About a Hearing & My Facebook Page…

Earlier this week I had a court appearance, walked in without a clue that it was going to be on TV – the station was there for another case but decided to cover my hearing as well as it was about something that was very much in the news at the beginning of the summer.

The hearing was short and sweet and went really well. A good day. That evening, I found the video on Myrtle Beach Online, and shared the link to Facebook with the caption: I made my quarterly TV appearance yesterday, check it out if you have 2 minutes and two seconds.

Well, a lot of you did have 2 minutes and 2 seconds and your responses were great. I checked the page a few times that day and into the next, felt good, went on with everything else – it is a busy time of the year. Then a friend from Connecticut – he has a law degree but no longer practices, he’s a consultant of sorts – called and, well, put this is a vastly different perspective.

He was ‘blown away’ by the post’s reception. He said, clearly and often, that ‘no New England attorney would have posted that video.’ Doing so, he went on, ‘would have invited every kind of Facebook troll known to man.’

As he explained it – and he is in a position to know – there are areas of the country where an accused getting bonded out of jail is not looked at the way my friends and followers and clients looked at this case,that is, as a function of our inherent right to be viewed as ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

“Sure,” he said, “everyone gives great lip service to ‘presumed innocent’ but the reality up here is more along the lines of ‘you get arrested, you must have done something. It’s simply pervasive.”

Pervasive and no one is very shy about sharing their beliefs by commenting on Facebook and LinkedIn posts.

He gave me enough examples that I not only completely believed him but just shuddered at the images he conjured.

So, consider this a Thank You to everyone who takes the time to read my posts and say such nice things and share with their friends. You get it, you understand, and I applaud you for it … not that I expected much different from fellow South Carolinians.

But, Enough About Waterloo

Written with my friend and colleague, Jenny Bradley of Triangle Smart Divorce in Cary, North Carolina. 

As family law attorneys, we’re asked a lot about ‘what sort of person don’t we want as a client’. There’s a few potential answers, of course, but one type of personality is almost always at the top of the list. You’ll recognize it right away. Here’s an example from history:

We still talk about it today, it was the defining moment of the 19th Century. June 18, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo. The ‘near-run’ battle that saw Napoleon defeated for good and the end of twenty-plus years of almost continuous warfare throughout Europe.

It was a brutal day and the battle wasn’t decided until late evening. The Duke of Wellington, a stoic rock on the field, collapsed that night, in tears, shaking with emotion, he tried to sleep on a pallet while a trusted aide was lying on his bed, dying. He didn’t write his report on the battle until late into the next day, while the wounded were still being culled off the field.

In the days before telegrams, it was a great honor to be chosen to deliver a victory message back to London. Wellington’s choices were few, many of his aides, his second in command, dozens of generals were dead, dying, or badly wounded.

Wellington finished his report and gave it to Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable Henry Percy, his sole surviving Aide-de-camp.

Percy set off for London, still in the uniform he wore at Waterloo. He reached London at 10 PM on the 21st. He tried to present the dispatch at Downing Street, everybody who was anybody was at a dinner party being thrown by a certain high society hopeful named Mrs. Boehm. It was the social event of the year. Percy jumped back in his carriage and went directly to the Boehm home where he was told he would find His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, soon to be King George IV.

He rushed into the home carrying two captured French Eagles. No one who was there ever forgot the pure drama of the moment when Percy approached the Prince, knelt, and proclaimed, “Victory, Sir, Victory!’

No one, that is, except for Mrs. Boehm. Her take on the historic moment:

“Very few of His Majesty’s subjects ever had a more superb assembly collected together than I had on the night of June 21st, 1815.

That dreadful night ! Mr. Boehm had spared no cost to render it the most brilliant party of the season, but all to no purpose! Never did a party promising so much, terminate so disastrously! All our trouble, anxiety, and expense were utterly thrown away in consequence of—what shall I say ? well, I must say it—the unseasonable declaration of the Waterloo victory. Of course one was very glad to think we had beaten those horrid French ; but still, I shall always think it would have been far better if Henry Percy had waited quietly till the morning, instead of bursting in upon us as he did in such indecent haste.”

‘Such indecent haste.” That sums it up. The one type of potential client we we really can’t abide, the ‘yes, but what about me’ person. No matter the circumstance – sickness, bad weather, natural disaster, news of the battle that changed European and World history forever – it’s all about them.

Not the ideal client in a family law setting.

About Changes

We deal in change. Almost all of our clients come to us to effect a significant change in their lives – adoption, separation, divorce, and more.

These changes are almost always positive – regardless of how it seems at the time. But changes like those we work on everyday necessitate other changes.

The most important being a will. After we do our thing and your family has a new child, or you’re ready to get married with a prenuptial in place, or you’re newly separated or divorced, you need to redo your will and other estate planning documents. Immediately.

How important is it? Very. We know changing wills, health care proxies, and/or pension and insurance beneficiaries are not the first thing on anyone’s mind at any time Most people make a will and file it in a dusty drawer for years without ever thinking about it again. Sometimes that’s fine. Most times it’s not.

Because wills don’t’ automatically change to match circumstances and unlike insurance and pensions you don’t get a notice from a company telling you to check that things are current.

Forgetting to make a change can be catastrophic. Just check in with the estate of one of the great actors of our time who died too early – Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The good news was that even though both actors died so unexpectedly they had wills even though they weren’t married. The bad news is that they executed wills around the time they both broke through in their careers then never updated them.

When Hoffman made his will in 2004 he was in a long-term relationship and had one child. The will left everything to his companion, Marianne O’Donnell, and their son. When he died in 2014, Hoffman was still with O’Donnell and they had two more children.

Because the will only mentioned his son, the estate is hamstrung, it does not have the options it should to take care of O’Donnell and the children without crippling taxes. Apparently, Hoffman did not believe in marriage, which would not have been a problem with the estate had he simply updated his will upon the birth of each child.

As it stands now, the estate has the choice of paying those enormous taxes or setting up a trust solely for the benefit of Hoffman’s son and hope that he provides for the family. Hoffman’s son is thirteen.

Perhaps in all of law there is nothing easier to fix before the fact…. please call us for a free consult.

David Bowie, Inglorious Basterds, and My Practice

A little while back there were a series of movies that explored unintended consequences. Films like Crash, Magnolia, Traffic, Babylon, all somewhat based on the theme that a series of random events come together over time to seamlessly intersect and effect, profoundly, the protagonists’ lives.

These films were critically acclaimed for the most part and certainly did well at the box office. Probably because everyone wants to think there’s some kind of plan guiding day to day events and contact with our fellow humans.

A few critics found fault with them. The chief complaint was that ‘it’s unrealistic.’ Things don’t come together so perfectly in real life. ‘Matt Dillon is never going to get the chance to save the women he wronged, what are the odds.’

As someone who has made her career involved with the nicest people during one of the worst times of their lives, I have a rather different take on these films. I see it in my practice. Not the random acts, per se, but certainly random words.

That is, words said when a family law issue begins tend to bounce all over the ether and end up – almost always – at

the exact place the person who said them would least like them to go. Inevitably.

That is the one clear message in family law. Family issues are tough. The process is stressful, almost debilitating. It’s a lot of things, few good. One thing it most certainly is not, however, is the time to do or say something that will have lasting effect across a swath of relationships, past, present, and future.

That’s a solid lesson. Some people, though, remind me of a great song. The late, great David Bowie’s Putting out the Fire – if you saw Inglorious Basterd’s you know the song – and can never forget the scene. (see below).

Some of the lyrics go this way:

Ya wouldn’t believe what I’ve been thru
You’ve been so long
Well it’s been so long
And I’ve been putting out fire
with gasoline
putting out fire
with gasoline

Another line lays it out further: “A judgement made can never bend.” These lines go perfectly together. Family law issues are, obviously, flammable. Emotions are there, usually smoldering. Tossing fire on it has the obvious effect. And, more often than not, leads to irrevocable breaks – a burnt bridge.

Looks simple, but it’s not. Emotions at the beginning of a divorce, custody, name the process, run high. Very high. When emotions run high, thought is not usually present the way it would and should be before one says something. Internal censors don’t really function.

A tirade, even a nasty word or ten, have the immediate effect of making the speaker feel better. This, by the way, is back by science. Recent studies have found that people who swear have much higher pain thresholds than people who don’t. People going through divorce are in pain, it’s natural to want to ease it.

The problem is, of course, that words have effects on others, sometimes crippling effects. Words have a way of ‘putting out the fire with gasoline.’ They can make things worse. This is, perhaps, fixable at the time things are said. But time is the enemy of words said in anger.

The problem with words are that the people to whom the words were directed may be able to forgive. The people who hear through a friend of a friend – or see on social media – the words tend to never forget. About the only thing words do at that point is ruin relationships that you never intended to harm, relationships that you probably need and want. In-laws, grandparents, friends, gone because of words said to someone else.

And that’s the thing about putting out fires with gasoline, there is absolutely no way of knowing the consequences of words and/or actions spoken and/or made during stressful times. None.

 

Valdez is Coming and Indigo Law

Many of you may have already seen that we’re re-branding the practice as Indigo Family Law. Nothing else is changing, we will still be focusing on family law (lucky that, otherwise …) with the occasional criminal matter – although we encourage our clients, former clients, friends and family to come to us first with any legal matter.

I, certainly, am not changing, Which is why I’m re-posting this today. Just to let you I’m the same shy, retiring Brana you all know … until.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what I did. I think he put it this way, “What … exactly do you do?” He asked because, according to him, my old website claimed I did rather a lot of everything.

I patiently explained that I concentrated mostly in family law – including adoption. Adoption can be complex, and family law encompasses divorce, custody, mediation, so much more. Which is why I like it, every case is unique.

I finished pretty pleased with myself for my conciseness, he would have none of it, “What about your criminal law background?”

“Well, I still take the occasional case but … I guess I reserve my criminal law persona for the people who sabotage settlements, or act in the worst interest of the kids or …”

“What then?”

“What do you mean, ‘what then?’”

“What do you do when someone blows up a perfectly good settlement?”

“Oh, then I annihilate them.”

There must have been something about the way I said that because he looked startled for a moment, then laughed, then said, “You’re not a lawyer, you’re Valdez.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, so he filled me in:

Valdez – Bob Valdez – was the title character in the ‘70s cult classic, Valdez is Coming. Written by the late, great Elmore Leonard, it starred the late, great Burt Lancaster. Valdez was a mild-mannered Tex-Mex sheriff on a border town at the turn of last century. He’s the laconic type who really wants to work things out with everyone.

The movie starts with a death and a pregnant widow and Bob trying to collect a few dollars from the men who caused the death so the widow can return to her family. Her Apache family. The townspeople agree to pay $100 if Bob can collect another $100 from the local … well, the local rich land baron who happens to have a pretty large gang and a whole lot more cash on hand than any honest rancher this side of Shane.

Bob tries, twice, to get the guy to pay up. Both times he’s rebuffed. He goes back again, asks quietly, sensibly, humanely. He tries to mediate the conflict. It doesn’t work, this time he’s not only rebuffed, he’s savagely beaten and tossed in the desert to die.

Bob struggles out, is tended to by a friend, starts to heal. He leaves his friend’s house, rides to his home in town, dismounts, goes in – directly to his bed, kneels, pulls out a dusty trunk.

 

He opens it, on top is a photo of an elite US Army unit during the Apache Wars. Under that is a U.S. Army uniform. Under that is a Sharps sharpshooter’s rifle. The uniform on, the rifle loaded and ready, he rides out to get the $200. Only now, he’s not Bob, he’s Valdez and he’s coming. The land baron and his men never know what hit them.

The widow gets the $200.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m not sure I’m Valdez but I am sure my criminal law background, including experience with capital crimes, from both sides, prosecution and defense, does give me a considerable edge when things that shouldn’t go sideways do.

One thing I do share with Valdez – I’m loathe to cut loose, but when I do they never see it coming.