Bullying in Family Law
Sadly there are and always will be bullies. Collective minds brainstorming together are powerful. So let’s enlist you and your powers to help strengthen our understanding, discover tools, and create courses of action. Maybe you know of some case law or can find some to cite. Maybe a coalition to ward off bullies by collaborating and watching each other’s backs would benefit us.
It just isn’t school children that get bullied and are at increased risk for sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression. Eventually bullies graduate from the schoolyard to adult bullying. Ironically, attorneys who are supposedly hated, feared, empowered, and respected receive more than their share of being bullied by judges, opposing counsels, and sometimes clients. Bullies like to go after female family law attorneys who better be strong and stand up to them. Pick your Family Attorney wisely.
Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health and work. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of psychological violence, psychological harassment, and health-harming emotional abuse that can cause harm from any bully. Bully attorneys purposely use as their strategy:
1. Verbal abuse.
2. Offensive behaviors (including nonverbal) that are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
3. Case sabotage to prevent cases from progressing.
The very nature of family law makes it difficult to deal with legal bullying because often there are huge numbers of communications and transactions among the parties, attorneys, and the court, each an opportunity for a bully to apply his negative tactics to manipulate the system, the people, and the process.
Female Attorneys are all too often victimized and feel helpless and reluctant to try to stop or diminish it because of pride and embarrassment. That is telling everyone it’s not worth fighting them. Those same victimized female attorneys vent to others and wish someone would do something to help them.
Here are bullying tactics and dirty tricks that bully attorneys use in an effort to control their opposing counsels and the family court to win arguments and cases:
1. Trying to bring repeated motions on issues that have already been decided.
2. Delaying or failing to produce documents or information required in court proceedings.
3. Seeking repeated scheduling delays for invalid reasons.
4. Not communicating adequately, timely, or at all.
5. Failing to obey court orders or encourage their clients to do so.
6. Making malicious and unfounded remarks to the court about opposing counsels and opposing clients.
7. Making malicious and unfounded remarks to the opposing counsel.
8. Slowing down or extending the case in time for tactical reasons and/or to increase attorney fees.
9. Interrupting opposing counsel during Court as much as the judge will allow.
10. Not genuinely trying to settle the case.
11. Not worrying about what is good for his their clients.
12. Not worrying about what is good for their clients’ children.
13. Undermining their own clients’ best interests when their personal agendas take precedence over outcomes.
The above more easily happens in Family Law Court than in other courts because, by nature, family court allows much more communications, display of emotions, and what can be said in court. Family Court Judges often do not admonish bad behavior and malicious communications in court and almost never when taking place outside of court.
Negative Impacts from Bully Opposing Counsels and Clients
Beware of the bully male opposing counsel, especially one who has a bully male client who wants to maintain his control over his spouse or “ex”, to intimidate her, to prevent her from moving on with her life, and/or to wear her down to the point she agrees to return to him or gives into him.
The adverse impacts on a bullied spouse may be numerous:
1. After years of psychological abuse and control, the victim may be very vulnerable to bullying strategies.
2. The victim may have fears for his/her physical safety or that of his/her children.
3. If the victim has a lawyer, he/she may incur legal costs he/she cannot afford.
4. The victim may have to take time away from work which could jeopardize his/her employment.
5. The victim may concede on issues simply to end the contact with him/her.
6. The victim may have to undergo repeated investigations by anyone to whom the bully has made malicious reports.
7. If the victim has children, he/she will have to deal with the direct and indirect impact that the bullying has on them.
A number of issues can arise when a male bully opposing client decides to represent himself:
1. Documents will likely be prepared inappropriately or incorrectly, thus slowing down the process.
2. The bully may try to have direct contact with his ex-partner, creating safety issues for her and the children.
3. Pre-trial negotiations are likely to be unsuccessful as the bully’s focus is not on resolution but on the ongoing control of his ex-partner.
4. The judge may bend over backward to assist the self-represented party, thus creating an uneven playing field in the courtroom.
5. Cross-examination of the woman by the bully will almost surely create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for her.
6. Negotiating settlements or taking depositions leads to unavoidable direct confrontation between our female Attorneys and these bullies who far exceed the boundaries that a bullying opposing counsel would use in court.
Bullying Attorneys Seem Safe from Consequences
In the normal strife of divorce, a family attorney communicating legal consequences “A” or “B” depending on what action the opposing client takes is real and can be an incentive to work for settling the case. But unfortunately, there is little in the way of legal consequences you can communicate to opposing counsel to stop him from bullying you. Nevada and ABA Rules of Professional Conduct and Bar rules protect the tribunal and attorneys’ clients but no one else. So bully attorneys can bully everyone else including opposing counsels, opposing clients, and ordinary citizens without being accountable by the law.
Sexual harassment charges seem to need something sexual said or done to be valid. It would seem logical that if a male bully bullied women significantly more than he bullied men, who might punch him out, then his bullying mostly women would be tantamount to sexual harassment but no law seems to yet address that. Maybe a tough female attorney or group of them could civilly sue a male bully for damages, claiming and proving such sexual harassment. Hint, hint.
Male bully family attorneys rarely face personal legal consequences for their misconduct. Complaints to the court are generally discounted, dismissed, or completely ignored. This indifferent response implicitly rewards the unjust bullying that outrages and harms bullied targets. Reasons for this are traditional and the lack of specific laws or codes for judges to cite and use.
However, the bullies’ only real source of power is the unpleasant feelings they stir up in you. As long as you can get past them, you can actually gain the advantage. Learn as much as possible about the bully. Often he won’t have full command of the facts. A belligerent tone can sometimes hide that reality, but if you’ve done your homework, it will all be pretty transparent.
Legal Strategies for Dealing With a Male Attorney Bully
Judges can make orders, with consequences for non-compliance, to require timely disclosure of information needed to allow a case to proceed.
The Courts of Justice Act, section 140, allows judges to make an order prohibiting a party from bringing further court proceedings without specific permissions from the court if he has been identified as a “vexatious litigant”.
The Rules of /Civil Procedure have two sections dealing with troublesome parties. Rule 60.11 permits a judge to make a contempt court order against a party who defies court procedures or orders. Rule 57 allows a judge to order a bully to pay all the costs of the victim if the victim brings harassing matters in front of the court.
Inasmuch as the male bully opposing counsel is likely lazy, incompetent, and a poor attorney in many ways, scrutinize everything he does to try to find a legitimate reason for filing a bar complaint and then do so. Encourage your peers to do the same. If possible, do this early on and before any court hearings or trials take place. Next best is to file the complaint after the trial or after the case is closed.
Find out if the opposing client has become angry at his bully attorney and is willing to file a Bar complaint or will help you with yours. Such actions will give the bully pause and encourage him not to earn another Bar complaint in the future.
Scrutinize everything he does and find cause to get a restraining order against him. Ensure the order allows communications only via emails and allows close proximity only at court or depositions. Ideally, this should be done early on and before any court hearings or trial. The next best is to file the restraining order after the trial or perhaps after the case is closed.
Interestingly, until somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago when languages and human communications raised above animal levels, bullies ran rampant. And after that, the weaker bullied people rallied together and brutalized or killed the bullies rather than invent jails and laws to house habitual offenders. When civilizations and their laws were born, they protected bullies without fully protecting the bullied and that is where we are today in the legal arena. However, there seem to be some opportunities to exert legal pressure.
Who is Much More Dispicable Than a Male Bully?
A female spouse or ex-spouse that fraudulently claims her husband or ex-husband has molested their children is a man’s worst scenario. Courts and police tend to believe every woman’s accusation. Proving that such claims are false is extremely difficult, costly, and can take years. The best witnesses theoretically are the children but if they live with their mother, that ever present influence is formidable. If the children are young, they can’t be of much help.
The damages done by such false accusations are numerous, serious, and long term. The legal ramifications often escalate such divorce cases to become the most expensive and longest lasting ones. Relationships between children and their fathers often are permantly damaged.
Rule 3.4. Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel. A lawyer shall not:
(a) Unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or unlawfully alter, destroy or conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value. A lawyer shall not counsel or assist another person to do any such act;
(b) Falsify evidence, counsel or assist a witness to testify falsely, or offer an inducement to a witness that is prohibited by law;
(c) Knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal except for an open refusal based on an assertion that no valid obligation exists;
(d) In pretrial procedure, make a frivolous discovery request or fail to make reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party;
Rule 4.4. Respect for Rights of Third Persons.
(a) In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.
Rule 8.4. Misconduct. It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(a) Violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) Commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
(d) Engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; ….
NRS 200.575 Stalking: Definitions; penalties; entry of finding in judgment of conviction or admonishment of rights.
1. A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, commits the crime of stalking. Except where the provisions of subsection 2 or 3 are applicable, a person who commits the crime of stalking:
(a) For the first offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) For any subsequent offense, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
[Parts 2 through 8 omitted.]
9. As used in this section:
(a) “Course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct which consists of a series of acts over time that evidences a continuity of purpose directed at a specific person.
(f) “Without lawful authority” includes acts which are initiated or continued without the victim’s consent.
NRS 200.591 Court may impose temporary or extended order to restrict conduct of alleged perpetrator, defendant or convicted person; penalty for violation of order; dissemination of order; notice provided in order.
1. In addition to any other remedy provided by law, a person who reasonably believes that the crime of stalking, aggravated stalking or harassment is being committed against him or her by another person may petition any court of competent jurisdiction for a temporary or extended order directing the person who is allegedly committing the crime to
(a) Stay away from the home, school, business or place of employment of the victim of the alleged crime and any other location specifically named by the court.
(b) Refrain from contacting, intimidating, threatening or otherwise interfering with the victim of the alleged crime and any other person named in the order, including, without limitation, a member of the family or the household of the victim of the alleged crime.
APPLICATION FOR ORDER FOR PROTECTION AGAINST STALKING: 519-Form_A-3 (get a pdf download)
Tactical Strategies for Dealing with a Male Attorney Bully
1. Stop communicating with him except via email or certified U.S. mail when not at court or at a deposition.
2. Formalize all communication with the bully by putting everything in writing; keep a paper trail of facts, issues, agreements, disagreements, and timelines. Build a strong case of factual evidence against the aggressor. If you must meet with him in person, always have a team member present as a witness; more than one such team member would be better.
3. If a bully is getting to you emotionally, use breathing techniques to make yourself relax. Talk to yourself, tell yourself to relax physically but stay alert mentally. Whatever your first impulse is, acknowledge it, but discipline yourself to pause before taking any action. Take five slow, deep breaths from the moment that you realize you’re being attacked. Slowing your breathing and heart rate will help you remain calm under pressure and maintain your composure. The thing the bully wants is to prove how tough he is by overwhelming and confusing you, which forces you to give in. Do not give him that satisfaction. When he runs out of steam, if you haven’t completed your five breaths yet, keep breathing slowly and deeply. Resist the impulse to fill the silence. Remaining calm and unflustered in the face of a bully is a way to quietly assert your power.
4. Early on, avoid the temptation to fight fire with fire. Behaving like your bully will reduce your negotiation skills. It blocks you from understanding the bully’s point of view, which you need when negotiating.
5. When you’re in the thick of it with a bully, things can feel tense—like every second is a do-or-die moment. That’s how bullies want you to feel. But you don’t have to capitulate to this kind of pressure. As long as you’re prepared for it, you will have no trouble keeping your cool. Bullies have no real say over what you decide to do. In negotiating it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether or not you have a deal. You are in charge of you, which includes whether to get as confrontational as they are. In court the judge decides, the bully never decides.
6. Bullies act at first as though with absolute confidence. They know that fast action puts their opponent on the defensive. And if you’re not prepared to deflect their certainty and aggression, you will all be overwhelmed and likely to cave. The trick is to wait them out. Don’t respond when you’re put on the spot. When they’re finished, find a way to empathize with them, even if that means avoiding answering their demand. If they demand something ridiculous, smile, and say no thanks.
7. Use two or more large tough men for this when possible who sit right behind the bully during court
8. Tell the bully what the consequences will be if he doesn’t quit, that “I will:
a. Seek a temporary or extended harassment restraining order limiting you to not communicate with me except via email or U.S. mail when not at court and then only with pertinent information about the case.
b. Work together with his other victims to stop his Bullying form of discrimination.
c. File a bar complaint
d. Encourage or help his opposing counsels to post negative reviews on the Internet.”
9. Identify other victims of the bully, and consider a joint, formalized response. Leverage the strength in numbers to thwart him.
10. For court bring as many large tough male “recruits” as possible to sit behind the bully and near you to make a presence; and have them follow you in, out, and around the courtroom. Both the judge and the bully will likely behave better. Ask your client to bring large intimidating men friends or relatives as recruits.
11. In court recesses or negotiations without the judge, have a large male friend subtly engage the bully in select verbal communications and bodily posturing and stay near you during negotiations. Have your friend subtly react to the bully by invading his personal space, accidental bumping and whispering muffled remarks such as “bully, bully”.
12. In court, do not ask the judge to make the bully stop interrupting you for your sake, ask the judge to stop the bullying for the court’s self-interests such as respect and saving time.
13. Draw attention to the bully and his actions and speech whenever possible in court using words and body posture. Don’t tolerate his interruptions and when he stops interrupting, stay quiet while glaring or posturing for an uncomfortably long period of time, maybe a full minute or two or till the judge prompts you each time. Make the bully’s breaches affect the judge so that the judge can’t ignore it.
According to former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, the rudeness of judges trickles down to senior lawyers who then vent their frustrations on more junior staff and opposing counsels, thus creating a cycle of bullying and stress that is rife within the legal profession. Get a downloaded pdf by Clicking Here.
Especially female attorneys are being harassed, insulted, and victimized by male opposing counsel bullies. Though these legal bullies’ numbers are few, their reach is far. Everyone hates them including the courts from judges to bailiffs. Yet, there are few to none willing to help stop the bullying. Therefore we must be strong and prepared, recruit our own helpers, and team up with other female family attorneys inside our office and outside our office.
Bully attorneys earn negative reviews (payback) and they seem to have very few total reviews.