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Why Lawyers Shouldn't Handle Their Own Divorce Cases

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A New York patent attorney made the classic mistake of representing himself in an emotional divorce case, where he quickly found himself in over his head. He was in deep water, as in the Titanic-going-down deep. Here's just the tip of the iceberg at the end of a custody hearing:

The court: "Is there anything else"

Lawyer: "Yeah, your Honor. I am tired of these lies coming from you on the record."

$10,000 Sanctions

According to the September 2015 sanctions order, the patent lawyer verbally attacked everybody in the case, including the judges, the opposing counsel, the minor's attorney, and even the court-appointed expert witness. Of course, he went after his estranged wife, who is also an attorney but wisely retained independent counsel.

The lawyer's behavior, including refusing to pay court-ordered fees and filing a disciplinary complaint against the court's witness, earned him a $10,000 sanction. An appellate court affirmed the sanction this week, but there is more to this sad story.

Suing the Judge

Sanctions be damned, the aggrieved lawyer is suing the judge who sanctioned him. He said he lost his job when the sanctions came out. He also sued the newspapers that reported it.

In the sanctions order, Judge Mathew Cooper said it was the "worst form of behavior" he had seen by a pro se attorney. And it wasn't the insults in his "maelstrom of misconduct" that put the lawyer under. It was his "disturbingly" active campaign to impugn the minor's counsel that hit bottom.

Apparently using his father's name, the patent lawyer secured an internet domain in the minor's counsel's name and followed through with his threats to humiliate her publicly. The website said:

"Harriet. You're a very sick and greedy woman. I pray for you and hope you seek help." And: "I intend to keep the public apprised of your misconduct and disturbing behavior."

As this legal drama unfolds, the important takeaway is that it's never a good idea to represent yourself -- especially not in a heated divorce battle.

Editor's note, September 28, 2017: This article has been updated to include a direct link to the September 2015 order. For a review of the lawyer's side of the story, see the article by Law360 about his lawsuit against the New York Supreme Court Justice.

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