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While still a youth, I began to plan my life. I was determined to make a lot of money. I had always lived the good life, and I wanted to continue to live the good life. Other have rebelled against the wealthy lifestyles of their parents, but not I. My family was in the manufacturing business and I grew up among factory workers. I saw how they lived, and I saw how we lived. I wanted to make money and I would make money; lots of money.
I narrowed the field down to medicine, law and accounting. Which would it be? Accounting seemed boring. Doctoring was not appealing to me - the idea of examining naked bodies, sores, wounds and a variety of diseases made me queasy. So the law it was, by default. I would become a lawyer; a rich one. I never doubted my ability to reach my goal.
I was going to court for one of my best clients, Vera. She was the kind of client that lawyers dream about. She was rich, litigious and very aggressive. Vera's favorite response to most things was: "screw 'em, sue 'em." Due to her wealth, she could indulge every legal whim and she could afford to be irrational.
Certain wealthy people are dangerous, because they can afford to do crazy things. They can be, and often are, one hundred percent wrong, and still they cause harm and do damage. How can this be, you ask. Because they spare no expense in litigation. They can bury their prey in it. They hire the very best litigators and order them to be ruthless and merciless. They never back down. The average person cannot comprehend their aggressiveness and attitude, because it appears to be incredibly illogical.
Most people become involved in litigation to right a wrong, or to collect money which is rightfully owed them, or because they are dragged into the litigation by someone else, rightly or wrongly. Vera and those of her ilk, however, are in it for the kill, for the taste of blood. Winning is not defined by money; their balance sheets differ from the norm because they place a huge value on winning, even if monetarily they lose. In other words, they will spend double or triple the dollars they can possibly collect just to win, and as far as they are concerned they have won.
They play dirty. They will do almost anything to win. Often I had to advise this type of client not to tell me what he had done, or was about to do, because I knew he would be stepping far beyond the legal boundaries. In order to win, i.e., "to bury someone," these people lose track of the truth. There weren't any extenuating circumstances because they didn't even need the money. This type of client is vital to the success of every lawyer and law firm.
So here I was getting ready to go into court for Vera, to use my skills and the law to oppress someone. I was not in the least upset or bothered by the prospect. It was my job. I was simply doing what I had been trained to do. And I did not do what I had been trained NOT to do - ask questions (like, "is this moral?").
All of the requisite facts were in place. The contract I had written for Vera was tight, legal and unambiguous. Vera had a clear legal right to get what she wanted. I had been paid to write the contract. I would be paid well for going to court to enforce the contract. I would prevail on any appeal, should the victim have the dollars to mount an appeal after Vera and I were finished with him. Which I doubted, since he was being taken to court for an eviction proceeding, having committed the "crime" of being unable to pay his rent on time.
I, of course, won. Vera obtained her pound of flesh, which was not my concern. My concern was to do my job. Win. I do not care what happens to the defendant. I do care that I get paid. I need that money to live the good life.
Not one single wealthy client that I represented in 20 years as a practicing lawyer was a happy person. Not a single one. Oh sure, they had moments of glee. Vera was going to have a moment of glee, which she probably considered "happiness," when I called her to tell her of my "victory" on her behalf. Victory usually tastes sweet.
But the taste doesn't last very long.
Most wealthy people are miserable and have miserable lives. They have a nagging feeling that something is lacking. They believe the next million, or whatever it is, will make them happy, but it never does.
You have the big house. You have the new shiny new Porsche and Cadillac. You have the fancy home(s) and the butler(s) and maid(s) to go with it. You owe no money to anyone. And still you are not a happy person. If you look at yourself honestly, which is almost impossible, what do you say to yourself? What you say in real life is, well, the next million that will do it. It's the Aspen or Vail ski lodge that I need. That will do it. That will make me happy.
But when you get that million or that ski lodge, there will be something else, and surely, that will do it. It's just the fill-in-the-blank that I'm missing that prevents me from being happy. How do I know this? I know because I've been there.
So what did I pursue? More money. As a lawyer that meant I had to get the good clients who could afford to litigate and go to war on a regular basis. The deep pockets. Vera was a very deep pocket.
Vera inherited most of her money. Her father was an immigrant who was in essence a peddler. He got into the automobile and truck business in Los Angeles in the 1920's and 30's. He had the first, or certainly one of the first, truck and car rental businesses. It did not happen by design. The depression was tough and he had an inventory of cars and trucks for sale that simply weren't moving. He was in trouble and needed a solution. It came to him like an angel from on high in the form of MGM. The motion picture studio.
The motion picture industry in the 1920's operated on a shoestring budget. They did not have the vast sums of money to spend that they have today. They made motion pictures in Hollywood because of the sunshine. Los Angeles was blessed with a climate where the sun shone most of the time. Summer and winter.
There were no sound stages. The movies were made outdoors on the streets of Los Angeles. Free locations. No lights. The Little Rascals and Our Gang. That was the meat and potatoes of the business. The movie producers couldn't afford to buy a truck when they needed one for a picture, but they could afford to rent one for a day.
They then needed a bunch of cars to make chase scenes and gangster movies. No problem, we'll rent them from Ben. Very soon a deep and lasting relationship was formed. Ben would supply all manner of vehicles to the studios. They would pay him top dollar. Everyone was happy. This went on for years.
Then the windfall came: World War II. The minute the war was over, the studios rightly decided the public wanted war movies: John Wayne killing the evil Germans. At that time the US government had lots of surplus tanks, jeeps, guns, etc., etc. All war surplus, five cents on the dollar. Ben jumped in with both feet and soon he owned a serious army.
The studios rented tanks from Ben. Jeeps from Ben. Munitions from Ben. Everyone was very happy. This went on for a couple of years.
Then Ben found out that armies were still in great demand by third-world countries. So Ben would get a studio to make a movie in North Africa. He would buy surplus tanks and equipment that were in the area. They would make the movie for which Ben received his rental payments. Then he would sell the entire army to someone in the area. Of course this quickly expanded into Ben's Air Force, Ben's Navy, etc.
Ben discovered that he could make a great deal more money selling his "Army" and/or "Navy" to a nearby country. A large amount of this equipment made its way to Israel in the late 40's, so Ben became a hero in the independence of Israel. Well paid for sure, he never received any other recognition of what he did.
I never met Ben, I only heard the stories. Vera had inherited this very large pile of money and a great deal of real estate in Southern California. The person who did not make the money generally does not exercise the same care and discreteion with it as the person who actually earns it, and that was certainly true of Vera.
Vera did not enjoy the money. Other than her legal expenditures, which flowed freely, she was miserly with it. Her only daughter was made to beg, plead and get on her knees to get the barest of amenities. Vera made out like she had earned the money; I think she really believed that she had. She constantly put down and belittled everyone who came into her life.
I put up with her and her attitude because she was a great client. There were always many cases in my office on behalf of Vera.
Then there was Bruce. He was an even more important client to me than Vera. Bruce walked into my office one day as a stranger. I had never heard of him. He knew me and my background in complete detail. He had had me checked out thoroughly.
Bruce always arrived with an entourage. Never less than three people. One was his personal lawyer, John. This guy was beyond slimy. The second person was a bodyguard, large, impressive, and scary. The third party always varied depending on the nature of the deal under discussion.
Bruce himself was a small man. Very dapper. Very sharp. He was also a lawyer, although he never actually practiced law. He was a man without a conscience. He always left a trail of bodies and broken lives behind him wherever he went. When he was done with someone, the person was discarded like a used milk carton, with about the same amount of compassion and thought. If he left someone in the lurch, that was not his problem and he never looked back.
The first matter for which I was hired involved a huge piece of real estate along the California coastline. Bruce was building condominiums and apartments on the land. Some he would sell and some he would keep.
The California Coastal Commission was authorized to control all such developments along the water's edge. Bruce purchased the votes of several members and got the permits and everything he needed to build.
In this beach front development he had a partner who had put up most of the money, and who had done most of the really bad stuff necessary to get the permits and approvals. Bruce, having obtained all that he wanted and needed from this partner, saw this man as a useless burden who had to go. Bruce sat down and showed me his detailed plan to get rid of his partner. It was brilliant. It was technically legal. It was incredibly nasty. But there was no "legal" reason I should refuse to represent Bruce on the case. Had I objected, he would go to another lawyer and get the job done, no problem. I took the very large retainer. I called in my young partners who were overjoyed with our good luck at acquiring this client. We went to work implementing the plan.
At this first meeting, Bruce's personal attorney, John, produced a very detailed "Chronology of Events." The interesting thing about this chronology was that it went forward in time rather than backward - it predicted and projected events for the next six months. When I asked Bruce about this, he replied that this was his plan of attack.
Each chronology was carefully numbered, dated, and signed for. There were very clear instructions on it stating that it was not to be reproduced for any reason whatsoever. As the chronologies were not actually substantive documents in any case, and were attorney-client work products, no one else ever got a look at them.
Every couple of weeks, John would arrive to pick up the old chronology and replace it with a new one, which we would duly sign for. The future events would change and sometimes the past events also changed. When I asked about this, Bruce coolly explained that an error in memory had been corrected, or a document found, which altered the facts.
Bruce would have a document printed for a single transaction, and then he'd explain to his intended victim that this was his standard printed-form contract and it did not need to be changed. Most people accepted this and signed it.
In his "standard contract" he had a provision that stated that paragraph headings were not a part of the contract and were to be ignored. He then mislabeled many paragraphs. Hidden by its label in some innocuous paragraph, he would place a provision such as "Bruce may cancel this contract, without penalty, at any time he desires."
People came into my office distraught, hysterical, or furious, when Bruce executed one of his "options." They would file a lawsuit in great anger. They would lose. More than one Judge was outraged and red in the face, but unable to do anything about this tactic. It was all quite legal. There it was, clearly in writing. Unambiguous and clear. None of the victims had bothered to read the contract. Legal. Not fair. Not moral. But legal. Bruce conducted his business like this with regularity.
Bruce once had his deposition taken by the lawyers of one of the largest banks in the world. They were coming after him with guns blazing. He proclaimed his innocence over and over. In his deposition he referred to a certain letter from that bank that proved his position. I had never seen such a letter - something highly unlikely from this super-organized man, and even less likely since it was a crucial document in the case.
No problem, stated Bruce, I simply forgot to give you that particular letter. Fat chance that Bruce would "simply forget" to give me this critical piece of evidence. But, sure enough, the next morning the letter arrived by messenger. Exactly as Bruce had stated. I delivered the copy of the letter to the bank. They went ballistic. I had never seen a bank react like this before. They stated categorically that it was a fake. They went to court and loudly claimed it was a forgery. They hired experts. They tested the paper, they tested the ink, they tested every detail it was possible to test.
In the end, they couldn't prove it was a forgery. I couldn't prove it either. The effect was that we won the case and the bank looked foolish. I knew it was a fake, and everyone else knew it was a fake, but no one could prove it. I walked out of that courtroom as uncomfortable as I had ever been. But, and this is a huge but, I won. Some time later Bruce introduced me to his own personal forger. I was shocked.
I had a brilliant young lawyer working full time on nothing but cases for Bruce. This lawyer, Henry, had been working for many months on the acquisition of cemeteries for Bruce. We were all quite at a loss to understand why Bruce wanted to buy up cemeteries. Just not his style. Too heavily controlled and watched over by too many government agencies. This was very strange.
One day I met Bruce for lunch and he introduced me to Jerry, his new associate. It turned out that Jerry was a life-long expert in cemeteries, and the president of the California public agency that controls, and is the watchdog of, cemeteries.
Cemeteries, it turns out, have huge trust funds for the perpetual maintenance of the grounds. The money is very conservatively invested to earn just enough interest to pay for the yearly upkeep. Even when the cemeteries are full they must continue to operate and maintain the grounds. Bruce was taking all of the trust funds. He would simply continue to pay for the upkeep so no one caught on to the scam. This was not only dishonest but illegal, so I went to the Bar Association and told them the story.
"Do nothing," they said. "You don't have enough proof." All I could prove was that Bruce was buying up cemeteries. I could not even report the facts to the state agency whose job it is to watch these trust funds, as that would violate attorney-client privilege, and I did not have written proof of anything.
To this day I can't prove a thing. To my knowledge the State of California never caught on. The cemeteries are maintained. The money is gone. Bruce earns far more with the money than it costs to maintain the cemeteries. Brilliant. Illegal and nasty, but brilliant.
Bruce never slept two nights in a row in the same place. No one ever knew where he slept. He had two identical 127-foot yachts, both with the same name, and both virtually the same in every detail. They were constantly on the move from harbor to harbor. If Bruce said he was going to be aboard his yacht, you never knew which one it was or where it was.
He changed his sleeping quarters every night, often from one of his sales-office condominiums to another. He moved into what I am certain were vacant apartments. Just for one night. All of this seemed very peculiar, until I picked up the LA Times one morning and discovered that two of Bruce's associates had been shot, one killed, in an attempt to kill Bruce. This took place outside one of his condominium developments.
A few weeks earlier, I began to contemplate getting rid of him as a client, which was a very tough decision considering the amount of money I was making from him. The shooting made this decision easier to swallow. Within days of that event I ended my relationship with Bruce, but too late to avoid knowledge of and participation in may of his schemes and tactics.
Several years later I learned that John, the personal lawyer for Bruce, took a serious criminal fall on behalf of Bruce. I am told he received a million dollars per year from Bruce for each year in actually spent in jail. In the end, not a bad deal for the kind of person that John was. He came out rich.
Bruce simply disappeared. I never heard from him after I got disentangled of him. Not a word. I knew he would never bother me or take revenge against me for dumping him; when a person was no longer of any use to him, Bruce would discard him like a used kleenex. He couldn't be bothered looking back.
A few years later I met another lawyer who had been Bruce's lawyer before I had. We chatted about Bruce. He said, "Bruce is like a piece of rope. It has a beginning and it has an end. If you're lucky, you get to swing from it for a while."
Shortly before I gave up the practice of law, I had a hearing in the Federal District Court in Oakland, California. I was representing a large insurance company and a very large real estate company. They had developed a huge piece of land with many thousands of homes, several golf courses, etc. In the process, they made many promises to many people, but most of these promises were figments of someone's imagination, and they had no intention of doing the things they promised. They made the mistake of making some of these promises to a very wealthy individual. He was fuming and filed a lawsuit.
If my client lost this law-suit, many more would follow on its coattails. It was therefore crucial, at all costs, to win this case. The hearing in question was on a key issue in the case. If I lost this battle I was going to lose the war. It was critical that I win this motion. The only problem was there was simply no way I was going to win. I had a loser. I knew it. The opposition knew it. The plaintiff's lawyers were a large San Francisco law firm. Due to their arrogance, and their certainty of a victory, they sent a lovely brilliant, but very young, lady lawyer to argue the motion.
I had to win. I was going to win.
Flying up from L. A. I hatched a plan. I told my young partner, who was coming along for the experience, and also for the billable hours, that no matter what I did he was to sit stone faced and not utter a word. Not an expression, not a sound.
We arrived at the courthouse early and waited outside of the courtroom for our opposition to arrive. She was businesslike and efficient in appearance. I greeted her and quickly walked into the courtroom ahead of her.
As this was her motion, under court rules she goes first. But as soon as the case was called, I jumped to my feet and ran to the lectern. The Judge was black, an integral part of my plan. I began to yell and scream. I pounded my fists and became red in the face. I bellowed to the Judge that I was outraged - I had never been so insulted in my life. I was sputtering with anger, so clearly the Judge had to address this situation before anything else happened in the courtroom. What was the problem, he inquired, as my opponent remained in her seat, surprised by my outburst.
Well, I said, when I came into the courthouse this morning, my opponent, Miss Jones, not only didn't say good morning or treat me with professional courtesy, but she called me a low-life Jew and a kike, and she made other racial slurs about me and my people. None of this was true, of course, but now the Judge was as angry as (I pretended) I was.
He yelled at Miss Jones and ordered her to get up and defend herself. When she opened her mouth to speak, he yelled at her even more. He destroyed her composure. He read her the riot act, all chapters. She never had a chance to tell her side of the story. Which is what I had hoped for.
The Judge turned to me and instructed me to tell the story of the motion, something that was clearly her right to do. She tried to object and was verbally attacked - one does not tell Federal Judges what to do in their courtrooms. They are gods in their domains, and they know it.
I placed the best spin I could on the story without lying. Lying about Miss Jones' so-called racial slur was not part of the case and would not appear on the court file. Lying about the case itself was another matter. That I could not do.
Miss Jones then had her turn. The Judge kept breaking in and asking her questions. She was lost no matter what she said. She was now shaking and upset. This was not the scenario she had expected. I interrupted her a couple of times, not correct or nice, but the Judge allowed me to get away with it.
Finally the Judge had had enough. He turned to me, ruled in my favor, and told me to prepare the order for his signature. I had won.
Or had I?
As soon as we departed the courtroom, I waited for Miss Jones and gave her a heartfelt and sincere apology. I repeated it several times for effect. She actually accepted and simply stated: "Well, I thought I knew what it meant to win at all costs. I did not, but I do now. Congratulations."
I had won. I had done it legally. Morally reprehensible, but not illegal. I walked as close to the line as you can get without crossing over it. I was quite pleased with myself on the flight home.
Then, on that very same day, I was confronted by calls from both Vera and Bruce. They each related to me some plans, schemes, and dubious plots they were hatching. I was appalled by something each one of them had done. But the words of disapproval stuck in my throat. That courtroom in Oakland was fresh in my mind. What was the difference between what I had just done and what they proposed to do? After all, everything was within the confines of the law.
It didn't enter my mind to give up the practice of law that day. I was far too arrogant, and more than that, I was mired in the system. I was too successful. I probably diverted my mind with thoughts about the Palm Springs home, or the trip to the Vail Ski Condominium for the weekend, or the luxury cruise we were planning. I needed money to support all of these habits and jaunts. The money blinded my moral judgment.