Let’s talk about ethics and common sense. Some top-flight U.S. lawyers are representing the Guantanamo detainees pro bono. Some detainees may indeed be innocent goat farmers, but not many. Yet these lawyers would free all of them. Saddam’s lawyers include several Americans, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. (Wanna bet any of these legal heavyweights would represent men in a fight for gender justice, pro bono or not.
Hear Internet blogger Fred Reed: “Lawyers lounge under the lampposts of jurisprudence, in the moral equivalent of plastic miniskirts and fishnet stockings, breathing, "Oh, ba-a-a-aybee, I'll do anything for $250 an hour."
Although lawyers exploit many types of situations, domestic relations may be where they sin most. Easy fees draw lawyers to divorce like sharks to blood. It’s the same reason Willie Sutton said he robbed banks: “That‘s where the money is.” These bottom feeders share with wives the legalized plunder; it’s one of their biggest sources of income (“Thar’s gold in them thar hills.”) The divorce industry is a “cash cow,” comprising some 35% of civil litigation. According to old estimates, they rake in $800 million nationally each year from their family destruction efforts. This figure was probably doubled by post-decree and related actions. In 1988 Nolo Press of Berkley, Calif. estimated that lawyers generate about one billion, three hundred sixty four million annually in unnecessary fees, almost five hundred million in divorce alone. This is over and above their legitimate charges. Of course inflation will cause the figures to be higher now; they have been estimated as high as $5 billion or more.
Even non-contested actions (also called defaults), which most any eleventh grader could handle in an hour or two, are ridiculously expensive. Protracted cases can go into many thousands of dollars for a few more hours of sham. Every lawsuit is fundamentally the same: pleadings, proof, and procedures.
Arlington Virginia attorney John Crouch says, “Not counting what it does to the standard of living, and having to pay support, and the expenses of visitation, you can get (a divorce) for under $10,000 per spouse in lawyer fees if you’re lucky and if both the spouses and their lawyers are reasonable and fair. But you really can’t predict that. In fact, it is considered unethical for a divorce lawyer to even give a client an estimate, because it’s so out of control. Either side can pull all kinds of stuff in court that just makes both the lawyers waste time until one client runs out of money. I just finished one case where they settled, but then the husband had to spend $70,000 just to enforce the settlement agreement! A custody fight is more like $20,000 apiece.”
Wealthy clients especially can expect interminable litigation. L. S. Rosenstiel, former president of Schenley Distillers, and his wife spent well over $1.5 million during a twenty-year divorce. John Jacob Astor paid lawyer fees of $105,000 in only one year of a four-year divorce, and that was over half a century ago. Others of similar high cost and duration are on record. A Fort Lauderdale heir to the Quaker Oats fortune, Mrs. Eleanor Ritchey, left $14 million to her 81 dogs. Lawyers argued about that for years, to the tune of $700,000. Sometimes they work faster: The 80 year-old widow of real estate magnate Sylvan Lawrence sued the Graubard, Miller law firm in New York for $50 million in excess fees and gifts. The firm reportedly attempted to soak her further by getting her to sign a retainer agreement worth in excess of $67 million.[iv] In Muskegon, Michigan, Helen Below bequeathed $50,000 to two cats. Lawyers took $40,000 of it. Talk about milking situations!
In No-Fault Divorce and the Divorce Conundrum, Lynn D. Wardle states that “a divorce industry…of professional meddlers…make millions of dollars every year off marital turmoil, much of which they have a hand in creating themselves.” Chicago Judge Nathan M. Cohen says, “Lawyers’ fees lie in divorce, not reconciliation.” Further, they have an unwritten agreement to see to it that each gets in on the division of spoils, right or wrong, legal or not. This practice is called champerty. Bar Associations ‘recommend’ (wink, wink) minimum fees. This universal practice of price fixing violates hell out of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Apparently it’s O.K. if done by lawyers. Like surgeons who operate unnecessarily, lawyers can be greater make-work artists than railroad firemen. In most states they are advocating “guardians ad litem.” This is a scheme to introduce yet another lawyer into divorces to represent children in contested custody situations (at papa’s expense, naturally). Obviously this would compound an already bad situation. Another lawyer is needed like Dolly Parton needs falsies.
The California Assembly Judiciary Committee documents the lack of ethics or morals of the divorce lawyers in its 1965 report. It says, “For them divorce is their rent, their stenographer’s salary, their baby’s shoes, sometimes their solid-gold Cadillac… How unrealistic to expect them to forego anything like that for mere considerations of ethics or morals.”
Most divorce lawyers would much rather be on the woman’s side, of course. When unfortunate enough to be representing the man, they find it economically most practical to take his money, pick up the phone and sell him out to their counterpart representing the woman; and most do just that. This takes only a few minutes. Really working for the man’s rights produces only a little more income and involves considerable time (better spent milking some other mark), effort, and antagonizing of judges, before whom they must practice again and again.
Courts act as glorified collection agencies for lawyers. They do this through the subterfuge of writing the fees into court orders, thus giving them the force and dignity of law. Failure to pay can be, and often is, construed as contempt of court — a jailable offense. An Illinois appellate court declared “Attorneys’ fees awarded in a divorce decree are in the nature of alimony and not dischargeable in bankruptcy... Spouses’ award in attorney fees should be treated with some legal significance as an allowance for money to buy food and groceries.”
Often courts order claims against citizens’ property or withhold official records, or both, until lawyers’ claims are satisfied. Provisos have been written into court orders making visitation contingent upon payment of lawyers. In Chicago a reconciled couple tried to have the wife’s action for separate maintenance terminated. Her lawyer jacked the fee up far beyond the original quotation, refused to drop the action until paid, and ensnared them into reappearance in divorce court. There the judge refused to dismiss the action until the alleged debt was paid. Donald Cash was thrown into York County jail in Alfred, Maine, for not paying his wife’s lawyer. His salary was $60 a week, from which he paid $36 in support for three children and $25 for room and board. MDA member Lloyd Tourville, a 100 percent disabled veteran, now-deceased, languished in the Ramsey County, Minnesota, workhouse for refusal to sign over his veteran’s pension to his wife’s lawyers.
The advice from Watergate applies, “Follow the money.” This free, efficient collection service is run by the legal profession — judges, for legal professional bedfellows — lawyers, at taxpayers’ expense. Any other businessmen having such privilege would warrant congressional investigation. The Mafia must be envious.
Collusion goes beyond the monetary. Two men were actually arrested in New York for telling lawyer jokes. Waiting in a courthouse line, Harvey Kash asked Carl Lanzisera, both founders of a group called Americans for Legal Reform, “How do you tell when a lawyer is lying?” “His lips are moving,” they both said in unison. The men were charged with disorderly conduct.
Even non-avaricious motives are questionable. Like social workers, the more unscrupulous have a virtual harem of pre- and post-decree divorcees, who are usually sex-starved and willing to do anything for favoritism and best efforts. Through half-closed eyes, the aspiring divorcee sees only an intrepid champion desirous and capable of tremendously improving her lot in life.
Priesthoods seldom initiate their reform. Because so much income is derived from the divorce racket, lawyers have a vested interest in perpetuating any system conducive to a high rate of divorce. These custodians of the status quo jealously squelch all serious investigation into deficiencies of the system. Strangling reform legislation is simple because they control legislatures, especially the important judiciary committees. According to The Trouble With Lawyers, seventy-one percent of Congressmen are lawyers. The mere presence of “officers of the court” in the legislature, besides violating the principle of separation of governmental branches, is a conflict of interest. Considering legislation to remove a large source of their private income is doubly so. Voluntary reform will not spring from this quarter. If wolves got together to demand that farmers leave their hen house doors open at night, people would be outraged. But such foolishness is accepted without a murmur when the wolves stand erect and wear neckties.
This is not an indictment against all lawyers; many are honest and fine men, not a bunch of Wm. Kuntsler-type wild-haired, sandal-wearing misfits. A divorcing man will have to join a reform organization (some listed in the Appendix hereto) to get a referral to those good ones that exist. Several such lawyers successfully defended me against their brethren back in the ΄70s.
It began when the Minnesota State Bar Association (MBA), hoping to “silence the lambs,” commenced an inquisition. They sued several other Minnesota divorce reform organizations for “practicing law without a license.” As we said in the Air Force, “When you’re getting flack, you’re over the target. The MBA was unhappy that groups like mine were interfering with the divorce racket. Enraged, I wrote a newspaper article daring the MBA to sue our Men’s Rights Association (also known as Divorce Assistance Ass’n., and now re-named the Men’s Defense Association), essentially saying “I too am Spartacus” during our 20th century slave rebellion. The Bar Ass’n immediately sued my organization on the same charge and hired the most formidable prosecuting attorney in Minnesota, Tom Collins, to represent them. My primary defenders were referral attorneys in the MDA stable making good money litigating on behalf of MDA members; but they made an honest living at it (Any who failed to adequately represent members at reasonable rates were removed from the list). I am eternally grateful to civil libertarian Tom Burke, the main attorney that represented me at the initial level. The Minn. Civil Liberties Union also filed an amicus curiae brief on my behalf.
One of my most satisfying legal wins was beating the MBA in state Supreme Court and forcing them to pay all expenses. The precedent that case set paved the way for persons and groups to assist in divorce counseling.
After my set-to with the MBA, and seeking to wreak revenge on them, I discovered that Bar Associations all over the country were in violation of postal regulations #s 134.52 and 134.53, by concealing their activities in order to qualify for the reduced rate mailing privilege available to non-lobbying groups. They were ripping off the taxpayers for perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in this manner, and probably still are. I intended to nail them for it but, swamped with work, never got around to it.