Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heart Attack Funny Stuff

Maybe it's because "if you can't laugh, you'll cry", but a lot of funny things happened during my heart attack saga. Here are a few.....

Queens court veterans know that Justice Goldstein was particularly mean and vicious (that being said - he should rest in peace). In the months just prior to my blessed event, he was particularly abusive to me, and everyone in the courthouse knew it. As I was being wheeled out of the building, one of the courthouse regulars looked at me and said simply "Goldstein??"

When the thing happened, I was with my new associate, Norm. He had been working for me for three weeks, I was showing him the ropes. A few years later I had the pleasure of overhearing HIS version of my heart attack, and I quote......"Well, I had been working for him for about 3 weeks. He looked kinda sick on the subway, and when we got to the second floor of Queens Supreme he collapsed on a bench. People were yelling, get help, he's having a heart attack, and I'm thinking......what the fuck kind of job is THIS?"

When I was in the emergency room at Mary Immaculate there were people lying in the beds around me eating sandwiches. One of the residents told me they were not particularly sick, they were basically there for a meal.

The resident in charge of the emergency room told me that before giving me the clot busting medication called TPA, he was sorry but he had to first do a rectal exam to make sure I wasn't bleeding internally. I said "I'm having a great day so far, let's keep it going."

When I got transferred to LIJ for my procedure, this was not your usual hospital experience. There was no stopping at admissions, no questions about insurance, no prepping, no waiting. When I got there I was taken directly to the procedure room, where the docs were gowned and ready. I looked at Dr. Barry Kaplan and said "No foreplay?" He replied, "When someone is like you are right now, I'm just gonna DO ya." Here's a link to the LIJ cardiology site Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Rosen (who is my cardiologist) are great doctors and fine people.

There wasn't much funny stuff in the cardiac intensive care unit, but I made up for it in the two days I was in a regular room. It was emphasized by doctors, family and friends that I should relax and concentrate on getting better, I must NOT think about the office or worry about law or cases or clients or court. That was fine with me. The first night in a regular room I couldn't sleep. The truth is, and I have heard this is very common, I was afraid if I slept I would not wake up. So I sat in a chair next to the bed, reading. Up until that point I had not seen or heard from a nurse. This is in stark contrast to intensive care, where every nurse was familiar with your case, they monitored everything, they were the most caring and respectful people I had ever seen. At around 4 A.M., as I was reading, a male nurse walked in. He introduced himself as "Troy Johnson....Capricorn". I said "Hi, nice to meet you." He said "What did ya, have a heart attack?" "Yeah, five days in the CCU". He said, "I heard you are a lawyer, what kind of law do you do?" "General practice" Whereupon Troy Johnson (Capricorn) pulled up a chair, sat down next to me and said "I do some private home care nursing with some friends of mine, like a side business, do you think we should incorporate?" Then, I asserted myself in the most powerful way I could think of and said "I feel really tired and need to go to sleep".

The next day I left my room for awhile for some kind of test. When I was brought back to my room, I heard violent coughing coming from the next bed. I know a person cannot literally cough their lungs out, but this cougher was going for it. I asked the day nurse who my new neighbor was. She said he was a 90 year old man with pneumonia, just brought over from the nursing home, been coughing continuously since he got here. I then made my next big assertive move. I went over to the nursing station and said "Listen, not only am I not sleeping in that room tonight, I'm not walking back in there to get my stuff. I want a new room, and I want my stuff brought to the new room." I usually wouldn't send back cold soup at a restaurant, but I felt empowered by my handling of Troy Johnson (Capricorn), and realized that sometimes, you DO have to protect yourself.

So I got a new room with a nice man named Mr. Perry. We talked, we watched TV together, we made fun of the food, it was like college. That night at midnight, a resident woke me from a sound sleep and said "Wake up, we need you to sign a release for bypass surgery" I said the first thing that came to mind....."No fucking way!" He said, "But we can't do the surgery if you don't sign". Now that I was wide awake I asked him "WHO are you here to see?" He said "Aren't you Mr. Perry?" I then got out of bed, walked over to the nurses station, and said to the nurse "Can you do me a favor? Either fix the signs on the door, or teach these doctors to read, because if MY line goes flat, I don't want you to jump start Mr. Perry."

A few months later I went back to the hospital for a stress test. Question -- if you get stuck in traffic and are late for the stress test, can you skip the treadmill and consider yourself pre-stressed and ready for testing? When I completed that first stress test, the doctor gave me a high five. I bet that's not in the manual.

In my wallet I had a card from my haircutting place. Every time I went, they stamped it, so on the 10th time, you get a free haircut. I had 9 haircuts on my card when the blessed event happened. After going home, my first trip outside was for a haircut. When it came time to pay, I showed them my card. They said "Hey, you made it."

Damn right.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Heart attack anniversary

March 20th was my 7th year heart attack anniversary. I suppose there are people who get to keep track of their "day I won the lottery" anniversary. All things considered, when the day comes around I'm happy to celebrate it .

Basic facts first....then the funny stuff. On the subway going to Court on a Monday, 3/20/00, I didn't feel well, sluggish and out of breath. When I got to Court I walked from the first to the second floor, felt dizzy, staggered over to a bench and collapsed. My heart was pounding and I was sweating. Naturally I wanted to get up and go, but a court officer sergeant said to me "Listen Buddy, looks like you're having a heart attack, stay right here, we called 911". Until he said that, it had not occurred to me.

They took me to the closest hospital, Mary Immaculate, two blocks from the courthouse. There I received the heart attack protocol from 15 years ago, a clot busting drug called TPA. After two hours, a cardiologist there told me the TPA wasn't working and this was "not a good situation" so they were transferring me to Long Island Jewish, where I would have a "procedure" as soon as I got there. I then went in the fancy ambulance to LIJ, where I had an angioplasty (they thread a thing through your wrist, right into your heart and unblock the blockage) and a stent. I was awake the whole time and watched my heart get unblocked on a screen.

A heart attack is a blockage in one or more arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. During the three hours I was having a heart attack, a part of my left ventricle (pumping chamber) was damaged. After the procedure I was in the coronary intensive care unit, where I stayed for five days. For three days I had an external pump helping my heart, attached to the heart via a wire through the groin. (Removing this was the most unpleasant part of the ordeal.....think "pulling a garden hose"). That first night I also went into heart failure, which is when your heart doesn't beat strongly enough to pump all the blood and fluid, so it backs up into the lungs. Another bad situation, and despite all the technology available, the immediate treatment was for a nurse to help me cough out the fluid by beating me on the back as I coughed. The nurse also encouraged me to breathe deeply through extreme pain, to increase my blood oxygen. All I ever knew about the nurse was he was Nurse John. I never saw him again, all he did was save my life in the course of his night's shift. Eventually I left the CCU and then spent another two days in the regular hospital, and then back home.

This may sound strange, but quite a few funny things happened during the heart attack saga. Thankfully, while resting at home I made some notes, which have stayed in their file for seven years. I think I am supposed to put these stories on my blog, so tomorrow it will be....


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yellow Pages and Internet Ads....

The Yellow Pages is not as popular as it used to be. The internet serves the same function for a lot of people. However, plenty of people still use it, AND many of the same issues that applied to yellow pages adverstising will apply to internet ads.

I used to get good value from my yellow pages ads. These days I get a good return from internet listings, primarily from and I always put a lot of thought into these adventures. So, for what it's worth, and in the hopes it will help, here are a few thoughts about yellow pages and internet advertising....

1. READ WHAT'S ALREADY THERE!!!!! I can't emphasize this enough. I used to look at the Yellow Pages lawyer ads for all the NYC and surrounding counties. Don't just thumb through them, look carefully at the categories, look at the approaches the lawyers are taking. Of course, if you specialize, look at the lawyers in your field. The more carefully you look, and the more you think about it, the more you will notice. A few examples:
- You may notice full page ads, usually for plaintiffs personal injury. If you think these ads are VERY expensive, you are right. These firms can afford it, they only need a few home runs to make these ad outlays pay off. After the full page ads, there are usually ads alphabetically by specialty. In these sections a lawyer can take a partial page, or a few extra lines. THESE are the ads most small firms should focus on. They are affordable, and you can easily calculate how much business you'd have to do to make the ad profitable.
- Some ads feature the attorneys location. I think this is smart, a lot of clients make their first call based on convenient location.
- Some ads mention fees in various ways. How to handle this is an important decision. For some reason, the contingency fee lawyers rarely talk about the percentage. It's almost as if nobody wants to compete on this aspect. This is a curious phenomenon, considering that competition and advertising has deflated the fees in most areas of general practice. In personal injury though, one third is rarely challenged. I thought about breaking ranks and advertising a 25% contingency fee, and featuring this. I wonder what sort of retribution would have ensued from all the self-righteous "we look out for our poor clients" plaintiff's attorneys. If someone tries this, please let me know.
- Try to think of the client process in searching for a lawyer for the kinds of cases you want to get. In the late 80's a lot of rental apartments were converting to co-op ownership, and there were many closings to be had. When I looked in the yellow pages, I saw that all the lawyers put their ads for co-op closings in the "real estate" sub-category of the lawyer ads. Most lawyers would consider this a "real estate" matter. I had noticed that MANY clients, who had always lived in rental apartments they were now buying from their landlords, thought of this as a landlord/tenant matter. There was a category for L&T, but it was full of eviction ads, tenant rights ads, and Housing Court ads. I called the yellow pages and asked if I could list in the Landlord/tenant section, and put the following words in my small ad "Co-ops and condos, contracts and closings, reasonable fees". This cost (in approx 1985) about $75/mo for the Manhattan and Queens yellow pages. For a year I was the only ad listed like that. I got a TON of business from those ads. The next year, a few more lawyers used my strategy. I always wondered whether they thought of it themselves, or whether the yellow pages sales reps tipped them off.
- The internet has similar considerations. The big question there is always "what kind of searches will clients do". You want to show up on the first page of the major search engines. It's worth putting in the thought and money to have this happen, and the only way is to think as the clients will think.
- Get feedback on your ads. I always ask where a referral came from, this is standard and we all do this, for a lot of reasons. I would add this....if I establish any kind of rapport with the client, I try to see what about my ad, or my internet listing, helped make the contact. I make this a regular practice. You really learn about your ads, and your potential client base, and you can make adjustments on this basis.
- Maybe this is an oversimplification (though I don't think so), you have to get out your pad and pen and calculator and RUN THE NUMBERS. This applies to a lot of things in practice, and I am sometimes surprised how lawyers don't do tomorrow I will talk about it more.....

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Random Baseball Thoughts

This is my first sports related post. However, this will not be a "Lets Go Mets" post, nor will I ever talk about statistics. Most of the time I prefer to read about sports the next day, rather than watch it. That being said, there are few things better than watching and talking about BASEBALL. Anyone want to chime in on these random baseball thoughts?

The best thing about the Super Bowl is that it means "pitchers and catchers" will report soon.

Maybe this is self-evident, but one thing that makes baseball different than other team sports clock. Incidentally, if you have never seen George Carlin's routine about the differences between baseball and football, he has it right. I got this from youtube, check it out....

The designated hitter was a nice experiment, but the game is better without it. The strategy of the pitchers batting, pinch hitters and double switches, make the National League games MUCH more interesting.

Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. He played full tilt his entire career, had the most hits ever, played four different positions, and was a winner. Sure, he should have confessed to betting on baseball. I'd have accepted that and suspended him for 10 years, but the fact is, he deserves recognition for his accomplishments. If he had bet against his team or "dumped" a game, I'd reconsider and agree to the lifetime ban.

Afternoon games are better than night games.

Want to read a great baseball book? If you have never read Ball Four, by Jim Bouton, that's the one. Way ahead of its time, Bouton made a comeback with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, and kept a diary. Great day to day baseball stuff, and reminiscences about the Yankees. Takes place in the pre-free agent era, and shows the genesis of the issues leading to the union's ultimate success.

If I could pick one sports thing to be able to do....just once.....I'd like to hit a home run and circle the bases in front of a big home town crowd. There is nothing like that in any other sport.

Why has there never been a switch-pitcher?

I like the fact that the baseball parks are not uniform in dimension. The visiting team has to deal with it.

I like that baseball has a top and bottom of the inning, and that the home team gets "last licks". Only the morons who run football would decide their tie games with a coin toss influenced sudden death format, and never change it. Want the solution, football???? If a team scores in overtime, the other team gets the ball back one more time. If they don't score, game over.....if they score the same points the other team just did, play on....if they score more, they win. This way, if a team gets down to the 20 yard line, but they have a poor defense, they will think about going for the TD. Some day, they'll figure this out.

I am surprised there has not been another player who was a great pitcher AND hitter, like Babe Ruth. There probably have been, but they did not get the chance.

What is your favorite baseball movie? I'd go with Bull Durham, but welcome some discussion on this.

Next post.....back to the law (sort of)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Eulogy for my Mom

My mother died nine years ago, March 11, 1998. Believing that souls are eternal, etherial and everywhere, I know she reads my blog. In her honor I am posting the eulogy I read at her funeral.

Eulogy for Rita Seidel

It is humbling to speak to family and friends about Rita, knowing that nothing I could say would approach what is in each of your minds. Words did not come at first, only images and pictures and feelings. Something about my approach was making this difficult to write.

It then came to me that this was going to be the easiest piece I ever wrote, because there is nobody here I have to convince, no one story that would sum it all up, that the thing that made Rita unique was how many people she touched in so many different ways. All I want to do is tell the framework of the story, and let all our memories fill in the rest.

We all have distinct phases of our lives. One striking thing about Rita is that somehow, all the phases of her life kept weaving through each other, and as her life went on she kept drawing on her experiences and becoming stronger. This goes beyond the obvious physical strength and will power. Her insights into people, her direct dealings, her advice, her appreciation of the joy of living, were never stagnant. They always increased.

I found several identifiable phases, and I want to talk briefly about each.

Rita was born in Berlin, Germany in 1932. My impression is that my Nana & Opa, and Grandma Esther, Aunt Rose and Uncle Max, Aunt Gusti and Uncle Freddy, and Uncle Max Newman, would have had comfortable business and personal lives. Rita's brother, my Uncle Mickey, was born a few years later, also in Germany. By 1938, when Rita was six years old, her entire family and extended family were forced to leave their homes and their businesses and their futures, by the insanity of Nazi Germany. She has told me her early childhood memories were happy, before it all happened. What this must have been like for a happy young girl. Father taken away, badly hurt, physically and mentally. Forced out, objects of hate in their own country. Could this be the same person we knew later? How many Ritas died without having the chance to have the life she had. We should never forget this, and although Rita was never a zealot about such things, she never forgot. Part of her legacy should be for us never to forget.

At age six Rita started school in Washington Heights in Manhattan. She spoke no English when she started school. Her parents had a store on Dyckman Street, and had the foresight to speak English at home, so Rita became pretty American pretty quick. I think her life at home was very difficult. But not so difficult that she didn't make life long friends, not so bad that she couldn't develop a love of learning, and reading, and music, and the arts. A person doesn't just show up later in life as a complete person, there is always a foundation. Actually, the problems a person overcomes, whether as a child or even later, becomes a part of their strength and character. Rita developed these strengths at a young age, and cultivated them as time went by.

My parents were married in 1954. Some of you knew Rita and Manny then, and some of you didn't, but I want to share something Rita recently told me. She obviously remembered the details of things that went wrong, which at age 41 I was finally ready to hear. But, in her typical direct, honest, "saying exactly what she meant" way, she regarded her married life as some of the happiest times she ever had. She just never saw the point in emphasizing the negative. The negatives are often obvious, and focusing there keeps you negative. She wanted me to know, in detail, about the happy times, and what made it nice, because in a way, if you know that, you start to know where to look for yourself.

The next phase I will sum up with one simple sentence. Brian and I are two of the luckiest people in the world.

While raising us, Rita started another phase, her career. She was a freelance commercial artist, and used to do retouching at home with an airbrush. I remember watching her retouch photos for a tool catalogue and asking her why people wanted to look at pictures of screwdrivers. On our dining room table she designed the logo and label for a small company called Solgar Vitamins, now one of the world's largest vitamin companies. Ironically, during Rita's final days, a huge ad campaign containing her logo was all over buses and billboards in New York City. Lately, as I walked around Queens, those buses were everywhere. It shook me up at first, until I decided to smile every time I saw one. So, if you see one, smile. Trust me, it helps.

About 12 years ago, Rita decided to leave New York and start out fresh in Princeton. To me, the whole thing was baffling and confusing, but since she seemed sure it was the right move, what could anyone do but wait and see what happened. Who could have known? I must admit, for her first few years in Princeton I really didn't know what she did here. Until, about 7 years ago, she had some kind of surgery and I spent the night at her place while she was at the hospital. After about the 20th phone call from people I did not know and had never heard about, I said to number 20, "What the heck is going on here?" She said "You don't know, do you?" Fearing the unknown, I asked, "What don't I know?" "How important your Mom is to so many people". Things between us were different from then on.

Oh yes, I should also mention that although Rita had an art related career, when she moved to Princeton she knew virtually nothing about computers or computer graphics, other than it was going to be the way things were done. She became a computer graphics expert in her fifties and sixties, by determination to reach a goal, to be skillful and artistic on the computer, and she did it. And kept doing it. And why not? She was an artist and she loved her work. People are drawn to people who are enthusiastic. Certainly Rita's enthusiasm about ALL things drew people to her.

Then, this cancer thing. I will never forget these last three years, but strangely, something inside me feels these were positively wonderful times. Inspirational times, proud times. So many friends, so many people, so many stories. Such a fight. Such a team. Such helpers. Such memories. That party at the lake. Hearing her tell me in June she was going to Clare's wedding around Labor Day (thinking to myself "yeah right"). The many conversations we had about anything and everything. But most of all, sharing the experiences with all the people.

The last few weeks were a phase unto themselves. Rita could do anything beautifully if she chose to....and once again she chose to. I want to publicly thank all the doctors, nurses and other professionals who helped Rita during these times. You are truly special people.

In conclusion, I want to refer to my favorite movie "It's a Wonderful Life". George Bailey had trials and tribulations, culminating in his wanting to kill himself. A guardian angel came to him and said he could help, but killing himself was not the way to go. George reluctantly listens, and says "Maybe it would have been better if I were never born". The angel thinks about it and says "Yeah, that'll do it", and he lets George experience what the world would have been like without him. This is a bizarre and frightening world, considering all the things that happened (or didn't happen) because of his absence. So, and this is a long way to get to my favorite part of the movie is when George realizes what an impact his life had on people, and how each person touches and affects so many other lives, and the one thing he knew he didn't want, was not to have lived his life, because he had such a wonderful life.

And that's how I feel about Mom.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Wacky Caterer Files for Bankruptcy

This is a continuation of the previous post "The Wacky Caterer". As in that post, the story is true, the client names are changed, and the lawyer names are real.

From the little I knew about bankruptcy, the Judge's advice was correct. I could not continue defending the wackster on a case by case basis. We needed to stop the insanity, something I later learned was the hallmark of EVERY bankruptcy case. Unfortunately, I had never had a case with bankruptcy issues, nor had I even taken the class in law school. I only knew of one attorney who was a "bankruptcy attorney", but I didn't really know him. However, I had always meant to call him, and here was my chance.

I had never actually spoken to Barry N. Seidel, but I knew he was a bankruptcy attorney. I knew this because sometimes people mistakenly called my office looking for him. I also knew that when I was a freshman at Stony Brook, he was a junior, and we once accidentally got each others history grades. When the error was corrected, he got the A and I got the B. So, seeking to refer the wacky caterer, I made the following phone call.....
"May I speak to Barry Seidel, please?"
"Who is calling?"
"Barry Seidel"

He remembered the grade mix-up in college, but he had not mistakenly been getting calls from people looking for ME. I told him I was in general practice, that I had a client who needed a bankruptcy attorney, and I had heard he did that. He said, "I am a bankruptcy attorney. I work at a big firm in Manhattan. Right now I'm heavily involved in the Texaco/Pennzoil bankruptcy. Who would the client be in the case you want to refer?"
"A wacky caterer."
"I'm not so sure I could get involved in a case like that."
I said, "I know, any chance you could refer me to someone?"

He thought about it a bit and said, "I know a guy named Jim Pagano, he just left a good bankruptcy firm to go out on his own. He'd probably be able to do a wacky caterer case."

Not only did Jim Pagano turn out to be a great bankruptcy lawyer who could help the wacky caterer, he became a trusted colleague and friend to this day. We have worked on a lot of cases together. I have found that in every area of practice, a working knowledge of bankruptcy comes in very handy. I have learned certain little things about bankruptcy that are worth sharing:
1. It is often a very strong card.....particularly when unplayed.
2. Sometimes it's the best and only economic alternative.
3. People resist doing it, but there is usually a "catalyst" that forces them.
4. As far as negotiating and business skills, it is a very interesting field, and if I were starting out and looking for something to specialize in, I would look at this field very seriously.
5. People often think of bankruptcy as being about the debtor who is filing, but many bankruptcy lawyers focus on the creditors rights side.
6. The "new law" had made pretty drastic changes, and it's still being sorted out.

I have not spoken to Barry N. Seidel since, but I have always been gratetful to him for introducing me to Jim Pagano. Here is Barry N. Seidel's impressive bio

One other related story......a few years after the wacky caterer stopped catering, he called me for some advice. He was managing a restaurant where a story had been published in El Diario (largest Spanish language newspaper in New York) saying the restaurant was a drug dealing location. The story was erroneous and El Diario printed a retraction. Nevertheless, according to Juan, business was way off. He wanted to know if anything could be done, and whether the retraction insulated El Diario from a claim (OK, he didn't say THAT, but it was what he wanted to know). I did not think he was calling me "officially", meaning he was not going to PAY for my opinion, but I told him I would "look into it". A pretty stupid thing to offer, I admit, and I regretted saying it, but this is what I did.....
My legal brain knew that I did not know, which generally prompts me to do MY style of research, which is where I say to myself "Who can I call?". I categorized this as a "First Amendment case", because it had something to do with a newspaper. The only First Amendment lawyer I had ever heard of was Floyd Abrams. If he were a baseball player, his nickname would have been "Mr. First Amendment". So, what I did was, I called Floyd Abrams.
Wanna get through to a famous lawyer? Call at 7 PM. I got right through. I told him I was a solo practitioner in Forest Hills and I had this potential case. He said, "Forest Hills? I went to Forest Hills High School."
So did I.
So, we shot the breeze for awhile, and eventually he told me the law on newpaper retractions and liability. I gave the info to the wacky caterer, but did not tell him who I had called. I did tell all my lawyer friends though, and they always said the same thing......

Yeah....and I'd do it again too

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Wacky Caterer

This is a true story, only the client names are changed....

The angriest person I ever encountered was in Bronx Small Claims Court. Luz Calderon had made the unfortunate decision to do one stop wedding shopping with my client, Banderas Wedding Center (Juan Banderas, President). Juan's business model was to take his modest catering operation, and expand it into a Walmart of wedding services. At Banderas Wedding Center, you could get your invitations, wedding gown, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos, photos, videos, limos, honeymoon, band, rings, and anything else needed for that special day......on a tight budget. He was a general contractor for nuptuals, using a hapless collection of cretinous subcontractors.
I don't know how the food was at Luz' wedding, all I knew was she had not received her wedding pictures and she was not happy. When Juan first came to my office he told me he had some "small problems". He showed me six different small claims cases, three Civil Court cases, one Supreme Court case, and a friendly letter from the New York Attorney General. Luz Calderon's case was the fourth time I had gone to court for Juan. Before I went to the Bronx on Calderon v Banderas, I asked him what happened to Luz' wedding pictures. He said "The photographer has them.", prompting me to ask "Why doesn't Luz have them?"
"Well, the photographer wants to be paid.", prompting me to ask "Why don't you pay him?"
"Well, he wants to be paid on this job, AND all the other jobs."
After a lot more prompting, I learned that Banderas owed ALL his subcontractors, and they were all taking the same piecemeal payments, pay in full or we hold hostages.
Wedding photos were powerful hostages, since the customers desperately wanted them, but this was not prompting Banderas to pay for their release. He had the trump card, one which many a client has played over the years........"I don't have the money."
He had small amounts of money, enough to pay me to go to court and defend him "as best as you can". Sometimes he didn't even come with me. It was me against the embittered brides. Sometimes I got to joust with the grooms too, though they always sensed my empathy, not so much for their ruined wedding day, but for their ruined lives.

Luz told the Judge her story. I told the Judge my clients story, such as it was. The Judge wanted to talk to my client, but I had to tell the Judge he "couldn't make it" that night. The Judge told Luz she would win her case, such as it was, meaning she would get a judgment which might not be so easy to collect. The Judge wanted to talk to me privately, off the record. When I approached he whispered, "What kind of piece of shit, moron, asshole of a client do you have here?" I wanted to say "All of the above", but instead I said "I'm just trying to represent my client the best I can, and I realize he is going to lose this case, he surely realizes it too, but there is a problem in the business".
The Judge asked me what I thought the problem was, and it boiled down to this......The business had all kinds of claims against it, no money to pay, and the second any money came in, various creditors were grabbing it. The Judge then gave me some advice, "You can't keep representing him in these individual cases, you'll end up on one of those consumer fraud TV news shows. This client should file for bankruptcy".

Tomorrow....The Wacky Caterer files for bankruptcy....

Monday, March 5, 2007

Take My Bodega....Please

This story is TRUE. Names are changed.

In my first year in practice I was hired by an Egyptian man named Abdel who wanted me to represent him when he sold his bodega. When I asked him why he was selling it he told me that his religion forbade him from selling beer, and this made it difficult to run a successful Brooklyn bodega. "I am not allowed to sell it, but everybody wants it", he told me. I asked him questions about the important issues we would be facing.....the prospective buyers, the lease, the price, while avoiding the question I REALLY wanted to ask......."What were you THINKING when you bought this place?" Realizing there are some mysteries men are not meant to understand, I got the information I needed, and received my clients clear instructions to "make the papers" as soon as possible.
When buying or selling a small business, clients don't want a lot of small talk and light hearted banter from their lawyers. They are always "very busy" and want you to just "make the papers" and get the deal closed. Of course, representing a buyer or seller of ANY business is a huge responsibility. I judge a matter's complexity by the number of "what-ifs" you have to consider in the contract. By this standard, selling a bodega is much more complicated than selling a house. You have lease assignments, trial periods, inventories, tax and liability issues, bulk sales notices, creditor claims, and financing issues, just for starters.
Abdel told me he was selling the place to an Indian, whose lawyer was named "Patel". He gave me lawyer Patel's number. I called lawyer Patel, and told him I represented Abdel, who was selling a bodega on Ocean Avenue. He said, "Oh, the Arab who won't sell beer, that place?"
We then confirmed the details Abdel had told me: price $275,000, 10% down, seller to hold notes for $175,000 for 8 years at 8% interest, closing conditioned upon landlord's consent, and a two week trial period with a representation of $8,500 in sales per week. When I had enough info to prepare a contract, I asked lawyer Patel for his clients name, and he told me Sukhbir Patel. When I asked him whether he was related to the client, he said "Oh no no, in my village 80,000 people are named Patel, he is not my relative."
When I called Abdel and told him I was ready to send out a contract, he said "Why are the papers taking so long?" I told him I was doing my best, and lawyer Patel is doing his best to work quickly with me. I then added that "When you see the contract you will notice the buyer and lawyer are both named Patel, but I asked lawyer Patel if they are related, and he told me that 80,000 people in their village are named Patel", and I chuckled.
Abdel then told me something profound, which I have remembered to this day.........."Mr. Barry Seidel, I don't give a fuck what their names are."

Once I understood that, we proceeded to contract and to a nice closing.

One footnote.....About a year after the closing, on my way back from golf I was driving on Ocean Avenue and realized I was near Patel's bodega. I couldn't resist a visit. I was warmly greeted by bodega-meister Patel, who told me that business was going well, after a slow start. He said he almost called me a month after the closing, because during the pre-closing trial period the store made the money it was supposed to, but he realized later that "many Egyptian men were shopping then, but after the closing there were no Egyptian men. I think Abdel was very tricky about that." I must have missed that class in law school, and told Patel that I did not know about such a thing, and he laughed and said "I don't blame you for that, this store didn't need Egyptians, it needed BEER......please, take a Heineken, on me."

Best beer I've ever had.