Lawyer Horror Stories: Hitting on Vulnerable Client

Ethics 

    If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I oftentimes like to talk about the law in different contexts.  Recently I thought “gee, there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with their (former) lawyer.”  I wondered to myself what people were thinking, what their negative experiences may have been and how that has impacted their view on lawyers. 

    So I put out an all-points-bulletin asking for peoples’ stories and, so far, have gotten several interesting responses.  I’m reprinting some of those stories in a series of blog posts, this being the first.  My goal is not to “out” any particular lawyer or alleged victim.  I will not identify any of the persons involved (lawyers, clients, etc.) by printing their real names.  I’m also going to mask locations when it seems that the location will give away the identity of those involved.

    The stories are not verified by me but, regardless, they are interesting by their very nature.  At the end of each story, I will post some relevant links and possibly offer a legal opinion based on California law.

    Feel free to respond with a story of your own and/or comments relevant to this series of stories.   

Lawyer Hits On Divorce Client with Aspberger's

    Belinda R. writes:

    When I was getting my divorce, I had what I feel was a bad lawyer.  I was 28 or so with three small children.   I have Asperger’s but at the time was not diagnosed.   However, it does make you naive (my husband says innocent like a child).   I was escaping an abusive relationship and my ex was stalking me. 

    I also didn’t have much money.  I found an attorney through a friend of a friend.  He had a good reputation for being aggressive, and as far as the attorney part went, he was good. Then he started making comments to me.  I did not understand many of them until I mentioned something to a friend and she told me that he was being suggestive and "making passes" at me.  He invited me to a pool party at his house but I did not go (my friend advised me against it – she was sort of my protector, she knew how innocent I was).  He took me out to dinner once and said that he wanted to talk about my case, but he kept ordering alcohol. I did not drink much then (and not at all now) but he kept trying to make me drink more and more. That did not seem right but I am not the best judge for what is right or normal in social interactions.  

    He made some statements that if I went out with him he could make my costs less. I did not really understand at the time, but my friend explained it.  It seemed like he wanted to trade dates and maybe more for his legal services.   I don’t really know, I never asked him to clarify but I never went out with him. Then one day he called me at work to tell me that he had "a hard-on and nowhere to put it."  I told my friend and she got really angry. I asked her if I should get another lawyer and she said, "Uh, yeah. You need to get another lawyer and report that SOB." (State Bar of California Complaint Form)  I did not report him but I did get another lawyer.  I have not been comfortable with lawyers since – and that was 14 years ago.

Analysis: Did This Lawyer Do Anything Wrong?

Aba logo     Hello?!?  I cannot make light of this situation.  Every California lawyer takes a sworn oath to act within the California Rules of Professional Conduct (i.e. ethics) and, if true, this lady's lawyer violated some very basic rules.  (Another excellent source is the American Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct)

    The State Bar of California addresses this issue: California Rule 3-120, Sexual Relations with Client.

    The American Bar Association likewise addresses this issue.  It is fleshed out very well in a State of  Virginia Legal Ethics Opinion entitled Sexual Relationship With A Client.

    Sexual relationships between lawyer and client is a recurring problem and is the basis for lawyer discipline throughout the United States.  For continued reading on lawyer misconduct and the discipline that follows, I'd like to suggest that you read the Legal Professions Blog which discusses these issues and current disciplinary cases on a daily basis.

Do You Have A Lawyer Horror Story?

Scream    Do you have a lawyer horror story?  It can be a story about the mishandling of a loan modification, abusive attorneys (yours or the other party's), incompetence, disappointing results or?  Submit your story to me via e-mail at lowell@steigerlaw.com

Oh, One Last Thing: Can You Fire Your Lawyer?

    Can you fire your lawyer?  The simple answer to this question is "yes."  Read on here:  Firing Your Lawyer and Hiring A New One

Prenuptial Agreements: What The Heck Are They?

Wedding kiss photoxpress Prenuptial agreements are agreements between prospective spouses made in preparation of marriage. In marriage, each person has certain legals rights, such as property rights or spousal support (aka alimony). In order to modify these legal rights, the prenuptial agreement is used, which results in a person giving up certain rights which they would otherwise have acquired by reason of the marriage. Courts are increasingly recognizing prenuptial agreements due to rising incidence of divorce and remarriage.


It's A Contract Just In Case the Marriage Winds Up In Divorce

Contract 002 photoxpress Prenuptial agreements are like contracts. And like any contract, a prenuptial agreement must be in writing and signed. It is very important to use an attorney to draw up a prenuptial agreement because problems arise when things are not specifically and carefully spelled out. For example, where a husband and wife enter into a prenuptial agreement that says: “wife agrees to waive all rights that she would otherwise be entitled to because of such marriage; and she waives any right to all property.” In this case, if the wife seeks alimony, the husband will have a problem if he tries to enforce the prenuptial agreement because it does not clearly state “no alimony,” although the prenup does clearly state a waiver of any right to property.

 
Break up photoxpress A common agreement in a prenuptial agreement is the amount of spousal support (i.e., in the event of divorce, wife gets $2,000/month alimony and medical insurance for life or until she remarries). In some states such as California, parties can even agree to a waiver of alimony, so in the event of divorce, no alimony will be paid.

Child Custody & Support Cannot Be Included in Prenup — Ever

Sad child photoxpress Sad little girl photoxpress

One thing parties may not agree to in a prenuptial agreement is with regard to child support or child custody. Because the state has a strong interest in child welfare, the right of a child to support may not be adversely affected by a prenuptial agreement and is therefore not allowed.

The Prenuptial Agreement Must Hold Up In Court – Read On!

Gavel and magnifier photoxpress

Signing a prenuptial agreement is only half of it. The other half is whether the agreement is valid. A prenuptial agreement is valid if it provides full disclosure; it is fair and reasonable; and was entered into voluntarily by both parties (no fraud, no duress). Sometimes however, courts will enforce a prenuptial agreement that may be unfair so long as there was full disclosure. Because things are NEVER black and white, it is so very important to use a lawyer to prepare your prenuptial agreement or you may find yourself fighting a losing battle in the gray areas. I also highly advise using a lawyer to review a prenuptial agreement if you have been asked to sign one.

Questions? Concerns?

For a Free Consultation please contact Attorney Lowell Steiger immediately at

(323) 852-1100

lowell@steigerlaw.com

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

"Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"  


*Since
my law practice is based in California, I'm addressing California law.
 Your state's laws may vary so please consult an attorney for
clarification of your state's law as it applies to you!

Divorce and Alimony: What Is It and What Factors Affect It?

Broken marriage     First of all, what is Alimony?*  Generally speaking, it is the money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce.  Alimony is also called "spousal support" or "maintenance."  

    Okay, there are many factors that affect the amount and duration of alimony.  While this is not a complete list, it pretty much covers all the general bases.  Keep in mind that every marriage is unique and it is the combination of the factors below which will influence the spousal support determination. 

Factor Description
Length of the marriage Generally alimony lasts for a term or period, that will be longer if the marriage lasted longer. A marriage of over 10 years is often a candidate for permanent alimony.
Time separated while still married In some U.S. states, separation is a triggering event, recognized as the end of the term of the marriage. Other U.S. states (such as New Jersey) do not recognize separation or legal separation. In a state not recognizing separation, a 2-year marriage followed by an 8-year separation will generally be treated like a 10-year marriage.
Age of the parties at the time of the divorce Generally more youthful spouses are considered to be more able to 'get on' with their lives, and therefore thought to require shorter periods of support.
Relative income of the parties In U.S. states that recognize a right of the spouses to live 'according to the means to which they have become accustomed', alimony attempts to adjust the incomes of the spouses so that they are able to approximate, as best possible, their prior lifestyle.
Future financial prospects of the parties A spouse who is going to realize significant income in the future is likely to have to pay higher alimony than one who is not.
Health of the parties Poor health goes towards need, and potentially an inability to support oneself. The courts do not want to leave one party indigent.
Fault in marital breakdown In U.S. states where fault is recognized, fault can significantly affect alimony, increasing, reducing or even nullifying it. Many U.S. states are 'no-fault' states, where one does not have to show fault to get divorced. No-fault divorce spares the spouses the acrimony of the 'fault' processes, and closes the eyes of the court to any and all improper spousal behavior.  California is a "no-fault" state
Gender of the recipient In general, women are more likely to be granted alimony than men, due that (usually and historically) men make more money than women, and men are less likely to have gaps in employment due to childrearing.

Broken hearted marriage

For a Free Consultation please contact Attorney Lowell Steiger immediately at

(323) 852-1100

lowell@steigerlaw.com

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

"Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"  


*Since my law practice is based in California, I'm addressing California law.  Your state's laws may vary so please consult an attorney for clarification of your state's law as it applies to you!


Divorce: What Is Community Property? It’s Mine, No It’s Mine. Well, Which Is It?

Splitting the house     Community Property laws vary from state to state.  Does Community Property Law apply in your state? Well, here's the list: 

  • California*
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

So, what then is Community Property? Simply defined, "Community Property" is all real and personal property, wherever situated, that has been acquired during marriage by a married person while domiciled in California* unless the property was his or her separate property.

    Wait! The word "unless" is in that definition.  Yes, the "unless" part is very important when dividing property upon the dissolution of marriage.  What, then, is "separate property?"  "Separate property" is all property of either spouse, owned before the marriage, or acquired after marriage by gift, inheritance, or descent, together with the rents, issues, and profits of such property.

    Here are some examples of separate property:

  • Property one spouse owned before the marriage
  • Gifts received by one spouse before or during the marriage
  • Property acquired during the marriage in one spouse’s name and never used for the benefit of the other spouse of the marriage
  • Inheritances received before or during the marriage
  • Property that the spouses agree in writing is separate
  • Property acquired by one spouse using separate property assets with the intention of keeping it separate, and
  • Certain personal injury awards

Divorcing couple Asset division is serious business and needs to be handled by an attorney.  What one spouse thinks is theirs may not be theirs!  For example, during the course of a 30 year marriage, Aunt Lettie left her entire $15 Million estate to her loving niece Jenny.  When Bob and Jenny decide to divorce, Bob is feeling pretty good because he's going to walk away with $7.5 Million!!!  Wrong Bob.  That inheritance is belongs to Jenny 100%.  This is separate property.

Feel free to consult my office if you're planning to get a divorce (or if you're in the throes of it now). Please note that Community Property v. Separate Property is just one of the complex issues in a marriage dissolution.  The issues of custody, child support, alimony, separation v. dissolution/divorce, restraining orders, retirement plans and/or tax consequences must also be addressed.

For a Free Consultation please contact Attorney Lowell Steiger immediately at

(323) 852-1100

lowell@steigerlaw.com

Skype (with or without video): Lowell_Steiger

"Treated With the Respect and Understanding That You Deserve"  


*Since my law practice is based in California, I'm addressing California law.  Your state's laws may vary so please consult an attorney for clarification of your state's law as it applies to you!