I am constantly amazed and impressed by the accomplishments of professional athletes; the people on the field who, under seemingly limitless pressure, are able to perform. The home run in Game 7 of the World Series, the touchdown pass with no time remaining on the clock, the Perfect 10 in the Olympics. These people are mortal, they live and breathe just like any of us, but somehow they manage to perform when the spotlight is on them.
As an attorney, it is unlikely that I will ever find myself in a situation quite like any of those. Sure, I will argue numerous cases, cross-examine hundreds of witnesses, and negotiate hundred-page agreements, but performing on the largest of stages likely will not happen for me. But a guy can fantasize about that, right?
For example, what would it have been like to represent high school science teacher John Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial, defend Leopold and Loeb, prosecute the Nazi War criminals at Nuremburg, or take the place of Atticus Finch and defend Tom Robinson for rape? The tension palpable, the pressure like the weight of the world, the media scrutiny oppressive, the stakes life-altering.
Which got me to thinking: are there any cases that I would have wanted to take on? If the client had walked into my office and asked me to represent them, would I have accepted the challenge? We all would like to think that we could defend the honest man/woman, but personally, that isn’t me. I wouldn’t take on that matter. In fantasyland, sure, I would do it, but Dred Scott is not walking into my office and asking me to represent him in his case against his master. So the criminal matters, the particularly nasty stuff, the Constitutional challenges… I likely wouldn’t take them on. I didn’t say never, just likely that I wouldn’t.
Yet based on my current practice and recent experiences with particular cases, there is a case I would take, if the young lady were to walk into my office. The case hasn’t been brought yet, but if it walked into my office, I would snatch it up and I believe it would receive quite a bit of media attention.
The young lady in question has a remarkable story, one of love and loss and despair. When her mother died, it left just her and her father. She was the apple of Daddy’s eye and the two of them were inseparable; until Daddy remarried a shrew of a woman who had two daughters of her own. The new blended family was anything but idyllic, and it only got worse when Daddy died, leaving my new client an orphan.
You see, Daddy owned a nice property and had plenty of money, but his estate plan left a lot to be desired. He left everything in trust for his daughter; however he made his second wife the trustee of the trust with full discretion over its affairs, thinking that his second wife would treat his own daughter the same as she treated her own. Instead, though, she ran rampant with the trust’s assets, using the family home (more of a castle really) as if it was her own, doting on her two daughters with lavish gifts, clothes, and music lessons (even though they had no musical abilities at all), all the while making my client’s life a living hell. Not only did she not receive the benefits of the trust, she was forced to earn her keep around the house. Instead of growing up with the benefits of financial security afforded by the trust, she became a glorified housekeeper, responsible for the house’s maintenance and attending to the needs of the stepmother and her two daughters. Cooking, cleaning, and scrubbing the floors were part of her everyday life. Wearing fancy clothes and attending extravagant parties were not part of her existence. Oh, what her life would have been had the stepmother complied with her duties as trustee! But no one was there to look over her shoulder and ensure that she was not breaching any of her fiduciary duties.
Until I come along, that is. This case would be perfect for me. It has everything; an estate plan that isn’t being performed, a trustee who is running rampant and shirking her responsibilities, two step-sisters who are receiving assets of the trust improperly…
Imagine the possibilities! A petition requesting that the court order the stepmother to provide an accounting of the trust’s activities; that she be removed as trustee and someone else appointed; that she be personally surcharged for her constant breaches of the fiduciary duty she owed to my client; that the step-sisters be ordered to return all of the assets they improperly received from the trust; and maybe even request that the court terminate the trust and distribute all of the assets to my client immediately. We might even have to bring a civil action to remove the stepmother and her daughters from the home.
Ahh, if only she had walked into my door. While hindsight is 20/20, perhaps the client did better by not walking into my office. Her fairy godmother sure did a better, and more expedient, job of rescuing her from her troubles… who can compete with that whole glass-slipper thing anyways?
But not everyone has a fairy godmother. And these types of matters are happening constantly. They just aren’t receiving the same media attention…