Cases from Hell

By Attorney Gregg Herman
August 16, 2013

While the public perception is that divorce cases drag out forever, the reality is quite different.  Since we have a 120 day “cooling off” period in Wisconsin, divorces take a minimum of that much time.  Given the vagaries of court calendars, six months is usually the low end.  However, it is rare that cases take more than a calendar year.  Then, there are the cases from hell.  A recent story
in the ABA Journal illustrates one such case.

In that case, the litigation lasted for 17 years – 10 years longer than the marriage itself!  Making the story even more interesting is the fact that the husband is a law professor.

All lawyers who have practiced for any period of time have had their “cases from hell.”  My late partner, Leonard Loeb, used to say that 20% of a lawyer’s cases will cause 80% of that lawyer’s aggravation.

What causes a case from hell? Usually it is an unwillingness to accept the imperfections of life (and the legal system), let go of anger and recrimination and accept the concept of compromise.

The litigants who keep fighting tend to see themselves on a crusade for what they perceive as justice.  Nothing else will do.  They fail to see any role they play in their circumstances, but rather blame the court, the legal system, their ex-spouse, their lawyer and whomever else is, in their view, responsible.

Interestingly, they continue to use the legal system, despite their belief that it is biased and sometimes even corrupt.  Yet, they file continuous motions and appeals.

The legal system rarely takes appropriate action as our system encourages, rather than discourages, litigation.  A number of years ago, I wrote a column about a Wisconsin court of appeals case where a party was sanctioned after 20 appeals.  I wrote:

Yet, a nagging question occurs upon reading the facts in Puchner. Why did it take the court 19 previous appeals and other filings before taking actions against Mr. Puchner? Certainly, it must have been apparent prior to action No. 20 that the cost to the victims and the system needed to be minimized.

A physician I represented once, when considering whether to take a good, but not perfect settlement, told me of a saying in medicine:  “Perfect is the enemy of good.”  In other words, if you have a good result, don’t try to make it better.

Of course, this thought process is rational and the “frequent filers” are anything but rational.  One wonders what this professor teaches his students.

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.