Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
Recently I heard the term "legal whore" mentioned in the context of Rhode Island divorce attorneys. I let it pass and didn't think much of it until I heard it again from someone else in the same context. For whatever reason, the term kept haunting me because frankly, I didn't know what it meant.
Perhaps I am naive as Rhode Island attorneys go or perhaps it is a new slang or a concept in the legal vernacular that I simply hadn''t been exposed to. To my surprise, I found what I believe to be what was being discussed on those two occasions.
To be clear, I did not create this definition, or coin it, or do anything other than discover it in the course of trying to place the term in the context of conversations that I have only partially overheard.
My reasoning and questioning has lead me to the conclusion that a "legal whore" as referred to in the conversations I heard in Rhode Island is a Rhode Island attorney who will do virtually anything for money provided the conduct does not directly violate the letter of the Rhode Island Professional Rules of Professional Conduct.
The idea here is that if a reasoned argument can be made by the attorney that he or she has not violated the rules of professional conduct, then the attorney's actions are justifiable even if they are offensive to others or morally reprehensible to the average person.
The phrase struck a nerve with me and actually has more significance than I would have imagined. In general that argument can be made that a legal whore is a legal practitioner who will screw anyone over for money provided they don't . . . for lack of a better phrase . . . get caught with something . . . or as the analogy would suggest . . . "catch something".
I have a case right now that strikes a chord with me. I represent a good client. This client had a child with her ex-husband. Generally, this man strikes me as control freak hell bent on having things the way he wants them, regardless of the cost or the damage he leaves in his wake. For going on a decade this ex-husband has hired Rhode Island family court lawyers one after the other to haul this poor woman back into court to try to have her adjudged in contempt and sent to the ACI.
In the last court volley, this mother agreed to a substantial concession of child support which I estimate may have been as much as $8,000 in order to end this chaos and stop the all frustration to her and aggravation to their child who is more than old enough to understand that her dad is just trying to hurt her mom.
In the last order, it was agreed that the standard would be that the father would be given about two weeks notice of any changes in visitation for the given month. The order also provides that if any visitation is missed, that it shall reasonably be made up within that year. Keep in mind that the father lives several states away (approximately 4 hours of driving one way). The same attorney has been on the case for the father for the past few years and has argued adamantly for his client, though this Rhode Island attorney is well aware of the father's intentions. In each instance the attorney has argued that his client has an "arguable basis" for every motion that has been pressed and that as a Rhode Island attorney he or she has the obligation to make any such arguments for the client.
One particular visitation involved both scheduling and transportation problems that arose after the two week period noted in the Order. The father himself expressed to the child and the mother (my client) that "this could be the visitation weekend that she misses and makes up later in the year".
Several weeks later the father denies making the statement, claims he wasn't given the two weeks notice and now is having his attorney press a motion to adjudge the mother in willful contempt and to either fine her or sentence her to the ACI to teach her a lesson. The father has apparently expressed directly to the child that this is precisely what he is doing to the mother but as he has done in the past, he will take the stand in court and make a vehement and convincing denial that he ever said anything.
Without question I have not difficulty expressing that I have no respect or compassion for fathers who act in such a destructive manner more than a decade after the divorce is over. However, it is even more troubling to know that the attorneys who represent this man do so under the guise that they are protected by the Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct. In circumstances such as these an attorney is not prevented from taking on such a case nor are they curbed from their zealous advocacy for their client, but rather the Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct actually impose a duty of zealous advocacy on the attorney for any matter that he or she chooses to undertake, provided there is an arguable basis in fact, in law, or by a reasonable argument for he modification of existing law.
A Rhode Island Divorce or Family Law attorney may then, if he or she finds any arguable basis whatsoever, no matter how small, must advocate zealously for the rights of his or her client if he or she undertakes the representation of the client in the matter.
The most troubling factors here are two-fold. First, as attorneys we have the right to refuse cases. This is our livelihood and we may accept and reject the cases we want to handle. So, in the first instance it becomes a matter of choice to the attorney. Now, it is perhaps understandable that an attorney might first undertake a client in what appears to be a noble, warranted or just cause at a time when the attorney is not aware of all the facts and circumstances. In these instances I believe it would be improper to refer to those attorneys as either disreputable or as "legal whores" as has been mentioned as the topic of this blog article.
The difficulty arises as to the reputation and character of the attorney when he or she continues to represent a client who, although he or she may have an arguable claim, is not injured by the alleged wrong and is simply raising the issue to injure another party.
What then is the attorney to do?
The Professional Rules of Ethical Conduct would allow the attorney to continue the representation and continue being paid (the attorney's motivation) or to determine if the attorney finds the client's conduct of such a nature that he or she finds the action being instructed by the client to be morally offensive or repugnant, such that he or she moves to withdraw from the case.
So what then is a legal whore? Alas, Mr. Webster has not advanced his wisdom thus far and so I am left to speculate as to what it is to my own mind.
It is perhaps that a legal whore is an attorney, who advances a course of action for his client for a purpose other than securing the client's alleged rights, but knowing full well that the intention of the client is to achieve some other agenda (i.e. punishing another person by sending them to the ACI to teach them a lesson) and not simply for the purpose of achieving what he or she asserts in their court filings is, his or her client's rights.
I can find nothing more insulting to the legal professional that propagates the common conception that attorneys are cheats, liars, scoundrels and are just out to screw someone over for a few dollars, than the scenario I have alluded to.
Attorneys, who advance a cause based purely upon rationally based argument knowing full well that the relief sought is not to resolve the matter or insure the client's rights, but rather to prolong or delay a court proceeding . . . or to simply punish another party because the means may be taken within the bounds of the attorney's code of ethics . . . may end up being wealthy.
In the end, however, you may wish to consider if these lawyers are the "legal whores" that hold up the legal profession to shame and ridicule for remaining within the bounds of their ethics while leaving behind all sense of decency, fairness and moral integrity.