April 2010 Archives

April 21, 2010

Dogs, Pets and the San Diego Divorce Lawyer

Somehow, I stumbled across this article about people fighting over custody of their dogs in divorce cases. Written in 2006, it discusses appellate court decisions on the subject, and the author's opinion of changing standards.

Historically, dogs were personal property. As I recall, there used to be California cases saying that cats weren't property, because no one could actually own a cat, but for this purpose I'm not going to research the subject to find such cases.

Lawyers in North County [San Diego] where I practice tell about a major trial over ownership of a parrot some decades ago, involving two very litigious attorneys who have since probably joined the bird in the hereafter. We all laugh at the absurdity of people spending 10's of thousands of dollars over custody of a pet. Now I appreciate their attachments to an animal, but essentially they are gambling that the judge will see it their way.

In a website that attacks judges and lawyers in San Diego, there are tales about courtroom fights in our county over dogs and cats, including a lengthy trial over Fifi - one-half of the 3-day trial was allegedly devoted to the animal. I understand an attachment to pets, but the Wife's fees in the case ran about $150,000. The article was critical of lawyers charging outrageous fees over such issues. I won't list the website, as it's largely run by a disgruntled litigant, who is occasionally right, but often wrong - he [or she] is anonymous, and seemingly from Beverly Hills.

In general, it isn't the judge's fault that such cases are litigated, something the site claims. It's the fault of the litigants who have more money than common sense. In part, it's lawyers who don't manage their client's expectations, or warn them of the risk and cost of going to court.

The lesson to be learned from these cases is that people don't often understand their own best interest, and will fight over a cause or principle, rather than over something that makes economic sense. For $150,000 you'd think it would make sense to buy a great dog, hire a full time trainer for a few months, then take the animal to Europe for the summer and develop a relationship with it. But that's just me.

April 20, 2010

Late to Court in San Diego Divorce Court.....

I showed up in court a few weeks back for a 9 o'clock court appearance. Traffic was light, I arrived and parked about a block and a half from the courthouse, walked into the courtroom, and found the judge had already started the calendar and was on Item #8 [I was #2]. I checked in with the bailiff, and was the only one of the three lawyers on my case to have done so.

I then went back and sat down, opened my briefcase, and leaned back to wait for one of the other attorneys to appear. I casually looked up at the courtroom clock, and it said 9:01, as the judge called case #9. When the judge got to the end of the calendar, he started back at the beginning, looked over and saw me, and asked whether I was waiting for opposing counsel. I said I was.

I got up and casually walked to the back door, and as I exited the courtroom found one of my opponents coming it, assuming that he had plenty of time to get there for calendar call. We turned around, went back in, told the judge we needed 60 days to resolve some discovery issues, the judge thanked us, and we left.

Outside the courtroom, we were both dumbfounded. Each of us had left in time to arrive by 9 o'clock, assuming that the judge would be several minutes late, as judges usually are.

There are some days you just cannot get to court on time. Negotiating the I-15 to Highway 78 interchange can be a disaster. It seems everyone slows to a crawl because of something like a cardboard box lying empty on the side of the road, and the whack-o's who drive the Highway 78 corridor can't help but stop and look in case they might miss some bargain, a dead body, or free oranges.

My companion then claimed that another lawyer was "the worst". This is a lawyer who proudly trumpets that he the winner of "the coveted 128.5 award", routinely provided by the Certified Family Law Specialists' Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association to someone who is habitually late, files frivolous motions, etc., although basically a jovial fellow. My companion said that this lawyer had called his office on one occasion to find out what time he would actually show up, apparently trying to find out how much leeway he had in getting to the court on time. He eventually arrived an hour late.

We then joked about the perpetual excuse that he was doing some religious event [a prayer breakfast, speaking at a church luncheon, or leaving early for a "church retreat"], as though everyone should understand that his schedule involved in these religious matters should take priority over the schedule of the court or the convenience of the other side.

Typically, Family Law is a "hurry up and wait" kind of litigation practice. The calendar may be set at 9 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., but you may arrive finding 20 other cases on calendar, many of which will be argued in an order determined by the whim of the judge. Some judges routinely call matters where there are lawyers involved first. This frees the lawyers to go to another courtroom to argue another case, and historically makes the process move more quickly: Once you have both lawyers in the same place, it is easier to get them done so that they can go off and deal with other matters, in front of other judges who may be waiting for them.

A few judges put the lawyers down the list, either to avoid the complaint that they show favoritism to cases with lawyers, or because they are concerned that the non-represented litigants will learn something from the lawyers' arguments and make their cases more difficult.

Lawyers quickly learn that arriving on time does not necessarily get them out quickly, and judges learn that lawyers are not always there because they are checking into some other courtroom or arguing a case elsewhere. The reality is always a mix, with some lawyers taking advantage of the fact that they won't be missed since the judge has plenty to do, and they routinely make no effort to show up on time. Occasionally you will see a litigant wandering around looking for his or her lawyer, or be approached asking if they should be doing something because their lawyer isn't there.

The longer we practice, the less enamored we become of the courtroom process, and the less we accept without complaint waiting for hours for a 20-minute hearing that really does not do the issues justice, but is all that we can squeeze out of the courts unless we are willing to wait a few months for a hearing.

April 13, 2010

Technology in the California Family Lawyer's Office: The iPad

Using and acquiring technology in the practice of Family Law in California is a constantly moving target. Here is a link to a lawyer's article on the Blog of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists. This is yet another big overhead expense, but one that almost appears to be indispensible in order to adequately represent our clients. Some lawyers view it as merely a toy, or a big iPhone that doesn't make calls.

The author recently bought the newest arsenal in a lawyer's office: The Apple iPad. She got her version the day they shipped. Unfortunately, I am waiting for the version that ships at the end of this month - it will provide me a direct connection to the Internet from the courthouse, without the need for a secondary device - she already has a MyFi modem, which [at higher monthly cost] allows her to link to the Internet from her iPad, laptop, cell phone, or other device, so she feels she doesn't need the upgraded version. But it is one more piece of equipment to carry, keep track of, and break.

I am looking forward to the iPad arriving, as are many of my peers. Lugging a laptop is always an issue [even at 3 pounds for a lightweight], and finding an electrical outlet when you need it is almost impossible [the iPad has more than 10 hours of battery life]. While the author of the article thinks the MyFi is a better solution for her, my goal is to have as few different pieces of equipment as possible.

The only things missing with an iPad are two important programs I need constantly: My research database and a support calculator - each requires a computer. The support calculator is available at the courthouse most of the time in San Diego County. The research program can be partially replaced by one of several iPad apps that will give me direct access to court rulings in appellate case and all California statutes [at substantial, additional cost, of course].

At present, I have a Kindle DX: In addition to using it as an e-book reader, I can load .pdf files containing correspondence, proposed agreements, and documents produced through discovery that I can review, although in black and white only. The iPad should replace all of that, further reducing the number of tools I must carry in my briefcase.

I can hardly wait for it to arrive.