December 04, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Lawyers are in the business of helping their clients and want to believe what they are told. Occasionally, the actual facts and events turn out to be different than what was first described, and that’s just human nature.
But when a client’s behavior is off the charts of what’s acceptable – revealing some form of mental illness – it’s a challenging situation for the lawyer.
Last week’s article included an actual letter from an attorney to a property management company concerning a client – Madison – and her strange obsession with where a neighborwho was renting the house next door was placing his trash bin for collection.
The client’s bizarre behavior had come close to physical violence. “‘Cape Fear,’ ‘One Hour Photo,’ ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Play Misty for Me’ came to mind,” her lawyer told me. He added, “This situation was headed for a new film, ‘The Trash Bin Murders.'”
Here is the attorney’s letter to his client, Madison, and her husband:
I have a legal obligation of explaining to clients the legal consequences of their behavior. Due to the unique nature of this situation, I have discussed the facts of this case and what occurred on October 15, 2010 with a clinical psychologist. Neither names nor location were revealed, and the psychologist does not reside in California. He feels it is critical that Madison obtain mental health counseling.
“Her worsening obsession over a neighbor’s placement of a trash bin has demonstrated a dangerous risk of physical harm to others and she is looking at arrest and criminal prosecution,” he stated.
Madison retained our office to see if we could encourage Tyler, your neighbor, to place his trash bin in front of his property, and not yours. For several months he has placed it in the street, in front of your lawn, which is adjacent to his driveway. As Tyler occasionally works out of town, the bin remains in the street for several days after collection, further infuriating Madison.
Madison would then place it in middle of his driveway; Tyler responded by parking his car in the street, in front of your lawn. Madison had become so stressed that she “broke out in a rash,” and you have filed at least one police report.
Madison, you and your husband have spoken with the management company so many times that they have asked you to stop calling and “to act as mature adults.” We also talked with the property manager, Ms. Hampton, who did look into your complaints and told us, “This is an extremely petty situation, and Madison is overreacting.”
I completely agree, and the fact that I do makes Madison see red. She assumes I will tell her what she wants to hear, instead of what she needs to hear. A lawyer must tell clients the truth and try to keep them out of legal trouble.
Friday morning, October 15, I spoke with Tyler. He exhibited what can only be described as immature behavior, and despite my request that he keep his trash bin on his side of the property line, he feels he can place it anywhere in the street. While legally correct, it is clear he is fully aware his continued behavior will aggravate Madison further, and it also seems that he finds the situation amusing.
This is a recipe for violence, which came close to taking place moments earlier that morning.
As he explained, “Your client just walked into our open garage, began banging on the inside door and screaming for my girlfriend to come out and talk about the trash bin. My girlfriend was terrified. Your client would have been arrested if we had called the police.”
He is right. Madison committed a trespass and could have been arrested, and depending upon how threatening her language was, she also could have been charged for what is known as terrorist threats.
As I was on the phone with Tyler, Madison stormed into our office, and confirmed what he had just stated. I told her that she is the person who is wrong, and is obsessed with something unbelievably minor, a trash bin. I told her she needs to see a psychiatrist, not a lawyer. That did not go over too well with her, I fully acknowledge.
On her way out of our office, she screamed that she was stopping payment on her check to us. And that’s exactly what she did.
Unless Madison obtains professional help, there will be worse things to worry about than a neighbor’s trash bin.
I have been your lawyer for years. Please trust in what I am saying.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.