Errors and Omissions by Paul Goldstein – I found the opening chapters sad and hard. Reading about a lawyer in trouble is never easy for me. I want the lawyers of fiction to be honourable men and women diligently doing their best for clients. I know the blemished may draw more interest but I find it painful to read of them.
Michael Seeley is an intellectual property lawyer, one of the best in America. His skill with intellectual property cases induced a major New York City law firm to lure him from Buffalo and provide him with a partnership.
Unfortunately, he has burned out under the grind of continuing success. Winning case after case left him in ever greater demand. He has worn out and turned to alcohol. The occasional drink to relax has descended to addiction.
Before going to a case management conference he has a couple of tumblers of gin to ease his massive hangover. I was cringing as he went to court impaired.
Within the conference he is defiant urging his artist client not to accept $50,000 to his sculpture “a dozen or so rusted structural girders exploding through a brick wall in the lobby of a Park Avenue office building” to be painted. Seeley wants to win the case that will give artists moral rights over how their work is treated by purchasers. Principle is wonderful but a settlement was in the best interests, especially financial, of the client.
His impairment is obvious and the judge calls him out and says he will be pursuing a complaint against Seeley for “moral turpitude”.
A frustrated Seeley gets momentary satisfaction from calling the judge “a pompous toad”. The self-indulgent sarcasm will rebound against him.
The out of control alcoholic Seeley reminded me of a pair of real life cases in Western Canada.
A few years ago I was in a courtroom waiting for my case to be called for argument when I watched a lawyer facing a civil contempt charge. He had been caught by a judge during a hearing drinking vodka from his water glass. He was bound to be severely punished by the court. He had breached his responsibilities as an officer of the court.
More recently I read of a Saskatchewan lawyer defending a client in Queen’s Bench of criminal charges. As court began one morning the Crown Prosecutor thought he smelled alcohol on the breath of the defence counsel. When the defence counsel was almost half an hour late returning to court after lunch the prosecutor thought the smell stronger. He spoke to the defence counsel who said he had been drinking late into the previous night and definitely would still have alcohol in his system.
The defence counsel apologized to the court and, while he was sure he had alcohol in his system he was capable of proceeding with the trial. He was tested on an alcohol screening device and his reading was over .08.
With that test and the accused firing the defence counsel a mistrial was ordered and the matter referred to the Law Society. The lawyer voluntarily undertook not to practice law and sought treatment.
After 5 years of sobriety a hearing was conducted in which he pled guilty conduct unbecoming a lawyer. He was given the opportunity to re-apply for re-instatement as an active member of the Law Society on conditions.
The fictional Seeley is headed for comparable dire consequences.
I appreciate Goldstein is using the alcoholic lawyer to demonstrate the risks and consequences of addiction for lawyers. Yet I cannot help but feel bad for Seeley. He is a good lawyer and a decent person who, as is the case with almost every real life lawyer in similar circumstances, has fallen prey to alcohol abuse..
In real life in Saskatchewan Seeley could have picked up the phone and called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers for help in addressing his problems. It is a confidential program funded by the Law Society but administered independently that is available free of charge for all Saskatchewan lawyers and their families.
Seeley is an all too real fictional lawyer. As I read the book I hope he will deal with his alcohol abuse before he is disbarred. I was drawn to writing this post before finishing the book. Spoiler or not my next post will advise what happens in Seeley’s struggles with alcohol.