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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 4:07:04 pm

The Dangerous Side of Family Law

There’s a popular saying that speaks volumes about potential for violence in family law disputes: Criminal court is where bad people are on their best behavior, while family court is where good people are at their worst.

While Michigan detectives and the ATF investigate the Sept. 20 car bomb explosion that targeted a Michigan lawyer and his two teenage sons, authorities continue to examine the possibility that the attack was related to his family law work. The bombing is just the latest reminder of the risks of violence facing lawyers, particularly those who handle family law cases, says Dallas-based family law attorney Brad LaMorgese. "More than any other area of the law, family law generates intense emotions that sometimes spill out of the courtroom in the form of violence and threats of violence," says LaMorgese, a partner in McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing.

An ABA survey found that 60 percent of family lawyers had been threatened by clients of opposing counsel and 17 percent by their own clients.

"It's something no one would dispute," McCurley Orsinger co-founder Mike McCurley told the American Lawyer Media back in 1999, adding that he’d been shot at twice, placed on an assassination list once and "threatened more times than I can imagine…In probably no other area of the law has our court system become more aware of the tendency for violence."

There are simply too many incidents of violence against lawyers to list, but below are just a fraction of the known cases:

  • In June 2010, a St. Paul, Minnesota divorce lawyer was stabbed by her client’s angry ex-husband.
  • February 2010, a Pickens, South Carolina, lawyer was fatally shot outside his family law practice by a man who was upset over his divorce settlement.
  • June 2006, a Nevada family court judge was fatally shot by a man he had dealt with in a divorce case.
  • February 2005, two people were killed in a shooting at the county courthouse in Tyler, Texas, by a man upset about his divorce.
  • 1997, a Sacramento family law attorney who was shot and killed by the husband of a woman he was representing.
  • Also in 1997, a divorce attorney was fatally shot in his Tustin, Calif., law office.
  • 1992, two lawyers were killed and another lawyer and two judges were wounded when a non-practicing attorney shot up an appeal court in Fort Worth, Texas, after losing custody of his son.