Why do you now only do divorce-related cases?
“I love seeing my clients transform before my very eyes. Divorce is a process, people start out unsure, and are frequently in an abusive relationship. Part of my job is to empower my clients and help them move forward in a positive way with their lives. For example, one woman came to me after an emotionally abusive 40-year marriage and didn’t know what to do to help herself. I told her, ‘Look, if you come to me and you are beaten down, I have to build you back up.’ By the time we were done with the case, she had started exercising, got a counselor, and looked like an entirely different person. Not only did she get to keep the house, get great spousal support and half of her husband’s dentistry business, she was able to move on. That empowerment is partially what clients come to me for.
She wasn’t the first client I have had, with a turnaround like that. And it’s not just the women, it’s men too. When you are in a relationship for years with a spouse who has undermined your self-confidence and self-worth, it’s hard to even recognize that it’s happened. When clients see how hard I work on their behalf, and how I believe in them, it’s like something clicks and they begin to build back up their own opinion of themselves.”
You have quite a varied background as an attorney. When you were a criminal lawyer, you went to court often. How did that help you become a great divorce lawyer?
“I love to fight. I am not afraid of a trial because I have been in so many of them, including state and federal cases. When you set a case up for a trial from the very beginning, you set it up for success. The end game in my mind during divorce cases is getting the best results for my client, whether it’s through negotiation or trial. If you are setting up a case for mediation or trial, it’s the same thing. A tough litigator is a tough negotiator, and that’s what you want. The opposing party needs to know we are not afraid to go to court and we are not afraid to walk away from negotiations if we think it is in our clients best interest. When a case gets too complex or too litigious, other lawyers send it to us. Do you and your spouse have 50 plus corporations or properties together? We know how to track the financials and discover the value, no matter the number or complexity of the intertwining.”
You are a former Guardian ad Litem for children, and you are fluent in Spanish. Talk about the time you learned a mother had been lying to the courts.
“As a former Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for children, I made sure the best interests of the child were being met in custody and divorce cases. In the state of Virginia and here in Washington, a GAL is an attorney for the child. I did the investigations and reported back to the court. Being a GAL is a matter of due diligence, and thinking outside the box.
A trailer had been vacated by the mom when she left the state with the child. I interviewed neighbors at the trailer park in Spanish regarding the mother’s sudden departure. I learned it was planned, but she did it so dad wouldn’t stop her from leaving with the child without his permission, not because of abuse. When I went back to question the mother and confront her with the information I had received from her former neighbors, her story changed so many times it was impossible to believe.
Being an attorney, you reach questionable dead ends. You learn how to not leave any rock unturned. You get a ‘spidey’ sense—something is not right. The judge ordered the mother back to Virginia, and the father ended up sharing 50-50 custody because there was no disputing she tried to leave so that the dad would not find her. That’s not in the best interest of the child.”
Tell me about the time you trained police officers.
“When I was a prosecutor in Lynchburg, Virginia, I trained the police department on the legal aspects of search warrants, misdemeanor arrests, and driving while intoxicated (DUI) arrests. I targeted areas where they needed to improve, and areas of the law they weren’t using. For example, many police didn’t use the nuisance laws to decrease drug activity. Cops didn’t think they could do anything if people were loitering on the sidewalk. But in that state, there are other things like crossing the street without a crosswalk, no excessive cursing, and other community-based laws that aren’t misdemeanor class 1 [with the highest fines and jail time], so I taught them auxiliary ways to get people off the sidewalks.”
And you wore a bulletproof vest.
“Yes, I had to wear one every time I went on search warrants with the police. We would enter the homes of the local drug dealer or brothel, and going with them helped me to understand how to better help and train them. It’s one thing to read about the search in a report, it’s another to actually be there with the police.”
Before you went to law school, you joined the Peace Corps. Why?
“I wanted to help people in a position of need. I wanted a paradigm shift in my life, which I feel like I received. I didn’t just want to read what was going on in the world, I wanted to experience it. Working in the mountains and jungles of the Dominican Republic not only taught me Spanish, but through the process, we taught the farmers how to create high-quality, organic chocolate. And ultimately, support their families and get out of poverty.”