Legal wizards: How do I find out if these divorce papers are real?
August 17, 2011 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Legal wizards: How do I find out if these divorce papers are real?

This has been driving me crazy for months.

A certain person who has done a lot of good in the world, and who is one of my heroes, has apparently had some VERY disturbing divorce papers leaked online. I've googled and googled the appropriate search terms to try and figure out whether these legal documents are real or fake (yeah, I'm obsessive), but I'm no closer to finding out the answer. And just about all the references to the supposed papers are coming from sites/blogs that hate the person!

I refuse to put this person's name in my question (I'm not putting up a link, either), because I don't want to spread misinformation or do any damage to her/his character if the documents are a forgery. And even if it's all true, I'm capable of separating the personal from the political (despite my heart sinking a bit [okay, a lot]), and I will still admire all the positive things s/he's done. Still, the question continues to nag at me. Any solutions, Hive Mind?
posted by tamagogirl to Law & Government (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well the way I would do it is look at the case number and go to the court's website and look up the case. If this is a famous person then I don't really know if there is some protocol for their records being private. Most courts post family law records online (not the actual docs just records of their being filed).
posted by boobjob at 10:19 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, just maybe to put your mind a little more at ease, if these documents are in fact part of the divorce pleadings rather than any criminal charges, I wouldn't stress so much about it. For those who are petty and angry, and if children are involved, there is a lot of lying/exaggerating going on. There is not the same burden of proof or impartiality in family law. It really is he said she said and I have been in the position before where we filed pleadings with really devastating accusations that turned out later to be absolute lies (by the client not the lawyer at all). Luckily in my experience judges and minor's counsels seem to be fairly adept at sussing out the BS and/or ordering measures that will safeguard all parties welfare. It would honestly be helpful if you provided the details of this case (oh dear I hope it's not Mel Gibson).
posted by boobjob at 10:47 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

What jurisdiction?
posted by mdonley at 11:50 PM on August 17, 2011

Response by poster: I did manage to track down the court's decision on a reputable website, and it basically ruled that both parties were equally to blame in wrecking the marriage. I could pay the $5 to get the case docket number and citation. It's all civil, no criminal charges involved.

I'll just say the person is a relatively well-known public figure, and the jurisdiction is a southern American state.
posted by tamagogirl at 12:21 AM on August 18, 2011

If it's the document I'm looking at, it's an appellate brief disputing the equal fault ruling.

I wonder about its authenticity too, and one approach I took was to google up contemporaneous stuff by and about the relevant law firm, including the fact that they handled domestic relations cases and the name of the firm they merged with a couple of years afterward. So if it's a hoax, it has at least basic historical plausibility. The content is way, way more elaborate and ambiguous than I would expect from a simple smear, including admissions that would support the equal fault ruling. The pages with the argument about why the decree was nonetheless indefensible are missing, too, so the hypothetical hoaxster is undermining their case on two levels to give it the complexity we associate with verisimilitude. And if it were a forgery, we're talking about someone who would probably have a case for libel with actual malice and the means and understanding to pursue it.

Looking around a bit, several reputable people who applaud what this person is known for also think this is a problematic human being, even if they're not posting the divorce papers.

Maybe I have the wrong person though, and even if it's what you're talking about and not a fake, boobjob's caveats about he-said-she-said would certainly apply.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:12 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Monsieur Caution: I think we have the same person. I'm a bit troubled that he/she never bothered to publicly refute the more upsetting stuff. And if it's a forgery, whoever put it together took a big risk by using real people's names and their places of employment (they check out). Then again, no one's claiming responsibility for the documents, so there's nobody to sue. How about the misspellings and poor grammar? Is that usual for cases like this?
posted by tamagogirl at 2:40 AM on August 18, 2011

boobjob is right - court filings, with limited exceptions, are public documents. Visiting the courthouse (in person or online) is the way to find the authentic documents.

It's also the way to find the *complete* story. You mention that this person never bothered to publicly refute what's in there. If they filed responding papers in court - again, public documents - , they did. The critical sites you found posting the harmful stuff probably have no interest in posting the stuff filed in defense.
posted by GPF at 2:58 AM on August 18, 2011

(and by "complete story," I mean two --opposing, embellished, lawyered-up, probably exaggerated, often over-the-top, fueled-by-o-m-g-you-ruined-my-life, emotionally injured-- stories. The truth, of course, is probably neither of these stories.)
posted by GPF at 3:03 AM on August 18, 2011

If the person to which you refer has the initials M.D. and has been written about critically in Harper's Magazine then my conclusions match Monsieur Caution's, the papers are probably legit. The only way to know for sure is go to the courthouse. I couldn't find any way to access the records online.

People can accomplish many good things and still be pretty rotten human beings.
posted by pseudonick at 3:53 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The OP may not wish to post the name but, really, can somebody else do so or memail me or something? It's impossible to tell if documents are fake without actually being able to see the documents.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: @pseudonick Damn damn damn damn damn. No, I'm not flying down there.

(I'm assuming you're not biased against the person. It seems like everyone either hates or loves her/him.)

But what about the bad grammar? Wouldn't an official document be better written?
posted by tamagogirl at 11:19 AM on August 18, 2011

I checked out some of the people mentioned in the document again today. I was getting a little suspicious because most of them had such common and hard to google names, but I was able to find independent evidence that a couple of the people mentioned did exist, and held the jobs attributed to them. For example the documents list the correct Regional Coordinator for the National Endowment of the Arts in the late 1970s, which I could verify from an oral history project online, I find it hard to imagine that detail could have been searched out to add verisimilitude. Though someone who was close to the situation at the time might have known and remembered some of these details.

There is also enough negative stuff out there about him from very reputable sources that this doesn't surprise me.
posted by pseudonick at 12:25 PM on August 18, 2011

But what about the bad grammar? Wouldn't an official document be better written?

I've been reading through my father's divorce decree for various reasons toay and I can assure you that bad grammar would not necessarily imply that this was not an official document.
posted by jessamyn at 1:29 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's enough in pseudonick's last comment to identify the person and find sites that enumerate the charges in detail, if that matters. You just have to use the correct keywords.
posted by gerryblog at 2:06 PM on August 18, 2011

Best answer: Thanks to the people who MeMailed me! No one else needs to do so!

As others have noted there are enough details which check out (law firms, types of cases they handle, etc) such that I don't see any reason to doubt the authenticity of the filings. But authenticity and truth aren't the same thing.

That said, the private and public lives of individuals are often... perhaps even usually... quite different.
posted by Justinian at 3:53 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, MeFi, for all your answers. I guess I know as much as I need to (or should). Now I know what they mean when they say "bad boys" are so compelling.
posted by tamagogirl at 4:50 PM on August 18, 2011

Mod note: Please stick to answering the question, folks. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2011

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