Lawyer Gone Wild!
September 1, 2009 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Need recommendations for dealing with an irrational lawyer with a personal grudge who threatens in writing to sue me, have me arrested and do all kinds of interesting malicious things.

I live in California. My neighbor is a lawyer for the State. This neighbor recently sent me an email announcing his intention to sue me, have me arrested and exert various other inconveniences on my life. He has copied the homeowners association on the communication. I'm guessing the nature of the very minor dispute would fall under civil law - specifically with the building's CC&Rs on exclusive use common area property rights. The issue itself has been resolved. At this point he's just looking to pick a fight without any real goal other than to be a bully.

Would his behavior be of interest to the State Bar of California or any other professional entity? For example, is this item relevant?

Any other advice for preventing the situation from escalating further is much appreciated. I basically just want to diffuse the bomb and not have to deal with him.

Related question: I have not replied to him in writing or verbally. I don't intend to. I trust this is the right (in)action?
posted by quadog to Law & Government (24 answers total)
Not legal advice, just general advice, I wouldn't engage him in conversation. Especially not in writing. You don't want to get pissed and say something you'll regret.
posted by kathrineg at 10:19 PM on September 1, 2009

Talk to a real lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 PM on September 1, 2009

This is the most clear-cut case of "Get a lawyer" that I've seen in a long time. I am not a lawyer. I cannot give you legal advice. You do not mention that you are a lawyer. A lawyer is threatening you with law matters. The only reasonable course of action is to get your own lawyer and listen to their advice.

Make sure this other lawyer is not involved with the one threatening you. Anybody with professional ethics will disclose if they are upon initial consultation. Listen to the advice of your lawyer and follow it.

Whether this situation escalates or not is not in your hands. He has threatened legal action, you need to cover yourself immediately. If this means he shuts up and backs down, all the better. If he decides to push things further, your lawyer will tell you what to do.

You have done well in not responding. Your only response should be to get a lawyer. Did I mention to get a lawyer? I know I'm being repetitive here, but it's very important. You are dealing with a lawyer, making legal threats.

Also, I'd suggest you ask a mod to make this anonymous, or even delete it. This should be treated as a very serious matter between you and your lawyer, in how to deal with this other lawyer.
posted by Saydur at 10:36 PM on September 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

Less is more. Do not speak again of this thing in a public forum.

Be prepared to lawyer up, if he does sue you or make a complaint about you.
Start asking your friends about any lawyers that they have used. Start looking
for personal referrals for lawyers.

Don't engage him, even if you are provoked, in writing or in word. If you must engage
him, do so only by giving him the name and address of your lawyer, to which he should
direct all future communication with you.

Document all interactions with him, and all correspondance, with notes taken immediately
after all interactions. Try to be as detailed as possible.

Watch your compliance on homeowners association rules. He certainly will.

Become aware of his comings to and goings from his house.

Begin to collect particulars on his professional practice, as it will be a matter of public
record if it is significant at all.

Become aware of your rights, should the police come calling to your home (like, step
outside and close the door behind you if they come calling to your house without a
warrant, that sort of thing).

Wait for him to make the first move. It will cost him more than it will cost you.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:48 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

IANAL. But as businessman, who has been in litigation on a number of occasions, this is America. The bar for legitimacy in civil litigation is pretty low, in that a matter must be specious on its face to be dismissed as a nuisance suit in many jurisdictions. Some parties with a litigious bent will cease annoying you if you ignore them, but others will be incensed to further steps by inattention on your part, and proceed to file a lawsuit, and have you served. We can't tell which kind of party you are dealing with, at the remove of a question posted to AskMe.

If the matter appears one on which a court would at least accept a filing, it behooves you to seek real counsel, and be prepared to respond, even if your anticipated response is simply to point out to the court that such a filing is specious. A letter from another attorney to your neighbor, setting out a reasoned argument to that effect may, or may not, be the next best step in this. But that is something you should discuss in an exploratory initial consultation with an attorney in your jurisdiction, as you present the letter you have received, and any supporting documentation, for consideration.
posted by paulsc at 10:48 PM on September 1, 2009

Talk to a lawyer.

Ignore everything that isn't on paper.

Talk to a lawyer about filing a Bar complaint for harassment.

Likely the HOA is already wise to his shenanigans.
posted by rhizome at 11:47 PM on September 1, 2009

Nthing the Bar complaint. And recording/keeping all communication from him. What a dreadful neighbour!
posted by x46 at 3:15 AM on September 2, 2009

From the California Bar's "Registering a Complaint" page:

All lawyers who practice in California must live up to ethical standards imposed by the California Supreme Court and the state legislature. As an arm of the California Supreme Court, the State Bar investigates and prosecutes complaints against lawyers.

Depending on the seriousness of the offense, a lawyer can be given a warning, put on probation, suspended from practicing law for a period of time, or disbarred - prohibited from practicing law in California.
posted by ND¢ at 4:30 AM on September 2, 2009

It took me less time to find the ACLU's pamphlet "Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement" (pdf), which has a section entitled "What should I do if officers come to my house?" at the top of page 4, than it took you to type out some nonsense you saw on television. Please don't do that.
posted by ND¢ at 5:09 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

First, never trust what you see on tv, unless you know for a fact that it is absolutely correct!

Second, I would go see a lawyer and get their opinion if whether your neighbor has behaved bad enough to make a complaint worthwhile. Lawyers in my state are duty bound to report unethical behavior. I'd like to think that a lawyer would listen to it for free, but you never know.
posted by Atreides at 5:12 AM on September 2, 2009

Complaints with neighbors are often very difficult to resolve completely. Especially when one of the parties feels they got screwed. Being a good neighbor is difficult enough when you're not being a jerk, it's even more difficult when both parties behave like jerks and hide behind 'rules'. The issue may never be resolved effectively.

However, an attorney practices law in a given state at the discretion of that state's Bar Association. Attorney can and do lose their privilege to practice law based on reviews by that Bar. If this individual is acting an manner that the Bar finds problematic it is possible for his right to practice law to be revoked. This would, of course, be a BAD THING for him as he'd likely lose his job.

If he's a State employee he has additional ethical responsibilities. Abusing his position as a gov't employee holds additional risk.

Your first inexpensive step would probably be to contact the state Bar Association and ask them for advice on how to proceed. It may be a matter that bears their involvement. If so then let that process take it's due course. Note that you can use the Bar Association website to look up any given attorney registered to practice in that state. Also note that in most states it's a crime to misrepresent oneself as a lawyer...

You may, at some point, have to retain a lawyer of your own to deal with the mess. Meanwhile you're probably better off avoiding any contact with the individual.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:44 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer. I am only telling you what I would do in this case. This guy is a bully. Bullies do not like to be pushed back and when they are, they usually back down. I would tell him to fuck off next time I saw him. I would not put anything in writing. If you do not respond, he will likely continue to be a PITA on this issue or on another small inconsequential issue later. Just my opinion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:46 AM on September 2, 2009

Best answer: IAAL, IANYL.

Second on the refer the lawyer to the California Bar, but as a last resort to try and stop the guy, put together the package you would send to the Bar and send a copy of it to the lawyer (which must include anything written he's sent you and the notes from all phone calls), with the statement that you consider his behavior to be harassing and unethical and will report it to the Bar. This letter should also state unequivocably that you are filing the complaint in x days unless (a) he tells you, in writing, that the matter is resolved; or (b) he actually goes ahead and files suit against you. And then live up to your threat if he doesn't respond within the deadline you set (which should be something like 2 weeks from the day he receives it-- send it certified mail, return receipt requested-- you'll get the signed green card back, or a notice that he's refused to accept the letter and the date). Then file the letter and a copy of the green card with the complaint.

Will the threat work? Probably not, but it's your best weapon, especially if he continues with his blowhard behavior and doesn't actually sue. There's nothing unethical about making demands on opposing parties as a prelude to filing suit, but if you've put him on notice that you're calling his bluff and he doesn't sue, then the Bar is more likely to see things on your side.

BTW, I wouldn't threaten to go after his job, even though I agree that his behavior is doubly unethical because of his position. Be the adult here, as well as the victim.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 7:36 AM on September 2, 2009

I agree with the lawyering up. This guy knows the law and can be a complete legal PITA. Just knowing your rights from a legal stand point is always a good thing.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:26 AM on September 2, 2009

I completely disagree with the advice to "lawyer up." There is absolutely nothing at this point that you need legal advice for. He's not going to sue you. He's not going to have you arrested. He is, however, most likely breaching his ethical obligations (in particular by threatening the false criminal allegations) so you may as well make a complaint to his licensing body. You don't need a lawyer to tell you how to do that, or whether you should. Just make the complaint, and let the licensing body determine whether it's warranted.
posted by Pomo at 9:29 AM on September 2, 2009

From top of page 4, ND¢, and not from TV:

If you feel you must open the door, then step outside, close the door behind you ...
posted by the Real Dan at 9:49 AM on September 2, 2009

I completely disagree with the advice to "lawyer up." There is absolutely nothing at this point that you need legal advice for.
posted by Pomo at 11:29 AM on September 2

PLEASE IGNORE POMO. And anyone else who is making claims about this at this point. There is no where near enough information in this post to reach any conclusion as to what the nature of the dispute is, what the lawyer is threatening, or whether it has merit.

Your question can be answered by a lawyer, who will ask you more questions to make sure they have a full picture before advising you. The advice may be "don't worry about it." Or it may be "do X, Y, and Z." But at least the advice will be informed advice you can rely upon.
posted by dios at 11:38 AM on September 2, 2009

wkearney99's advice is spot on I think. You are going to have to live with this guy so take care not to escalate things. That might become difficult if he keeps making noise. He probably is not going to do any of the things he threatened. If he did then you lawyer up and report him to the bar. I also like the idea of asking advice from the bar association prior to filing a formal request. Filing the complaint itself will probably just make him your enemy for life, which is awful when that is your neighbor.
posted by caddis at 11:48 AM on September 2, 2009


Quadog doesn't need a lawyer in order to make a complaint to this guy's licensing body, and everyone who suggests he does is just wasting the OP's money. This isn't the sort of thing a lawyer will take on for free, and although the knee-jerk response on these boards is to "lawyer up," it really, honestly, isn't ALWAYS necessary. Why not wait it out and save himself a few hundred bucks? If neighbour boy actually *does* sue, then yes, obviously, get representation. But right now, from what he's said, there's nothing a lawyer is going to do for him that is worth what he'll pay for it.
posted by Pomo at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2009

But right now, from what he's said, there's nothing a lawyer is going to do for him that is worth what he'll pay for it.
posted by Pomo at 4:54 PM on September 2

And that is why you should not be telling him that a lawyer cannot help him. You do not know nearly enough to reach the conclusion you reached. I'm a lawyer. I get asked all the time questions about "is there a case here/something I need to worry about." And I can tell you that there is not nearly enough information in this post to reach any conclusion about whether a lawyer is necessary or not. All we know is that a lawyer is threatening imminent litigation and we do not know why. There are about 100 different questions that need to be asked, and we do not know what is going on.

This is why lawyers exist. Go talk to one. Lawyers will do free consultations. Lawyers are called often "attorneys and counselors" because they offer counsel and advice to people before the need to litigate things arise.

I don't know what a lawyer will tell him or if he even needs one because I do not have nearly enough information to answer the question. And neither do you. We have no idea what the original dispute was about or what this subsequent issue is. As such, it is irresponsible for you to reach a conclusion and offer advice. It is even more irresponsible for you to offer advice to antagonize the angry party while at the same time to not worry about litigation ensuing.

Quite simply, you do not know enough, so you should not be giving advice. It may be nothing to worry about. But given the absence of any useful information, no advice should be given.
posted by dios at 3:28 PM on September 2, 2009

Well, such is the nature of MetaFilter: answering questions for which we do not have full information at hand, and for which we are not ultimately responsible.

There's room for a variety of opinions, and while I suppose I could have prefaced my opinion with: "IAAL, IANYL, TINLA," I thought I'd save the space. If all law-related questions on MF had as their answer "seek representation," people would just go to NDc's link and skip asking. I can't dictate whether or not the OP follows my suggestions or anyone else's, but I still say he should let it blow over and save his cash.
posted by Pomo at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2009

If all law-related questions on MF had as their answer "seek representation," people would just go to NDc's link and skip asking.

They should be. Any question that is asking for legal advice should absolutely be answered that way, exclusively. If the question is law-related in that legal data or hard information is sought, then the question can be answered (e.g., what is the statute that deals with X). But no one, including lawyers, should be offering advice on legal issues given the fact that questions never have all of the relevant information provided.
posted by dios at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2009

Best answer: Go with Missouri_Lawyer. IANAL but I am a lay member on a Bar Association Discipline and Grievance Committee. While this type of grievance is not frequent it does occur on a regular basis. I have no idea if they will find cause but it is a legitimate recourse for you and will get his attention. Any retaliation on his part is a big No No. Document document document--don't personalize and stay focused and avoid getting righteous--which sounds like you are avoiding. Missouri is right on regarding other issues.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:48 PM on September 2, 2009

Yeah, just lawyer up. Get a consultation (usually free or cheap), take this guy's correspondence and the story to a lawyer, and ask "am I in danger?" If your lawyer says "no," then start thinking about bar complaints and the like.
posted by paultopia at 6:17 PM on September 2, 2009

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