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Family Law

Free $1.3 Billion for consumer spending by enforcing the law


Can a simple fix of our Family Court procedures help free consumer money to jump-start our economy? I say, yes… it can!!!

 

Let’s play with some numbers for a bit.

 

There are estimated 160,000 divorces filed in California each year. 60% are now done without lawyers according to Ed Sherman in “How to do Your Own Divorce in California”, published by Nolo Press.

 

That means 64,000 divorces are handled by divorce attorneys.

 

Fighting for custody in a Court can cost a lot (says the same source) – at least $15,000-$50,000 for each side. Let’s take a median number of $30,000 per person, which is $60,000 per couple.

 

That leaves us with stunning $3,840,000,000 dollars spent in Family Courts across California, producing no real value for our economy. Not only that, but how much of that money could be spent by parents investing in their children’s education? Isn’t the education of new generation the most valuable investment that our society can make?

 

Now, let’s assume that 1/3 of these costs are not really necessary which leaves us with $1,280,000,000 (ONE POINT THREE BILLION) dollars taken out of the consumers’ pockets. Can retrieving that much spending money help our economy? You bet!!!

 

In comparison the recent news reported that Governor Schwarzenegger has reduced state employees working hours by 2-day-a-month without pay. His administration estimates that cutting worker hours would save the state $1.3 billion over the next year-and-a-half. Isn’t that the same number?

 

 

What are the causes and how can this money drain be avoided?

Keep in mind that Divorce is defined as an adversarial process, so each side is encouraged not to go easy       on each other. Don’t you think some lawyers could, would, or DO take advantage of this situation? You can bet on this one, too!

 

My own experience is a testament to that. My ex-spouse’s first attorney manipulated his client into believing that I wanted full custody of our child. Can you imagine how any mother would react when faced with the possibility of losing her child? Or any father for that matter? The stage was set for a big fight and a “cash cow” opportunity for the lawyer.

Emotions run high during the divorce, so it took my ex-spouse one and a half years to finally realize she had been played all along. $80,000 dollars later, she finally fired the crook. Our daughter ended up being shared on 50%-50% bases; something we had already agreed to even before her lawyer was hired to handle property division issues.

 

As I was not just an “innocent bystander” all these years, I talked to people who were in similar situation. I realized that “crooked” lawyers do take advantage of the fact that other lawyers (in this case your own) do not take a tough stance against other attorney’s fraudulent actions. All lawyers (and yes, even your own) are businessmen first. All of them work in the same environment and face each other long after your case is gone. “Do not hurt one of your own” is the unwritten code of their relationships. They all know each other.

 

So what remedies does one have to stop fraud, even perjury, committed by the opposing lawyer? Well, as our forefathers put the principle of “checks and balances” into our Constitution, the same mechanism was established for the Practice of Law in our country. Or, is it?

 

One has two options: Report the “crook” to California Bar, or to the District Attorney’s office. Let’s now examine those two options:

 

 

The State Bar of California

I called Cal Bar to inquire about the status of my complaint that I filed few weeks ago. The information I    received was shocking.

 

CalBar Intake Office (the office that handles and sifts through received complaints) increased the number of lawyers working on complaints from 3 to 5 at the beginning of this year. The lady on the other side of the line was proud to announce that the manager is working hard to bring those two newcomers up to speed, but unfortunately, one person is out, sick. That leaves only 4 Cal Bar lawyers to work on all the incoming complaints. What does that mean?

Bear with me while we go over this simplified mathematics assuming that the number of complaints is evenly spread over the 12 month period.

 

So, 4 lawyers, on average, are available for reviewing what has been estimated to be 100,000 complaints each year for all sorts of things, not only the family law related stuff.

 

That is 8,333 complaints per month, or over 2,000 complaints for each Cal Bar lawyer to review each month. Break it down even further and you get about 11.5 complaints per hour, provided every Cal Bar lawyer works without interruption 8 hours per day, 5 days a week.

 

How effective can that be? Is that sufficient deterrent for those “shady” lawyers who are tempted to walk the fine line, or on occasion even cross it? In addition, many clients are already overwhelmed and confused with the whole “legalese” business and they don’t even bother sending their complaints. It is too complicated.

 

Taking into the account the above statistics, if I were a “crooked” lawyer I would take my chances. I would go about my “business as usual” feeling as safe as single zebra in 10,000 zebra herd all the while the lion is walking around. I would find safety in numbers. It can’t be me that they will catch, right? And even if they do, for most part it is a reprimand that is not even listed on my official record. A slap on a wrist; I can survive that, right? So, I would keep doing what I was doing, feeling safe and keeping my pockets full.

 

 

District Attorney’s Office

I wrote an e-mail to DA’s office complaining about my ex-spouse’s second attorney’s conduct that can be classified as perjury (misrepresentation of material facts under oath).

 

At first I received “Dear John” type of a response from some clerk that told me to first complain to Cal Bar….and then,… if Cal Bar finds my complaint worthy of an investigation, they will send it to the DA’s office for their consideration,… and then, if they find it worthy they will discuss… Wow??? With such intense filtration one would be able to drink sewer water every day and live healthy and happily ever after.

In all fairness to Santa Clara County’s DA Dolores Carr, I have to report that I had received an e-mail from Ms. Carr directly, ten days after the initial “Dear John”.  It was a letter in which she informed me that DA’s office is working with the Family Court to define the parameters of conduct that would help to reduce instances of perjury.  And that was it. How effective is/was this effort? I do not know, there is no statistical data available to support claims either way.

 

 

How can this be fixed?

I am not an expert in any other field but my own: Electrical Engineering. However, being an engineer I have keen eye for detail and by recognizing hurdles that I have faced, I’m willing to put my 2 cents into the solution pot.

 

1. Double the number of attorneys in Cal Bar’s Intake unit to 10. That would bring the number of complaints to probably manageable 50 complaints per day/per person. At $100,000 annual salary for each attorney, that is less than $1,000,000 per year, including benefits and operating cost. How much is that compared to $1.3 billion waste in Family Courts only, not including all other civil and criminal cases? The number is probably much higher than that.

 

2. At the DA’s office make one person available to proactively give guidance to people who approach the office for the first time, to let them know what is required as evidence to make a complaint stick in Court.

 

It would also help to make a simple handout of items that represent the list of sanctionable conducts and support documents that would be required to prove such conduct is factual. Give some examples.

 

3. Here in California we have “three strikes you’re out” rule for criminal offenders.

 

This law is formally known among lawyers and legal academics as habitual offender law. Why can’t the same principle be used for the habitually offending attorneys? Let them know they risk losing their licenses forever if they practice law by not following the Rules of Professional Conduct as set by Cal Bar.

 

 

Would the proposed actions be enough to provide effective deterrent to “wannabe” offenders? I do not know, but I’m sure it would be worth a try.

 

 

Prosecute fraud and perjury in Family Courts?
(polls)

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Family Law, Law, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment