October 6, 2008

Too Much Awfulness For One Deposition

Now, nobody should get the wrong idea. I like my job and I'm happy to help out when we're busy (like we are right now) even if it's not within my comfort zone. But damn, what a depressing deposition I took today.

The deposition was to help out in a probate case in which the appointment of the estate's administrator is disputed. The decedent's adult daughter does not like the decedent's wife being the administrator. So that's pretty much what we're arguing about now -- who gets to control the estate and decide how its assets, mainly a small house in Los Angeles, are to be administered before distributing the assets to the heirs, which is not a point we've reached yet.

But oy! Hours and hours of talking with this woman, who represents herself, about her family life today was such a drain. Endless drama. Much of it scarcely believable. I mean, I know some people have really shitty lives. But it's difficult to imagine people putting up with stuff like what I had to hear today. The decedent apparently had two hobbies -- running with a sketchy motorcycle gang, and wife-beating. He pretty much beat my deponent's mother to death, then nearly did the same thing with his second wife, and according to the deponent, he did the same thing with my client, who was his third wife. And according to her, the third wife (my client) said that unless he married her, she'd be compelled to testify about the wife-beating. Which is, aside from the utter legal incorrectness of the contention, something that just plain doesn't make sense. "Oh, you beat me up, so now you'd better marry me or else I'll testify against you!"

Oh, and there were the drugs. And the other crimes. My client allegedly allowed her many spawn to be raised by wolves and they're all a bunch of little hoodlums. All of which may be true and none of which has jack to do with how the assets of the estate, such as they are, are to be distributed. Given the collapse of the real estate market, we'll be lucky if there's $250,000 in this estate to distribute at all.

There's all sorts of other stories, things that fit in to the mythic archetypes you already know in your head about Disputed Probates. There was the Good Stepmother who got edged out by the Evil Stepmother. There was the Scene At The Funeral. There was the Grand Reconciliation between the abusive father and his daughter (yes, God was involved). There was the Secret Marriage. Dark Allegations Of Incest And Child Molestation. There was the Concealment Of Objects Of Immense Sentimental Value, which of course was perpetrated by the Officious Intermeddlers suddenly and without any kind of warning whatsoever so as to disadvantage the Morally Upright And Rightful Heirs. And drugs, lots and lots of drugs.

You can fill in all of the details yourself, the exact details don't matter and I didn't believe a quarter of what I was told. Not that I think my deponent was lying; I think she was viewing reality through a particular emotional lens than renders her reportage of these events unreliable. And I can kind of believe that she loved her father even though he seems by her own account to have been a vicious, brutal, violent, ignorant, unpleasant, unreliable, and unloving man. For forty-one years, it seems he said not one loving word to his daughter but she says he never hit her, and maybe they both understood that as an expression of love. Still, I walked out of the deposition saying to myself, "I'm glad that dude's gone, and not just because the probate generates fees for us." (I used much stronger language than "dude" in my mind, but I'm trying to limit the profanity here other than for comic or dramatic effect.)

The point is that listening to hours and hours and hours of this stuff was initially shocking, then laborious, and ultimately dull. It was like listening to a lengthy treatment for the script of What's Love Got To Do With It meets Mommie Dearest. I must be a terrible, terrible human being to not feel sympathy for someone telling me this kind of story. (Granted, the tats on the deponent's neck most assuredly did not help her credibility when she claimed to have no criminal background.) The tears she cried were real enough. But what am I supposed to do? My client is, according to her, the Evil Stepmother and Officious Intermeddler, so I need to help her do that.

Because in my client's version of the myth, she is the Wronged Widow, spurned by her beloved dead husband's children. Her husband wanted her to have the estate because he loved her; they spent thirteen years together experiencing a Fire And Ice Kind Of Love. And the deponent, not she, is the Officious Intermeddler, one who knows nothing of which she speaks and likely it is she, not my client, who is the one constantly strung-out on drugs and surrounded by people of questionable criminal and moral character.

Parts of the story were credible. I don't doubt that the decedent did have a propensity towards domestic violence. Other descriptions of his character traits seem consistent with that personality -- a compulsive desire to control the women in his life, including his adult daughter; a reaction of nearly uncontrollable rage when presented with situations beyond his understanding. The friction between Adult Daughter and Dad's New Wife is understandable enough, and at the end of the day I would pretty much discredit all of the nasty accusations going back and forth between them. They don't matter anyway -- there are only two questions to work out here. The first is who gets to manage the assets right now, and the second is who gets to own the assets later. The answer to both questions is presumptively the widow and very little that I heard about today is even relevant to the altering that presumtion.

But at the end of the day, it was simply overwhelming. The whole story, as described to me, was simply too awful to think about. You know, you can read a book like Les Misérables and one really awful thing after another happens to the characters, and it inspires pathos, sympathy, and ultimately inspiration and hope. But this was real, or at least it was supposed to be. And my reaction was indifference and disregard. What does it say about me that, when confronted with a tale of such misery, woe, suffering, and some actual human pain, that I should find it insipid?

No comments: