If you read The New York Review Of Books, you may have seen an essay in the November 24, 2016 issue by United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff. He wrote about the roadblocks people run into when dealing with almost any court system in this country. A link to Judge Rakoff’s essay appears at the end of this post.
A few years ago, a dishonest lawyer committed fraud with my parents’ estate, and left me terribly vulnerable. He was able to do it in broad daylight, so to speak, and in spite of the situation being obvious I had no luck trying to discuss the issue with lawyers who might have been able to help me.
For a long time, I assumed the non-sequitur answers from attorneys were meant to protect the dishonest lawyer who ripped me off. It sounded like the dismissive, defensive, gaslighting crap you expect from a police agency when you try to report officer misconduct. They appeared to be observing a code of silence, and at the time I interpreted it to mean people in the legal profession just had each others’ backs. I thought I was being shunned because legal professionals didn’t want to go on record exposing a thief in their ranks.
There was one complication I was aware of before I called any of them, and I was straightforward about it: I had no money for court or law office fees. I expected to be turned away because of that, but not one of those attorneys identified money as the reason for rejecting me as a client. They all spoke as if they’d be happy to represent me if only I had a legitimate case.
Some of the reactions were blatantly hostile, and after going through that with scary people I was intimidated. I never tried to report the estate fraud to the District Attorney in the county where the thief’s law firm was located. Who wants to risk pissing off a D.A.?
I’ll never know the main reason I was denied legal counsel so quickly when speaking to each of those so-called professionals. They didn’t tell me the truth. Whether it was a matter of protecting an unprincipled colleague or the reality of a client who couldn’t pay fees, those people felt most comfortable suggesting I was delusional.
Judge Rakoff’s article got me thinking more carefully about this, for whatever that’s worth. It offers no advice on how we can protect ourselves, but reading it can make us a little less naive.