August 2013 - LLPOF
by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
There is a story that circulated not too long ago—apocryphal or true, I know not, but perhaps a reader will let me know—to the effect that an Orange County research attorney picking up a file could not help but notice the letters “LLPOF” scrawled across a motion. The puzzled lawyer then went to the assigned judge who allowed as how it stood for “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.” Now I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that having “LLPOF” scrawled across your motion would not portend an auspicious reception. About the best you could hope for would be that LLPOF did not make it into the Tentative Ruling. The origins of the rhyme are unknown, but are thought to have come from a poem by William Blake written in 1810 which, regardless of what Ed Connor would say, was before I was born.
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Shall they dangle in the night?
The version I grew up with was “Liar, liar pants on fire, burned his pants on a telephone wire.” From my voracious research, lasting at least five minutes, I have learned that the second line was originally “pants hanging on a telephone wire.” I think the version I learned is infinitely more graphic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, after a successful cross-examination, a witness’s pants would burst into flame? But alas, that spectacle has eluded me, and I have been forced to rely on less dramatic resources.
Unfortunately, witnesses do not have a corner on lying. Attorneys, as well, have been known, on occasion, to prevaricate. (Attorneys, being professionals, use a bigger and more oblique word for lying, but I digress.) That, of course, brings me, as always, to a case in point.
In 2009, an unnamed client hired one Nathaniel Weisel, which I hope for his sake is not pronounced “weasel,” to file some type of civil action in New York. Mr. Weisel did not, shall we say, get around to filing it, but that didn’t stop him from settling it. At least on paper.
According to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, “to persuade his client that everything was proceeding well, [Mr. Weisel] created a fraudulent stipulation of settlement with a fictional index number, caption, and settlement amount.” He didn’t stop there, because when you have a stipulation to settle you have to have an attorney for the defendant. To fill this gap, “[Mr. Weisel] also randomly chose an opposing counsel’s name from an attorney directory and forged his signature at the bottom of the document.” (Among other things, this illustrates an unforeseen downside to having your name in a directory, but again I digress.)
While he did not file the ersatz stipulation with the court where, given the phony caption, it would have assuredly been bounced, he did give it to his client, telling him that the case had been settled. Before any of this came to light, as you know it would, he filed “a valid complaint in Small Claims court.”
The “other attorney” who must have been surprised to learn that he had settled a case he’d never seen, later learned of the forgery. At this point, it gets even more interesting.
Once his dishonesty was discovered, [Mr. Weisel] wrote letters to his client and the attorney. In the letter to his client, [Mr. Weisel] claimed that he suffered from an “addiction [to] lying” that he analogized to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In the letter to the attorney, he apologized for his actions, offering the explanation that he “did not know how to properly file an action on behalf on [his] client, and felt this would buy [him] time to properly file same.” He also stated he had come to the conclusion that he had trouble telling the truth, “be it personal or business.”
I, of course, have heard of drug addiction and alcohol addiction from, if nothing else, those pesky MCLE classes we have to take. I also recently learned that, at least in the case of certain celebrities, there is such a thing as sex addiction. I have some suspicion of the bona fides, if you will, of this newly discovered “addiction” which seems to only afflict those whose peccadilloes are the primary subjects of the publications whose covers pockmark the checkout stands. I also confess to more than a lingering curiosity as to how this is treated in those so-called rehab facilities which charge an arm and a leg, or perhaps in the case of sex addiction something more, which only celebrities can afford. If it weren’t for the price, I might volunteer . . . .
Now it seems there is a new addiction: lying. This is one that affects even the hoi polloi and presents a bourgeoning opportunity for creative rehabilitation.
In any case, it should come as no surprise to learn that even New York has rules of professional conduct which frown on forgery, false documents, and lying to a client. After a hearing by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee in which a referee found Mr. Weisel to have given “deceptive testimony under oath,” it went to a Hearing Panel which “noted its own concern, as well as the [r]eferee’s, regarding [Mr. Weisel’s] comment that he is ‘addicted to lying’ . . . [concluding that] ‘his admission must be taken seriously.’” Really?
The Appellate Division raised the referee’s recommendation of a six-month suspension by another three months and “we require that [he] address his pathological behavior before his application for reinstatement.” “On that application [Mr. Weisel] shall provide the Committee with appropriate documentation showing his compliance with the Order.”
Let me get this straight: You’ve got a guy who is addicted to lying and who has admitted to creating a false document and forging signatures, and before you let him rejoin the ranks you are requiring him to give you another document? That’s reassuring.
I think they should make him carry a fire extinguisher in his pants.
Richard W. Millar, Jr. is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.