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A change in the culture

I read with considerable interest and agreement Diane Curtis’ article on collaborative law (January). I am a support magistrate in New York and have heard and decided thousands of contested cases. Child support often is, as attorney Pauline Tesler observes, “the hidden engine” of the family court. Wealth redistribution is serious business.  

In defense of the litigating bar, I’d like to add that in my experience, it is the parties’ perdurable animosity which, as often as the money issue, makes litigation inevitable. They perceive lawyers as mercenaries hired to sack the enemy’s citadel; to take their wealth, humiliate him/her utterly, and make their most intimate failings public record. Family litigants often want their lawyer to make the other side “pay for” the hurt they feel. Their animosity is fueled and tacitly endorsed by tabloid television and other popular fiction. And, although the perception of attorneys as mercenary buccaneers has ancient roots, the politics of the late 20th century and popular media have done their share in perpetuating it. Fiction lionizes the crusading lawyer, not the compromising mediator. Can you imagine a reality show called “Let’s Mediate”?

The way to change what happens when parents separate is to change the culture which surrounds them. We ought to acknowledge and publicize that family litigation makes children refugees of their parents’ war. Separating parents should be encouraged to seek reconciliation and, that failing, to mediate their dispute. Litigation should always be seen as the last civilized alternative.

Collaborative law will work when cooperation and compromise are given the high public marks they deserve.

John Kelleher
Cortland, N.Y.

Careful what you wish for

In response to your article on paying jurors, I’d like to pose the following hypothetical. After a two-month complex civil trial with tens of millions of dollars in damages at stake, the jury sits down to deliberate. It was clear from the trial that no expense was spared on either side. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in experts, diagrams, mock-up, models and digital recreations. Some of the experts testified that they were charging $450 per hour!

Juror John Doe heard about jurors in one case being hired to act as consultants for a second trial after jurors deadlocked in the first trial. Mr. Doe was a bright guy, took careful notes during trial, and could really use some extra cash. The long trial took away from Mr. Doe’s work and he probably lost money because of it. He decided that making even $150 an hour as a consultant to one of the parties would be worthwhile. However, a deadlocked jury was necessary. Mr. Doe had an idea.

Fast forward three days. The judge announces that the jury was hopeless deadlocked. A retrial was necessary. Mr. Doe was seen eagerly approaching the attorneys for one of the parties in the hall after trial, and he had some great ideas for their next trial. . .

Sean P. Healy

Inappropriate activities

As a member of the California Bar residing far from the center of action, I read with interest David Gettis’ comments concerning the role of the Conference of Delegates  (December). 

While no one would contest the right of a lawyer as an individual to express his or her political opinions and to become active in political and social issues of the day, it is quite apparent that these activities are not appropriate to our bar associations, which should not be vehicles for espousing political causes. If bar associations endorse or attack political figures and take up various political causes of the day, they will clearly turn off many of their members and weaken the organizations. 

I fear this may already be the case in California.

George T. Yates, III

Can’t test morality

I am amazed that there was enough support to lobby for an increase of the nationally administered ethics exam. The fundamental issue is not going to be solved by raising the test scores. Instead, to make true and lasting change, there must be a grassroots effort to instill a sound foundation of ethics and morality in the minds of attorneys. We need to start with education. If there is a concern about the ethical standards of attorneys, then the bar and the schools need to join efforts and promote more and better education about these issues in the law schools.

Rod McLeod’s remark that “people who have what it takes will get through the process” shows a general failure to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Not having a higher passing mark is not what leads attorneys to breach their ethical rules. Rather, it is the lack of a sound moral basis which guides their decision making and actions. Let’s get to the root of the problem. I wonder what scores those infamous attorneys who trespassed their ethical obligations received on their exams.

Alidad Vakili
La Jolla

An unforgivable lapse

As a member of the State Bar, words cannot express how appalled and disgusted I was to see an article displayed prominently on the front page disparaging the African-American race. Not only is the article offensive and derogatory to me as an African-American woman (who happens to have passed the bar on the first attempt), I am 100 percent positive that were this meritless article about Jews, Asians, gays and lesbians, women or the physically challenged it would have properly remained on the cutting room floor for fear of offending, or out of respect to, that community. 

This article did nothing more than humiliate and belittle the African-American community by incorrectly telling the readers that we do not belong at schools such as Harvard, Yale, UCLA or Stanford because we lack the credentials to compete with white students. This article was not only insulting, but quite possibly unforgivable.

Rozenia Cummings
San Ramon

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