouldn’t touch
it. I started complaining and he basically said, thanks for coming
in is there anything else he might be able to help me with?
No, I think not. But I asked him what kind of fees
I’d be looking at if he had taken my case.
“Between $210 to $240 an hour,” he said.
I was trying to figure out what might be the
higher figure and what would merit the lower. I wouldn’t have
hired him regardless.
I called the Bar referral number back and they
insisted I pay the $25 consultation fee for the first appointment,
but they were pleasant and made arrangements for a consultation
with a second attorney.
The second attorney had an office in a gleaming
modern high-rise. He had a sterling address just like the first
attorney. A high-powered address. I felt important just going in
and going up the elevator.
The receptionist wasn’t sure whom I was to meet.
She looked at a long list of people who shared space in the
offices. I sat watching as others came and went. It was odd. It
wasn’t like anyone’s office; it was like a Kinko’s for office
space. An as-needed sort of thing. I saw a video-taped deposition
going on in the office beside the reception area. Must be big
bucks. Big bucks build gleaming offices like this. No money? Well,
Chuck, you are only a little ant on the sidewalk with me.
The attorney finally arrived. He had reserved a
little office. He got the details straight with the receptionist
and we went on down there. Out the window was a beautiful view of
other gleaming offices like the one we were in. He was a young guy
and seemed alert. He seemed focused. He dressed well. I could see
him in court fighting for me. I felt a gust of confidence. Maybe
this thing could be won. Maybe justice could be retrieved and some
of my self-esteem with it. Maybe I could climb out of the tarpit
and restore my life to something like it was before I’d even met
He sat down and got out a pad of yellow paper. He
wanted to know the facts of the case. I went over them again. He
remained respectful and listened attentively. Then he said, “This
is going to be a hard case to win. Several factors are working
against you. I cannot promise we will win. I can’t make any
“How much will it cost?”
“It could be expensive. I think it’s only fair to
warn you. And I can’t make any guarantees.”
“On this case I would require a $10,000 retainer.
I would need $10,000 before I could start.”
“Could cost more than $10,000?”
“Yes. There is no way to determine a total cost
because I have no way to know how long the action may take and
what the other side might do.”
“So, $10,000 might be just the beginning? Really
what you need is a blank check?”
“I told you, Mr. Harrison, I have no way to know
how long your case will take so I can not tell you what it will
“Can you estimate?”
“No. I don’t think it is possible to do that at
“Can you tell me what you would be charging me per
“My fee is $280 an hour.”
He was polite so I didn’t belabor the matter. I
told him there was no way I could pay money like that. I didn’t
tell him but the whole thing seemed so unfair. Why was I having to
pay this! Why was I having to pay for my punishment? Why did I
have to pay such big sums of money for something I didn’t deserve
in the first place?
He might have anticipated what I was thinking
because he said, “Contested marriages can be very expensive, Mr.
Harrison. I had one client who kept fighting his ex-wife. He kept
fighting her for over a year. He spent $100,000. He finally
decided to accept a settlement. It’s up to you. You can spend as
much as you want.”
With that cheerful thought I departed and headed
down the elevator. Outside some kind of picket line was gathering.
A labor action of some sort. I saw a big “Unfair!” on a sign.
They have the right address.
I called the referral number for another attorney.
I got another appointment arranged. His offices were near the
Japan Center. He seemed to be a worn man in a worn office. He was
a tired workhorse who was hardened by years of practice. I say
this because he listened to my story with total indifference. He
had heard them all and frankly he didn’t give a damn and he didn’t
give a damn if I knew he didn’t give a damn. The point was, was it
a real case and would I pay him? I could easily imagine him in an
earlier career being a back-street amateur abortionist. He was
there to do the ugly job, did you want it or not?
There was no way in the world I would hire a guy
like him even if I had the money in grocery bags. If he
represented me in court, his merely standing and talking would do
my case irreparable harm. The nice thing about him was he gave me
some advice. In the past, I’ve found that attorneys are masters of
sealed lips. I stayed the right amount of time so he wouldn’t
guess how much he revolted me (he was in the $200-and-up range as
well) and made my departure. He told me to give him a ring if I
wanted to retain him. I said, “Yes, thank you. Sure. Bye now.
Thanks again. I will. If I do.”
When the sun freezes over.
It was hopeless. It seemed justice was a
cash-and-carry thing. I’m sort of poor, but what do really poor
people do? What do the totally poor do?
I learned that my wife had much better luck than
I. As a “victim” of domestic violence, she got a successful lawyer
to work for her pro bono (for free). Her attorney’s name is Nancy
Pinkler. From what I’ve seen in the months since this whole thing
got started, I think she must have made a million dollars in her
law practice doing what she does. She’s probably working on her
second or third million. I admired Ms. Pinkler because she was
defending someone guilty as hell. That takes some additional
talent. As much as I needed a lawyer, I knew my wife needed one
The horror is this: many lawyers don’t appear to
have any feeling for right or wrong. They are hired guns. They
only care about who is paying them. With my wife, not only is her
attorney on the wrong side regarding who is guilty and who is
innocent. She’s not getting paid anything by my wife. So I have
respect and sympathy for Nancy Pinkler: she has indeed been
trapped. As I was trapped. By the same woman. I suspect after some
time, she will know what I was feeling. The beauty is: my wife is
no longer doing it to me.