Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lawyers, Ethics, and Baseball Tickets

Bad couple weeks' press for Atlanta lawyers. First one goes out of his way to spread TB, and then one makes an ass out of himself and my profession over some choice Braves season tickets:

Aisle 101, front row, seats 5, 6, 7, 8 behind home plate. On Tuesday morning, a divorced Atlanta couple took these objects of joy into a courtroom — and turned them into a source of misery. H. Elizabeth King, a psychologist, accused her ex, Charles Center, a lawyer, of breaking their 2002 divorce agreement to divide the tickets.

King said in court Tuesday that Center had gone out of his way to give her bad tickets this season — to games that conflicted with her tickets to Wednesday night concerts at the Chastain Park Amphitheater. And, worse, she claimed 80 percent of the tickets he gave her were for day games, implying he’d done it because he knew she had skin cancer.

Center testified that the four tickets to 27 home games cost about $6,000. And he was distributing them to her the way he’d always distributed them, sequentially, according to a mathematical formula. He admitted he would
“manipulate” that arrangement when people asked or if there were conflicting

So far, attorneys’ fees in the dispute have run to about $13,000.

Since the story doesn't tell us all that much about the actual litigation tactics which led to this scene, we can only truly call the ex-husband -- himself a lawyer -- a jerk. If he truly is messing with the mother of his children over the tickets like the article suggests, he's a petty bastard, and would be no matter what his profession.

That said, I've practiced law for nearly nine years. Though the vast majority of my cases and clients have involved simple business being conducted by more or less decent people, I've represented a lot of bastards too. I've also had opposing counsel who run the gamut from princes to punks. Throughout my career I have often taken solace in the "we can only advise and remain ethical, all else is up to the client" mantra, but I also know it's a copout.

Lawyers may very well have a duty of zealous representation, and may have a floor of ethical behavior below which we may not sink lest we incur sanctions, but that does not mean (a) that we should not strive to counsel our clients against taking unreasonably assholish positions even if they are technically within their rights to do so; and (b) that, if our advice is ignored, we still have to remain in the case. The ethical rules do not require us to check notions of common decency at the courthouse door.

Yes, there is always someone who will take these cases and run with them, but I hope that before counsel of record was retained, at least a couple of other lawyers told these season ticket holders that there is no sense spending tens of thousands of dollars of their own money and costing the legal system thousands more litigating the issue of who gets the nice seats when.

While I'm on my high horse, allow me to offer something else.

I don't know why I care, but I did a bit of digging, and found this article, which prominently features the couple in question. It turns out that, based on their own experiences with cancer, the two of them worked and produced a book for kids about how to cope with parents who have cancer called Kemo Shark.

While no one except the spouses involved can ever truly know what goes on in a marriage, it's amazing to me that two people could work together to raise a couple of kids, deal with cancer, and then turn that into a positive like a book to help kids cope, and then turn around and have a stupid court battle that ends with one of them yelling "I'm not going to jail! I'm not going to jail!"