Let's make this clear, of the lawyers and "experts" in the family law business I've dealt with, Kevin Duffy isn't the worst. But he was my lawyer, and my custody case was going really badly under his counsel. Basically, I was going to be forced out of my daughter's life, due to opposition who weren't afraid to lie or play dirty tricks.
So I fired Kevin and won the case on my own.
So to get this out of the way, who is actually the worst?
Dr. Steve Newton, psychologist and custody evaluator, is the worst. And thankfully, he is out of business after his corruption and incompetence caught up to him. (I am proud to have played a role in that process) Bye!
Laura Furniss, crooked and incompetent lawyer, is second worst. Word on the street is she isn't exactly getting a lot of business these days, and the web page on this site seems to be having an impact. I don't expect her to be in business for long, unless maybe she suddenly sees the light and decides to radically change her approach to lawyering. She was the opposition, and I thoroughly kicked her butt in court. My ex (her client) suffered mightily thanks to Laura -- who fanned the flames while supplying utterly terrible advice and even worse litigation skills. Regardless, I'm not done with Laura. She is going to face the California Bar Ethics Commission, and then a malpractice suit from my ex.
Kevin wouldn't have been my choice, but my family offered som financial help to get through this, and -- my dad being a retired attorney -- it was conditional on hiring someone with old-school credentials, of the sort that meant something back in the day when my dad was practicing. This means "Martindale-Hubble AV rating," and this means 450 dollars an hour. And yeah, Kevin charged $450 for the one hour interview to decide whether to hire him. Ugggh.
First thing I noticed was that Kevin had a hard time with simple stuff. When negotiating a temporary custody schedule (that ended up being in place for almost 2 years), I had to figure out a plan that allowed each of us equal weekend time, equal weekday time, and avoided rush hour in transferring a kid back and forth between Chico and San Francisco twice a week. It seemed too complicated for Kevin or anyone else, and I kept having to correct the stuff he put in writing "no, that wording is ambiguous." I drew up little calendar graphics because no one seemed to understand what should have been straightforward (and I'd think this sort of thing would come up a lot in family law....right?)
Kevin didn't know what to do with opposing lawyer Laura. She was obnoxious and condescending, and Kevin would just forward her emails to me without comment, but of course I wasn't allowed to reply directly. (he did suggest Laura was mentally ill... no comment from me on that though!) I'd send him what I'd hope he would send in response, and at best, he'd send along a watered down version. He let her (and my ex) walk all over us. I didn't understand what I was paying for, but when his bills arrived, holy crap.
Eventually, I just started emailing Laura directly, without Kevin knowing. It seemed more effective. Technically she wasn't allowed to communicate with me directly, but she isn't a rule follower either. (the fact that she then forwarded our conversation to the custody evaluator....uh, that's one of many things that's gonna get her ass disbarred. But this page isn't about her.)
The best things I did were when I ignored Kevin's advice. For instance, he said "take your daughter to a pediatrician in San Francisco," even though she already was going to a doctor in Chico (where mom had moved), seemingly multiple times a month even though she was perfectly healthy. So instead, I kept making trips to Chico to meet with my daughter's doctors there (sometimes during appointments with the mom, sometimes without). And the information I got by doing so, ended up being immensely useful in litigation later. That's all I'll say here....but, yeah. Good move to talk to those doctors. Taking her to doctors in San Francisco would have done nothing.
His other advice tended to be things like "make sure to put a safety hat on your daughter" when she's on her push trike. (I'd use this instead of a stroller -- we put a ton of miles on that thing -- and she was more likely to hit her head when she was walking than when being pushed on it. And I know it is a nitpick, but usually we refer those things as "helmets," and she wears one when appropriate)
Prior to deciding to go forward with a custody evaluation, I pushed Kevin hard to negotiate with the other side, knowing that I had a REALLY REALLY strong piece of evidence, as well as a witness that was as strong and unbiased as you are going to get. I was sure they did not want to go before an evaluator or court with this. "Please Kevin, just get them to sit down and talk." "Hey Kevin, did you actually listen that audio recording that was legally made and is ridiculously over-the-top strong evidence in my favor?" Eventually he said "oh, my assistant listened to it...he said it was scary." I'm sorry, but....what the actual fuck?
He claimed he tried to get the other side to negotiate. I don't think he really did. I also don't think he had a strong incentive to get them to. Honestly, I don't think he gave a rat's ass what happened, as long as the retainer kept getting refilled, and as long as nothing jeopardized his cordial relations with everyone else in the Bay Area Family Law Cabal.
So I never could get Kevin to outline a strategy. He ended up getting us into a custody evaluation, something I really wanted to avoid for all kinds of reasons, but cost and time being big ones. Uggh. I didn't like the rules for picking an evaluator (each side picks three, then we each rule out two from the other side, then we choose the first available), but he thought they'd be fine. It became obvious that the other side knew exactly how to game the system and get the one they wanted. (they named two others that have utterly HORRIBLE web reviews, then made sure their preferred one was going to be available immediately) Kevin, of course, didn't get strategic about it, and it didn't seem like he had any knowledge or experience of any of the six evaluators. And he sure didn't warn me about how devious attorneys might send repeat business to evaluators in exchange for "favors." He seemed to have no clue about any of the corruption in the field he has practiced in for, what, 35 years? It was like he was just going through the motions, and he would seem to get offended at my suspicions that we were being taken for a ride. (or maybe it wasn't "we" that were being take for a ride. "I" was being taken for a ride. Kevin got paid either way.)
As the evaluation was getting toward the end, I was getting worried something was going on. First, the other side (Laura Furniss), seemed, really, really confident. Bizarrely so. It didn't seem like they were even trying, they just placed complete trust that the evaluator would go their way regardless. There was also the fact that the evaluation was way more expensive and took way longer than Kevin promised me it should be....and when I tried to do anything to rein things in or speed things along, Kevin would scold me. "You're going to make the evaluator think you are controlling!" Well, shouldn't Kevin have been doing something?
Am I being overly cynical to think that Kevin and everyone else in family law is quite happy if things take a long time and are expensive? No. No I am not.
Finally, I fired him. Or maybe he fired himself, I don't know. We disagreed over something and I used it as my excuse to lose him and do things my way. I'm sure he was relieved, he thought I was a loose cannon (which admittedly I was. And the more I look back on it, the more I pat myself on the back for exactly how much of a loose cannon I was). This was right at the end of the evaluation. It pissed off my dad but at this point, I'm more worried I'm going to lose my daughter...
The evaluation report came back badly for me. Like, really, really badly. Kevin eventually took a look at the report (yes he wasn't working for me anymore, but maybe he felt bad about the $40,000 I had spent on him, so he met with me for half an hour). He didn't seem to care that the evaluator had utterly ignored the over-the-top damning evidence. (the same evidence that didn't seem important to Kevin in the first place) He thought it was no big deal that the evaluator didn't call my key witness. Kevin didn't care that it didn't even look like the evaluator tried to hide the fact that he was just picking the side of the referring lawyer, evidence be damned. Kevin just suggested I fold.
I didn't. I represented myself. At this point I couldn't afford an expert to counter the bad evaluation report (as EVERYONE recommended, but that would be another shit-ton of money), so it was just me. I had to wait another 5 months, but I got a full week-long trial. Up against an aggressive lawyer who was empowered by the strong report against me, and the custody evaluator (who at this point HATED me because I put up my web page about how incompetent he was before that) came in on two separate days and testified, telling the court what a horrible person I am. I cross examined him, and frankly, revealed him to be a blithering idiot. (email me: rjbrown at gmail, if you want to see full trial transcripts and more.... good stuff!)
Among other things, "the tape" was played in court. The courtroom was utterly stunned. The judge was LIVID. And not at me. At Dr. Newton for ignoring it. At Laura Furniss at playing it down like it was no big deal. At....well at the person who was on the tape. The judge listened to it again, in its entirely (all 38 minutes worth), following the trial and prior to filing the ruling.
And yeah. It was a freaking strong ruling. 100% in my favor.
So, while there were worse people I've dealt with in my journey down the family law rabbit hole, still.... the smartest thing I did in the course of it, was get rid of Kevin and handle it myself. I'm sorry Kevin, but that's the absolute truth.
A couple more things. I posted a negative review of Kevin on Yelp somewhere along the way. I ran into him at the courthouse on my final day in court (where he was like "what? I thought you were going to fold?"), and following that he offered to send me some examples of "proposed statement of decision" documents (something I needed to file with the judge following the trial), but could I please take the bad Yelp review down? I did. He sent me an example, which I had already seen on the web, but I wasted a lot of time because I got the impression Kevin thought it was a good example. Took me a while to realize and it was from a celebrity case that had gone on for over 6 years and was a million times more complicated than my case, so it was like 300 pages long (ok. 52. whatev). I went to a law library and got way better stuff.
But also, I told Kevin, "check out the trial transcripts! I think it's gonna go my way! Just look at page such and such near the end! The judge really seemed to be seeing my side. It was awesome! What do you think?"
He said, "I don't have time to look at it."
Really? You don't want to spend ten minutes of your time seeing how I won the case you basically gave up on, after charging me 40 some thousand dollars for....what again?