It’s been over two decades that I’ve served as an expert witness in the mental health field on various legal matters. In addition, I’ve had the experience of being an impartial observer to litigated matters involving friends and family, ranging from marital disillusion, child custody, contract disputes and accidents.
Most of the people involved in these cases I knew to be decent and honorable souls. Yet as I watched the legal process unfold from the initial filing of the case all the way through in some instances to trials, I noticed along the way a single commonality united (and I stress, with rare exception) the plaintiffs and defendants—they lied.
As this awareness struck me one afternoon I couldn’t help myself from sitting down and writing my definition of the litigation process: Litigation is an artistic exercise practiced by professional with the aim of finding the closest approximation of truth between two or more lies.
That said there is a more pressing issue to address. What is it about the process that can take righteous and decent people and turn them into prevaricators—a softer and actually more precise choice of word than liar since it refers to the act of turning truth upside down so as to evade the known reality; might we say an equivocation designed to mislead, deceive or create ambiguity?
Now that I’ve been able to dress up an ugly truth, the question still remains; what happens to a person when one is a participant in a legal action? From my perspective, the answer is rather simple: they want to win. There is a dispute or there would be no litigation to begin. Then once one is confronted with the fact that somebody else is presenting a position they “know” to be wrong, they must then defend what they “know” to be “truth.”
As the proceedings move forward, the truths start to spread further and further from reality, on both sides. It’s contrary to human nature to take a smack in the face and not smack back. I’ve witnessed even the most weak, meek, passive and docile pack a wallop that would send a prizefighter to the canvas—believe it or not a stronger blow can be struck with helplessness, victimization and powerlessness than brute force. I’ve seen the actors in some of these legal dramas put on Emmy performances to smite a foe.
I’ve also sat in on pre-trial conferences and listened to the most believable people on the planet argue their position knowing full well that it is only a portion true, about the same portion as their adversary. It’s the ringing of the bell designating the commencement of each round of battle that twists and stretches truth gradually planet distance from reality. There is only one force strong enough to put an end to the bloody ordeal. We all know what it is; it’s colored green and called money.
Typically the cost of the conflict sobers the combatants to settle on a lie neither believes but both in the end agree to accept—the degree of difference between the truth and the final point of untruth where the matter is settled is always greater for the party unwilling or incapable of spending up to the level of the other party. That’s why in cases where people or entities with seemingly unlimited resources dig their talons into one another it’s a feast for the legal profession and celebration for the media—the war can escalate endlessly.
I’ve had one personal experience as a defendant in a legal case. It was a silly matter having to do with a property line dispute between my parent’s home and their neighbor. After my mother passed, I inherited her home. The juvenile, vindictive and irrational man living next door had prior run-ins with my mother, usually having to do with her having the audacity to ask that he not let his four sons blast music and play drums at all hours.
On one occasion I was visiting my mom’s house and had the honor to witness one of their concerts. It was after ten in the evening and the party was just beginning. My mother asked if I’d go over and politely ask them to keep it down—I’m sure after I did he despised me as much as her.
Well, he had built a garage right on the property line. It had been there about twenty years. All of a sudden I received a letter from an attorney demanding several thousand dollars to repair mold damage inside his structure, the allegation being that water from my side of the property was leaking into the foundation of his building. The lawyer’s cover latter referred to “proof” of seepage from my side outlined in an investigative report. Yet when I read the document there was not a single word referring to my property.
Being an authority on these matters…I wrote him a check and walked away.
My eleven-cent piece of advice: avoid the legal arena like one would hopping in the sack with a black mamba snake—at least with the serpent you’ll likely be dead thirty minutes after the bite but with litigation you’ll suffer endlessly, and never believe you’ve achieved justice.
“And if I can’t escape the law, Mr. Advisor, what do I do then?”
“Find a nice doctor willing to write prescriptions for Xanax—you’ll need them.”
“Okay, but is there anything you can say good about the system of litigation?”
“Yes. It keeps the murder rate down.”
There is a serious piece of advice to go along with the earnest and at times flippant warnings above. Compromise, negotiate, do anything in your power including sucking in a dose of humiliation and degradation to avoid running off to find a lawyer. Know you’re going to take a beating one way or the other so be wise—and strong—enough to take the quickest and cheapest type of exit you can find.
I apologize but this time I exceeded my allotment for untruth—this little piece comes in at only 95% true, the added 2% owing to me having left out of the account that I threw my dog’s dung on the neighbor’s lawn after I gave him the check—only kidding.
I don’t care how honest a person is, how forthright they are in a court of law, believing the are innocent one hundred percent, along the line they will lie; no story is perfect and the person proving their faultlessness will try to cover that single incongruent fact, one that is the devilish product of whimsy—a belief that from their errant thoughts will raise a kernel of doubt in the minds of those sitting in judgment. This human quirk is the child of the guilty conscience universally escorted by man like guts in his abdomen: takes a miracle for anyone to be found blameless. Protagonist, Zach Miller, in Mistaken Enemy.