The Best Tradition…and Bad Judgment


One of these things is not like all the others:

A. Wilmington criminal-defense lawyer Eugene Maurer accuses the complainant in an assault case of using the incident to seek attention.

B. Menlo Park family lawyer Jack D. Berghouse sues the school that punished his client for cheating because “the school’s policies regarding punishment for cheating are vague and contradictory and shouldn’t be enforced.”

C. Chicago criminal-defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann wears hijab to her client’s arraignment at Guantanamo and asks the court to order the other women present at the hearing to dress more modestly.

Each is an example of lawyering that is at least arguably reasonable to lawyers but outrageous to nonlawyers. Maurer calls a spade a spade; Berghouse attacks the law applicable to the case; Bormann focuses attention on something other than her client’s alleged bad acts.

But the answer is (B). Because Berghouse is not only his client’s lawyer; he’s his client’s father as well. And saying, “sure he cheated, but cheating isn’t really against the rules” may be good lawyering, but it’s lousy parenting.

This wouldn’t have been much of a story if Berghouse had left the argument to a hired gun. It wouldn’t necessarily have been right for him to pay a lawyer to make the best possible argument for not punishing junior’s cheating, but it would have been arguably reasonable, and in a world filled with folklore about crazy lawsuits it wouldn’t likely have made the news.

The media seem to have been gentle with Berghouse’s son so far—I haven’t seen his name prominently mentioned—but Berghouse couldn’t have known that would happen. Filing his suit was not only a public demonstration of parental ineptitude (look, everyone! I brought up a kid who cheats! I support him in doing it!), but also an exposition of poor online judgment. Once the son’s name slips out (as it likely will, especially if dad’s suit succeeds) and is connected to the lawsuit (as it will be), there’s no erasing that: anyone googling junior’s name in the future (and some day everyone who has anything to do with him will google his name) will see that he cheated on his English homework in tenth grade.

When people hire lawyers, they outsource their judgment to us. They rely on our good judgment to preserve fortunes, their freedom, their lives, and their reputations. Lawyers need to have good judgment. Representing your son and filing a lawsuit that draws public attention to his cheating? Not so much.


2 responses to “The Best Tradition…and Bad Judgment”

  1. Sometimes, you have to think carefully about what’s in your client’s best interest. You’re right. B was not in his son’s interest.

    A lady told me the other day that I am going to go to hell because I am a criminal defense lawyer. Sometimes we have to just endure a little bit of criticism on behalf of our clients. But sometimes, we are hurting their cause.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  2. While the web effects will be longer term and probably more damaging, in the short-term, realize that everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — at Young Berghouse’s school now knows that he is a litigious cheat from a family of, well, litigious SOMETHINGS. That kind of day to day scorn could be a lot harder to bear than the possible future consequences. But, then again, maybe the next generation of Berghouses doesn’t give a &#% about reputation, dignity, or what anyone thinks.. After all, Dad obviously doesn’t.

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