Believe it or not, I used to wonder why people got such a kick out of lawyer jokes. It's not that I didn't think the jokes were funny. But I couldn't help noticing the underlying nastiness and wonder, "Gee, why do people hate lawyers so much?"
This was some 20 years ago, long before I'd ever encountered a lawyer in a legal setting. For the past 10 years or so, my wife and I have lived under a legal cloud that, had lawyers and judges performed their duties lawfully, would have dissolved in about eight months.
The fallout from that experience continues, and I've come to fully understand why Americans hate lawyers. In fact, I now find myself thinking, "It's amazing we don't read more stories with headlines like, 'Lawyer's Carcass Found Floating in River, Former Clients Celebrate.'"
As a public service, we are starting a series of posts that will provide insight on why lawyers are among the most despised creatures in our society--ranking somewhere below debt collectors and barely above cockroaches. These posts will draw on personal experiences, supported by documents from our various legal entanglements.
Our goal is to show you how real lawyers think and behave. We will present evidence, straight from the legal front line, of lawyers acting unethically, perhaps unlawfully, and with little regard for justice or simple matters of right and wrong. In short, we will show you lawyers who seem to act without a functioning conscience.
We certainly do not think all lawyers are awful people. We actually know some who are honorable. In fact, such lawyers--Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, Wes Teel--have been central characters in many of our posts, as victims of bad apples in their own profession. Some noble lawyers--Jill Simpson, Scott Horton, Andrew Kreig--have been consistent sources of insight and inspiration for this blog.
I was not predisposed to dislike lawyers. Heck, my youngest brother is a lawyer--in a state other than Alabama--and I've always thought of him as an upstanding guy.
But the experiences my wife and I have had with lawyers in the court setting--those on the opposing side and those supposedly working for us--have been uniformly dreadful. And to talk with lawyers about the details of a potential case is one of life's most nauseating experiences. I would rather have a prostatectomy without anesthesia--performed by the Village People (to borrow a line from the late, great Johnny Carson)--than have to go through that again. That might explain why I'm now representing myself, acting pro se as they say in the legal world.
After several discussions with lawyers about various legal issues, I can remember telling Mrs. Schnauzer, "That was the worst one yet, the most deceitful and oily lawyer ever." Invariably, someone comes along to top him or her.
"Every time I talk to a lawyer about our case, I feel a part of my soul dying," I once told the missus.
"Well then, don't talk to any more of them," she said. That was good advice, and I've taken it to heart.
But I want to share some of our experiences, so Legal Schnauzer readers might know what to expect should they ever find themselves in close proximity, in an official sense, with "counsel."
I can think of no better way to start a series of posts about lawyer horror stories than with our old friend William E. Swatek. He puts sleaze in the word sleazeball, dirt in the word dirtbag, scum in the word scumsucker . . . well, you get the idea.
Swatek, more than any other single individual, is responsible for our legal headaches. He represented Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor, and filed a lawsuit against me for malicious prosecution and conversion that would have needed to improve to reach the bogus level. It all started because McGarity, after multiple verbal and written warnings, simply would not respect our property rights and stay off our yard. Swatek could have solved the whole problem by telling the dunderhead who lives next to us, "You know, Mike, you might not realize this, but the Shulers have an almost absolute right to keep you, your kids, your guests, and most anyone else off their property. It's not real complicated. You have the same right. They can welcome people they like, but if they don't like you--and they apparently don't--they can keep you off their property. The fact you live next door gives you pretty much zero rights regarding their property. That's just the way it is. It's part of what we call private-property rights, something we've had in America for several years now. Maybe you've heard of it.
"If you would make it clear that you intend to respect the Shulers' property rights, I suspect we can resolve this issue without the need for courtroom intervention and with very little expense."
Swatek didn't do that. Instead, he filed a baseless lawsuit against me for malicious prosecution, even though his client admitted in a criminal-trespass case that he had indeed trespassed on our property. We've got the court transcript to prove it, but Swatek didn't bother checking that before suing me.
How bad is Swatek? He's been disciplined by the Alabama State Bar three times, and one of those included five complaints rolled into one. He's had his license suspended for acts of "fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, and dishonesty." He was tried for perjury in criminal court in the early 1980s, and public documents show he unquestionably was guilty--which raises the question, "How in the hell did he get off?'
Here's a bigger question: How does this guy still have a bar card? A doctor with Swatek's history would have been booted out of the profession 30 years ago.
Swatek is so bad that Mrs. Schnauzer and I have developed new verbs and adjectives in his "honor." Consider this scenario:
Driver No. 1: Have you ever taken your car to Willie's garage?
Driver No. 2: Oh God, yes, and he's the worst mechanic on the planet.
Driver No. 1: How so?
Driver No. 2: He wouldn't know a carburetor from a brake drum. He's lazy and takes forever on your car. He won't tell you what's going on. He gives low-ball quotes and then sticks you with big bills as you're about to walk out the door. And he flat-out cheats you. I took our car in for a simple oil change, and got home to find the same dirty oil in place. When I took the car back in, Willie refused to do anything about it.
Driver No. 1: Wow, he sounds positively Swatekian.
Driver No. 2: You said it, brother.
Or consider this scenario. It's inspired by Dr. Perry Cox, one of our favorite characters on Scrubs. Upon encountering a nauseating scene, Dr. Cox coined the term "ga-vomiting," a combination of gagging and vomiting. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have developed a term to describe a combination of retching and puking. Here's how it can be used:
Diner No. 1: Man, I think there might have been something wrong with those hamburgers we just ate. It feels like I swallowed Mary Lou Retton, and she's doing back flips in my stomach.
Diner No. 2: Oh God, look at the health rating on the wall over there. They got a score of 13. It says: Warning, this establishment has been known to serve spoiled meat.
Diner No. 1: Where's the bathroom? I need to hang my head over a commode and Swatek.
Diner No. 2: It's over there. I'm right behind you, dude.
What's the latest stunt Swatek has pulled? Well, it comes in the ongoing lawsuit I have against him, McGarity, Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry and others responsible for the unlawful "auction" of our house in May 2008.
Both Swatek and McGarity are defendants in the case, but Swatek lists himself as McGarity's lawyer. There's a slight problem with that--it can't be done, under the law.
Why is it problem? Here is a fairly straightforward explanation from a document I have filed in the case:
4. Rule 3.7 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct states: A lawyer shall not act as an advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness.”
5. The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct include the same rule.
6. None of the exceptions listed by the Alabama and ABA rules apply in this case.
7. The comment to ABA Rule 3.7 states:
“Combining the roles of advocate and witness can prejudice the tribunal and the opposing party and can also involve a conflict of interest between the lawyer and client. . . . The tribunal has proper objection when the trier of fact may be confused or misled by a lawyer serving as both advocate and witness. The opposing party has proper objection where the combination of roles may prejudice that party’s rights in the litigation. A witness is required to testify on the basis of personal knowledge, while an advocate is expected to explain and comment on evidence given by others. It may not be clear whether a statement by an advocate-witness should be taken as proof or an analysis of the proof.”
Not only is Swatek a likely witness in this case, he is the lead named defendant. That means he is a dead-solid cinch witness, and he can't possibly represent another defendant in the same case.
I'm not a lawyer, as regular readers know, so I don't pretend to be an expert on such matters. But I can read simple declarative sentences, and it's hard to see how Swatek could lawfully represent McGarity in this case. I suspect most semi-competent lawyers would guffaw at the notion of anyone trying to pull such a stunt.
But Swatek is trying to pull it. As of now, he remains McGarity's attorney of record.
Why is Swatek doing this? I have some theories about that. I suspect he wants no part of McGarity testifying under oath without him there to stonewall about what really happened in the bogus lawsuit he filed against me--and the resulting unlawful auction of our house.
So there you have it, our first post that helps explain why we hate lawyers--and why you should, too.
We have many more to come. First, here is a Motion to Disqualify Attorney, with a full explanation of the issues involved with Swatek's curious stunt.
(To be continued)