THE CLIENT NOBODY WANTED

Her name was “Amy” (not her real name) and she was 13 years old. The problem was her step-grandfather had been having sex with her from the time she was 9 until she was 11, when he was finally caught.

The step-grandfather admitted to the investigating detective most of what he did, aside from the actual act of intercourse. The DA allowed the step-grandfather to plead guilty to a reduced charge and then, in a grave miscarriage of justice, the judge sentenced the step-grandfather to a mere 30 days of work release.

Amy’s grandmother on the other side of the family had previously been granted custody of Amy as a result of her father’s abandonment and mother’s neglect. She was mortified. It was clear that the criminal courts had only slapped the step-grandfather on the hand and she believed that for Amy’s sense of self-worth that the step-grandfather had to be held truly accountable in some way.

If the criminal courts weren’t going to do it, she concluded that he should be made to pay for what he did to Amy through the civil courts.

Amy’s grandmother called several lawyers asking if they would represent Amy and they all turned her down. The impediment to a lawyer’s willingness to take on this type of case is that usually the abuser has no money or assets. In other words, he is judgment proof and if the attorney were to take the case, it would simply result in him spending a lot of time pursuing a claim where, in the end, the client would never recover anything. So lawyers usually turn down these cases at a glance because they feel that there is nothing they would be able to do that would actually be of help to the unfortunate victim.

But then Amy’s grandmother called me and I took the time to listen to her story. From her report it appeared that the step-grandfather lived in a small house, in a mountain town, and had no assets to speak of. However, the grandmother thought she had heard that he had received an injury settlement some years before and that he might have used the money to pay off the mortgage on his house.

Rather than just dismiss what she was saying as the other attorneys had, I told her I would look into the matter. I obtained an O&E report from a title company that showed the step-grandfather had owned the house with his wife (Amy’s other grandmother), but that he had quitclaimed his interest to his wife at the time he had been charged with abusing Amy. The O&E also disclosed that there was no mortgage on the property. I next had a realtor assess the value of the house so that I would know how much was at issue.

Once I knew that there was a source from which recompense could be made, I next had to figure out how to get at it without putting a child like Amy through the trauma of a court battle. To do this I would have to come up with a way to convince the step-grandfather and his wife to voluntarily settle with Amy without having to file suit.

After first doing the necessary legal research to determine that the transfer of the house from the step-grandfather to his wife could be overturned as a fraudulent conveyance, I wrote a letter to them explaining why they would not be able to protect their house from a judgment and offering to not go after all their assets by way of a lawsuit if they would agree to make payment to Amy in an amount equal to half of the value of their house. The way this offer was formulated did two things, it gave the step-grandfather and his wife an incentive to settle that would be to their benefit and it put pressure on them to quickly agree to pay what was demanded.

Had I asked for them to pay the entire value of their house, there would have been no motive for the step-grandfather and his wife to settle. They would have simply reasoned that if we were going to go after all they had anyway, they might as well force us to file suit since they had nothing more to lose.

And, a court action would at least give them a chance to convince a jury to render a low damage award, or perhaps get out of it altogether if they could make the quitclaim transfer hold up. However, by only seeking half the value of their home, they now had a real reason to seriously consider making an immediate settlement. If they were willing to give in before suit was filed they could do so by taking out a mortgage on their house and they would still be able to live there. Other than having to make a monthly mortgage payment, their lives would not be greatly altered.

My proposal would also have the advantage of getting the wife, who had a half-interest in the house in the first place, to agree to our proposal. This was especially important since she was justifiably upset at being held responsible for the wrongful acts of her husband and understandably did not think that she should have to pay for something she didn’t do. This way, the wife could rationalize that only the step-grandfather was paying the settlement out of the ½ interest he originally had in the house and that, in effect, nothing was being taken from her share of ownership.

On the other hand, it was apparent that if they stubbornly refused our offer, they would be sued and they would probably be left bankrupt and destitute. They had been put in a box and they knew it. They had no choice but to agree to a settlement on our terms.
After a few attempts at trying to settle for less, which were sternly rebuffed, the step-grandfather and his wife agreed to the settlement we had demanded.

Thus, Amy was spared the ordeal of prolonged litigation concerning a very sensitive matter. We used the money to purchase an annuity that would earn income on a tax free basis and which we structured so that it would make no payment until Amy reached college age. That way, we calculated, the money would be there for her when she really needed it. Of course, nothing we did can even come close to truly compensating Amy for what happened.

Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time to prevent Amy from being harmed by keeping her step-grandfather away from her. Yet, I feel we did the best we could in that through the settlement we were able to obtain validation for Amy as a good and worthwhile person and, at the same time, give her a fresh start on her future in partial compensation for the past that had been stolen from her.

“past success cannot guarantee future results”

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