Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Deposition for Fallgatter

     "I'll be out of this deposition in an hour or so," I told my office staff, " then, I can help pack up things at the clinic, or call patients to come pick up their charts.  I have a short deposition to attend."
     I must have forgotten that lawyers are like magicians with time, taking an hour's worth of work and turning it into eight.  In fact, I think if my lawyer and I hadn't been so impatient--asking repeatedly, How much longer is this going to take?--Mr Catlin wouldn't have minded spending the entire night with us, in that purple-walled conference room with the  long, wooden table and comfortable swivel chairs, asking questions of a most irritating nature.
     Mr. Hal Catlin is a genial sort of guy.  He probably doesn't mean to be an irritating lawyer.  His father had been a marine corps fighter pilot (he told me, "off the record"), and I got the impression that Mr. Catlin, the son, had a lot to live up to.  He wasn't likely to risk sacrificing meticulousness for creativity.
     He wore the classic blue, Oxford cloth, button-down shirt with single-button barrel cuffs, under a color-coordinated, navy, V-neck cashmere sweater.  He also sported the requisite khaki trousers (were ducked-tape loafers too casual, I wondered, for this meeting?) and an impressive gold university ring, making him the Brooks Brothers custodian of traditional preppy values.
     He happens to be Mr. Fallgatter's partner, which doesn't exactly earn him points for fairness.  But, hey, who's talking fairness?   This is the legal profession.
     Remember Mr. Fallgatter?   He's the lawyer who wrote a motion for an emergency hearing on my behalf, not long after the raid and forfeitures of my clinic.  The point of such a standard type of motion was to get the judge to reconsider his decision to seal the affidavits in my case, and to ask him to return enough capital (and, incidentally, the 3,000 seized patient charts) to prevent my clinic from going broke and closing.
     Mr. Fallgatter managed to rack up, with this motion and hearing, a whopping $87,000 in charges, in a matter of weeks, and now thinks he can justify his charges on grounds that he was "investigating the government's actions" for me, right from day one.  Why waste time "investigating," I asked, when we might have gotten the answers we needed at the hearing, had the judge permitted the affidavits to be unsealed?
     I suppose that was an impertinent question, on my part.
     Mr. Catlin started by asking me to look at the contract I had signed with Mr. Fallgatter.  He brought forth two copies:  the faxed one, and the original.
     "Is that your signature?" he asked.
     "Yes," I said.
     "So, you agree it's your signature?"
     "Yes," I said.
     "You mean, it's not anyone else's signature?"
     "No, it's mine."
     "Are both of these your signatures?"
     "Yes."
     "Therefore, you signed these contracts?"
     "Yes."
     "You agreed to the terms of the contract?"
     "Yes."
     "No one else signed them?"
     "No, I see only one signature, don't you?"
     "And it's yours?"
     "Yes."
     "No one else's?"
     "No."
     "And you signed twice?"
     "Yes.  Mr. Fallgatter wasn't satisfied with the faxed signature."
     "So you signed the original, too."
     "Yes."
     "And you retained Fallgatter, Farmand & Catlin to represent you?"
     "Yes."
     "Do you have any problem with that?"
     "No."
     "Do you have any issue with your signature on this contract?"
     "No,"
     "Are you sure?"
     "Mr. Catlin, I have no problem saying that I signed this contract!" I answered, raising my voice.
     (Don't be impatient, and don't be sarcastic, my lawyer advised.  It won't look good to the judge, if we go to a hearing.  She was sitting to my right and, like a bodyguard, intervened several times:  "Objection!  You already asked that!  She gave you her answer!"
     "So, you signed it."
     "Yes, I did."
     "Okay," said Mr. Catlin, "that's good."
     But he didn't seem quite satisfied.
     There was a pause, as he ruffled through his papers.
     "Mr. Catlin, I'd like to point out something in this contract which, as you determined, I signed. "
     He didn't interrupt me, so I went on.
     "The contract says, Our time will be billed against [the] retainer.  You will be provided with monthly invoices reflecting the fees, costs and expenses.  If it appears the undertaking set forth herein may require additional retainer funds, you will be so notified.  Mr. Catlin, I wasn't given an invoice, nor was I notified that the $20,000 retainer your partner received had been used up.  In fact, Mr. Fallgatter only told me he needed an additional $26,000 the night before the motion was supposed to be filed. He had used up $46,000 in two weeks."
     "I didn't ask you about that," Mr. Catlin said.
     "But didn't Mr. Fallgatter breach his own contract?"
     Mr. Catlin kept his attention on the pile of papers he was moving about.
     "Wouldn't you say Mr. Fallgatter's insistence that I give him another $26,000 before he would agree to file the motion, might be considered a form of extortion?"
     A chill went through the room.  I hadn't brought a sweater.
     "This is my deposition, not yours," Mr. Catlin answered stiffly.  "I'm the one asking the questions, here."
     And, so it went.
     My lawyer, Kim Israel, called for a few recesses, termed "bathroom breaks," so we could talk.
     "Go ahead," Mr. Catlin said, generously.  "I don't want you to spring a leak." 
     At one o'clock, we broke for lunch.
     Isn't it funny, how two opposing lawyers can be the best of pals, over lunch?  It's sort of a game, isn't it?
     Mr. Catlin and Ms. Israel went to Starbucks together, and stood in line for coffee, yogurt and sandwiches.  I took a walk in the sunshine, by myself, and mused over my long-ago decision--perhaps an unenlightened one--to become a doctor, instead of going to law school.
     "You should be a lawyer!" my mother used to say--as do so many mothers of bright, irritating, argumentative, obstreperous children.  I had chosen, instead, to develop a capacity for compassion.  But I wasn't feeling particularly compassionate, today, toward Mr. Catlin.
     Except when he brought forth his "exhibits."
     As it turns out, besides the contract mentioned above, all the exhibits happened to be blog posts I had written.  There were twenty-nine of them, to be exact.
     "Wow!"  I said.  "You've been reading my blog!"
     "Yes, I have," Mr. Catlin answered.
     He had triplicate copies:  one for me, one for himself, and one to enter into the court record.
     "I'm very honored," I told him.  "But I don't see that you've copied any of the recipes."
     "I didn't copy them," he said, "but I do read them."
     "Have you made any of the dishes?"
     "Not yet," he said.  "My wife has me on a low-carb diet."
     I realized, sadly, that he wouldn't be able to appreciate the recipe for strawberry shortcake I was about to post.  Too bad.
     One by one, we went through the blog posts.  He was very methodical.
     "Did you write this?" Mr. Catlin asked, about each one.
     "Yes, I did."
     "No one else wrote it?"
     "No."
     "Are all of these your words?"
     "Yes."
     "Are you sure?
     "Yes."
     "What about this line?  Did you write it?"
     "Yes."
     "And that one?"
     "Yes."
     "Did anyone help you with this?"
     "No."
     "Does anyone else have access to your blog and password?"
     "No."
     "So you wrote this post?"
     "Objection," Ms. Israel would interject.  "You asked that already."  And we both stifled yawns.
     "Maybe this is his plan," I wrote, passing notes back and forth, like two girls in junior high.  "He wants to bore us."
     "I don't think he considers it boring," she answered.
     "Since it's my blog, I guess I should be flattered."
     She smiled and shrugged.
    Then, Mr. Catlin moved onto the next post.  Had I written it?  Was it mine?  Could anyone else have sneaked in and written any of it?  Were those my words?  All of them? 
     What a trip, I thought, the things they teach students in law school, to transform them into lawyers...especially lawyers who can manage really complicated cases like mine.

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