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Oh Sh*t—Now What Do I Do?

I thought of giving this segment of the saga a cutesy name—but I couldn’t. Trust me—when you are a lawyer overnight, and we all are… this is pretty much how you SHOULD feel.

You see, unlike doctors (who get out through a really long and painful—serious sleep deprivation included, no extra charge—residency) lawyers don’t. You get your Bar Exam results, you get sworn in and presto change-o—you are a lawyer. You are licensed and you are free to do whatever work you can ethically do… see Ethics Rule 1.1. (Yes, yes,  I know—it is a popular belief that lawyers have no ethics.  But in 1983 advertising was still prohibited–and some of us lawyers did follow the MANY ethical rules. Still do. Yes, I know—hard to believe—thank you, Larry Parker. But true.

So I was sworn in December 12, 1983. I guess it must have been December 13 when I showed up at work  newly minted—but I remember  very well what my first act was that day. (Well I had forgotten until I started to write this, but it came back pretty quick.) I got to the office in Glassell Park, probably just before 9:00—I tend to be early—and the two secretaries were there, but none of the partners. The secretaries were quite upset, because they had found a nest of mice. It was my job to deal with this emergency. Lucky for me, I am not in the least afraid of mice.

I captured them—they were teensy and really very cute—in a waste basket. But then, what on earth was I to do with them? I think I couldn’t bring myself to drown them… and so I think–I KNOW– I dithered for some time, until Sandy showed up and (bless her forever) told me to take them across the street and “tell them to go play.” I will be forever grateful. I am, to this day. I am sure Sandy forgot it the next day. Not me. Nosiree.

And thus I began the practice of law. I don’t recall precisely when I signed my first pleading. (Magically, I had this power!! My signature carried the weight of all the causes of action this person had–I was speaking to the court on his be behalf! This is far more earth shaking than it may sound.)  I do remember what it was… as it ended up being a fateful turn of events. It was a personal injury case (our office did all sorts of law, but Sandy did mostly PI. Her husband was a physician which came in very handy.) One Massey Enciso was suing the County Hospital of Los Angeles.

Of course, suing a county, or any public agency, is not so simple, so there had been plenty of work done before that day. (All government agencies make it very hard to sue them. The steps in the dance will be relevant later.) I did not do much, if any, of these prerequisites to getting permission to file. I never met Mr. Enciso and I did not make any of the decisions that led to the complaint we filed–the partners just let me sign the darn thing because I could. It’s a pretty big deal. I am thinking it may have been December 1983. I am not sure. But let me assure you, I am very sure I learned what not to do from that case!

The details of the gentleman’s problems are fairly gruesome. (One thing about law—it is NOT boring—not when you are actually doing personal injury work it isn’t.) He had an injury to a very personal part of his anatomy. (We had three such cases for a while, and the joke around the office was that at Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman, “PI” did not mean “personal injury, it meant “penis injury”…)

If anyone knows what a decubitus ulcer is… he had one. Yes, there. (Do NOT look at the link if you have a weak stomach.) He had it there because he was paraplegic and had been having his OTHER decubitus ulcers debrided. (Cleaned.) As I said, a tad gruesome. If I told you the main reason that part of him had that pressure sore, it would be too gross. Just take the fact that he was a paraplegic and had certain issues (and a “common law wife—which is not possible legally but…) and put two and two together. Or write to me if curiosity is really killing you. But he had it– and it was most unfortunate for his ability to make use the device which caused it. If you follow. Hey– this was my initiation into law—what can I say?
So, bottom line, the hospital had indeed screwed up. Hospitals are supposed to help people like paraplegics, who get these nasty problems, not GIVE them to them. Even if they are essentially destitute.  (As many paraplegics are, for some strange reason.) Slam dunk, right? Well, that’s what all three partners thought. Wrong. After I left the firm, in 1985, I had the thrill of being served at work with a malpractice lawsuit. I can’t tell you what a treat that was. Served AT MY OFFICE (where I was now defense counsel for Hartford Insurance.) Ouch.

Why was that served on me—who had done zilch? (And when the partners really had not done any “bad thing” –id est, commit malpractice?) Well… I’ll get to that. I am pretty sure I hold the distinction of being the first person in my law school class to be served with malpractice suit. I was shocked–and saw it as a “live by the sword die by the sword” sort of moment. (Just so you know–the story has a sort of happy ending—for me, not for Mr. Enciso.) And when I went to aply to the Arizona Stare Bar guess what I had to report! Yep. that lawsuit.  They don’t go away.

Next time I will explain how THAT joyous experience–the one thing lawyers all dread—came to be. “You have been sued.” (And served at work.)   And I will also explain the  true meaning of the word Shadenfreude

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