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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Here's Why Americans Hate Lawyers


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)

Swatek Disqualify

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bless your hearts. I can't imagine having to go through your situation. I hope it all works out for you, I really do.
I wonder if you made the announcement that you were a Republican now, you've renounced the Democrats, and start palling around with all the right wing Republiscum in Alabama -- would they drop all the charges?
Probably wouldn't work.
Hanging around those folks would make you want to Swatek.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

Thanks for the kind thoughts. Don't think I could handle palling around with GOP types. My deal is civil, so it's not really a matter of dropping charges. In fact, I'm now in the role of plaintiff in two lawsuits, trying to get justice for the screw jobs we've experienced regarding our jobs and house. Of course, this all started with me being the defendant in a bogus lawsuit. Our justice system truly makes me want to Swatek.

Anonymous said...

what have you got against cockroaches?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon No. 2:

Your comment caused me to have a much-needed belly laugh. Many thanks.

You are correct, sir. I've been grossly unfair to cockroaches. My wife hates them, and I guess I will have to blame my unfortunate comparison on her.

But our cockroach friends certainly deserve better treatment from this blog. I will strive to remember that in the future.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Until the profession is reformed, I don't want to be an Alabama Lawyer anymore. I call for a house cleaning at the Alabama State Bar & new rules to regulate the profession including a citizens oversight commission. Like the police, lawyers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Young students & lawyers who try to help the average Alabamian are run out of the profession for the most minor offenses while the worst offenders escape serious punishment if they represent the powers that be.

MaxShelby said...

That's unfortunate because you sound like the kind of lawyer that's needed in Alabama--one who understands the definition of ethics.
Heard from a friend in MGM tonight that all the usual corporate law dogs were milling about along with the lobbyists.
They will never relinquish their hold on Goat Hill.

nowcobbblog said...

Similar law stunts here in Georgia. It's so demoralizing that ethical attorneys get disbarred and the so-called "big boy" attorneys get a free get-out-of-jail bail card all the time.

Anonymous said...

Geez I alwasys wondered if this kind of stuff could happen and if someone could lose their home because of it. Here is my story. A friend of mine sold her house in Plano TX to a couple by the name of Kurtis and Ingrid Webb (not very nice people BTW). She had filled out a sellers disclosure and some of the information wasn't 100% accurate - not because she was attempting to be decietful but because she had owned the house so long that she couldn't remember exactly all the years she had done specific work on it. Now this friend of mine kept her home in immaculate condition with everything maintained and fixed up 100% and more - she was almost anal about keeping everything perfect. Unfortunately she had a neighbor who wasn't a very nice person and when the new owners moved in she began to fabricate about things that had happened at my friends house like a water penetration issue where a fluke ice storm had caused some ice to get under the overhang and get into the house drywall in one area. Well my friend flipped out the day it happened and had it fixed immediately. No more water no chance of mold, etc. everything fixed good as new no real damage to the house it was all cosmetic. The Webbs, the new owners made a big deal about this and shopped around going to one lawyer after the next trying to find someone idiot enought to take the case - they found him - his name was Brad Stockford. Now, here is where it gets interesting. Quite a bit of time had passed before they hired Brad, in the meantime they had NEVER had an independent certified engineer or specialist come in and assess whether the home and sustained any real damages. The inspector they hired to inspect the home before the purchase even stated everything was in great condition. Bottom line, they could not prove any real damages or any devaluation of the property. Did this stop Brad Stockford ambulance chaser? No. He attempted to threaten and intimidate my friend into settling on a baseless lawsuit giving the Webbs 100K AND taking the house back. My friend fought it and eventually it was dropped - in part because it went past the statute of limiations. Now the Webbs are suing Mr. Stockford for negligence in informing them the statutue of limitations had passed. It seems clear to me Mr. Stockford didn't pursue it as he got further into the case I believe it became evident to him there was no chance to win because there was no real case and no damages. I feel sorry for my friend who took such great care of a wonderful house but sold it to a bunch of people who make their living suing people. This was not the first lawsuit the Webbs have filed and I suspect a good bit of their money has been from bullying it out of innocent people. Mr. Stockford should be ashamed of himself for perpetrating this fraud. It was painfully obvious to me, as well as every other lawyer that touched this case that it was baseless.

I encourage anyone who sells a house to do a few important things:
1. Have your house inspected before putting it on the market.
2. Ensure your disclosure is as accurate as possible - if you don't know something for sure say so on the disclosure.
3. Ensure you have legal language inserted in the disclosure that it is filled out to the best of your knowledge and that the buyer should hire their own indepedent inspector to inspect the property before purchase.
4. Ensure any sales documents clearly state the sale is as is and that you are not responsible for any issues not identified by thier inspector - once the sale is done it's over - period.

If you are a buyer - don't buy emotionally - get an inspector get 2 if you need to - make sure they know what they are doing - go over their report in detail.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Post Litigation Stress Disorder. "PLSD" Has all of the Symptoms.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous

Maybe you should check your facts a bit before posting (unless your name happens to be Faith Werner, the "friend" that you mentioned). The fact is, Faith Werner had been trying to sell the house for about 6 months. On the previous seller's disclosure, she had disclosed all the items that were left off the one the Webb's were given. It seems that she switched real estate agents and decided to forget about some things, such as water damage. The neighbors thought that the Webb's should know about it even though they had already bought the house at that point. Had they known of the water damage, they never would have bought the house. And unless you're referring to a horrible accident that Ms. Webb was involved in in the mid 80's, which she had to sue the driver at fault in order to cover her basic medical expenses, the Webb's have never been involved in any other law suits.

Brad Stockford totally screwed the case up and screwed the Webb's out of even more money. A decent lawyer would have easily won against Werner, in fact, a jury found him guilty of malpractice and awarded the Webb's $250,000 (which was then summarily dismissed by the judge).

Your "friend", Faith Werner, is a lying, sneaky cheat and will one day get what she has coming.

LTN said...

I'm not here to defend or attack lawyers. I think though, that clients like yourselves need to stop bashing any profession with so much vitriol. If you think they're that bad, than represent yourself. Even if you don't do any better, you would have saved yourself the trouble dealing with these professionals (MD, JD, CPAs, etc.). So represent yourself. And no, I'm not baiting you to call you a fool (the old adage of he who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer). Sometimes, cost benefit wise, it may be better to handle things yourself. Why do you have to have a lawyer, knowing that there is a 50/50 chance that it won't go well? If you go to jail or lose your house, roll the dice without having the stress of having to pay someone else at the same time. People who hire bad lawyers (and I know they don't know this necessarily at the beginning--same goes for the lawyer taking on a bad client/case) need to take personal responsibility. Roll the dice and do it yourself--that way, you for sure won't have a bad experience with a lawyer defending you--then you can only blame or praise yourself if you fail or succeed.

legalschnauzer said...

LTN:

I don't know if you are responding to me or someone else, but I have represented myself, and I have documented that many times on this blog. Unfortunately, judges tend to dismiss pro se litigants, I suspect because they want to discourage them in order to make sure cash keeps flowing to the legal community. Unethical lawyers are a problem, but corrupt judges are an even bigger problem--and it's one most lawyers are helpless to address.

LTN said...

legalschnauzer...I can't comment on your experience of judges (since there are 50 states, etc.) but here where I am (CA), my experience is that if a judge wants to discourage a pro se litigant, it is 1) out of concern that a professional attorney on the other side may out-lawyer the untrained litigant and/or 2) the judge doesn't have time (due to his docket) to handhold and explain every step to the pro se litigant. It is likely those reasons than keeping cash flowing to the legal community. Where I am, family law (divorce pro se litigants) have tremendous leeway and advantages (help) from many family law judges. This is partly because half of the litigants are unable to afford divorce lawyers. Now, if it was other areas of the law like SEC, tax and/or complex litigation, I can see a judge in my area preferring that the parties be represented because of the complexities of the issues, that judge cannot stop to explain every detail to a pro se at every turn.

I think the whole legal system is not user friendly to the average person. It is not a place where "justice" prevails most of the time. Because even when you win, you could really lose because of the fees. Having said that, I blame the abuse of the imperfect legal system more on clients suing each other more than the attorneys they hire or are stupid enough to be persuaded by their legal ads (pennies on the dollars, etc.) (or, my attorney Larry Parker got me a settlement of 1.5 million dollars but the picture doesn't show the lower half of the client's body in a wheelchair--paralyzed for life).

The bottom line is that people's greed and vengeful spite are the causes of lawsuits--and lawyers/judges are just those who facilitate the process. If people didn't use the legal system (but for exceptional cases), we wouldn't see nearly the amount of abuse.

Even with the most ethical lawyer, he/she usually only represents one side. There will typically be a side that will take less (lose, if you will). Very few who loses will ever have great things to say about the other side or their lawyer(s). So because of the nature of the adversarial system, at least 1/2 (if not more) of the people involved will have a negative view, regardless if the lawyer/judge was God himself (the losing side will still not like it).

I say this from experience (not just a cliche)--people will hate lawyers until they truly need one. And when they need one, they are likely to like/love their lawyers if the lawyer works for free or close to free (besides winning). So when it comes down to it, many people's opinions of lawyers are quite selfish, based on what benefits them--economics being a primary factor.

One of the best pediatric neurosurgeons in the country is Dr. Ben Carson. He is known for separating Siamese Twins, among other things. Did you know that he is only 50% successful in most of his hard cases--so he loses 50% of the time (the patient dies). Each of those surgeries costs upward of hundreds of thousands if not millions for the hard procedures. Someone pays for it--if not the patient--if not the insurance--then the donors. If medical services wasn't through insurance, I think that 1/2 (if not more) of the people paying thousands and tens of thousands of dollars for a 50/50 chance of success will vilify the physician also. The only reason why we're not there is because of insurance (someone else pays, including ourselves) and entitlement/medical programs.

We all know (or at least we should), that in any lawsuit or medical procedure, we can't always win. In truth, we can become sore losers when it not only turns bad, but we have to pay for it also. I think that economics really influences our viewpoints--so much more than the lawyer or judge.