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The Maws are Agape . . . with the Sound of Money
Family law is the creature from the planet Zantar. It has twelve eyes, six tentacles, four arms, a beak, a stinger, poison glands, and a gaping maw that can’t get enough puppies to eat. It is immune to fire, radiation, and electricity, eats guided missiles for breakfast, and—according to the little bit of its language decipherable by the linguists at the Department of Defense Language Institute in Monterey—it has come to earth to enslave us all.

At least it seems that way to me. And in this regard—and, they would hasten to point out, in this regard only—I am pretty typical of most judges. We’d rather go six rounds covered in barbecue sauce against Mike Tyson than handle a family law case.

Part of this reticence is that you have to be good with money to be good at family law. You’ve gotta divvy up pension rights and understand tax consequences and appraise ashtrays and all kinda things judges aren’t typically good at.

Another part of it is that people are constantly asking you to be wise. Most judging jobs don’t require a lot more than patience and sobriety; it figures that the ones where they expect wisdom through the entire calendar might go begging.

I mean, think about it: The nature of the system is that you’re periodically going to ask a public employee who’s out in the driveway every Saturday, washing his own Honda to save a few bucks, to decide whether husband should have to give up his luxury box in the Staples Center to keep wife in Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos. And you’re gonna ask a judge whose teenage daughter came home last night with a pierced navel to complement the tattoo on her left butt cheek, to figure out which divorcing parent will do a better job of raising little Ethan and Emily.

You not only have to be a saint to do family law, you have to be willing to accept martyrdom. St. Lawrence-level martyrdom.
1

So when I tell you I’ve come across a family law case I’d like to try, you know 2005 is gonna be an unusual year. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s one of the four signs of the Apocalypse: war, famine, pestilence, and a family law case that looks like fun. This may be a good time to invite your pastor to dinner.

My pastor has long since stopped taking my calls, so I’m just gonna sit back and watch it on Court TV. When people ask me where I’m going for vacation I’m gonna say, “My living room. Bailey v. Bailey. Gavel to gavel coverage, if I’m lucky.”

That’s how I found out about this. Court TV.

Well, Court TV and Bob Mars. You know how Dave Barry has a legion of justifiably devoted readers who send him material for his column? I’ve got Bob Mars. Bob is a local lawyer who apparently made so much money doing personal injury that he now just sits around surfing CNN.com and emailing me the most frightening collection of Stupid Human Tricks since the Harding Administration.

So the way this works out is Court TV publicizes Bailey v. Bailey because they figure they’re going to use it to fill their gaping maw with the legal puppies they need to devour to sell the advertising rights that enable them to subsist.

CNN picks it up because their own gaping maw requires twenty-four hours of puppy flesh every day, so things that never used to be news, now get big coverage. Matters that used to be of interest only to immediate family members, creditors, and Bob Mars, now get splashed across the screen every twenty minutes like they were actually important rather than merely important if you have a gaping maw of television time to fill. They get read breathlessly by easily excitable celebrity newsreaders like Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper
2 and all the people at Fox News and MSNBC and CNBC and Headline News and all the other gaping maws of news. And Bob Mars sends them to me.

And I use them to fill my gaping maw of space that must be wasted
3 and never give them another thought. But this one is different. This one made me positively envious of the judge assigned to the case.

For one thing, the dateline is West Palm Beach. You don’t get to live in West Palm Beach if you couldn’t fund NASA for a year on your wine bill. For the yacht.

So you know the petitioner and respondent are gonna be richer than Croesus and crazier than a june bug.

Sure enough, Mr. Bailey used to be the CEO of Massachusetts Financial Services, America’s oldest mutual fund company. He has more money than Ecuador.

He also used to be 77. Now he’s 78. Divorce cases involving 78-year-olds are more or less guaranteed to be more fun than others. Divorce cases involving 78-year-olds sued by their fourth wife on grounds of adultery with their third wife . . . well, that’s not law, that’s entertainment.

Mrs. Bailey—the present, soon to be—ex Mrs. Bailey, as opposed to the de facto co-respondent previous ex-Mrs. Bailey
4 —is 60. She married Mr. Bailey in 1993—probably not for money, since she had several gazillion dollars of her own.5 And probably not out of naïveté, since he was her third husband, and she must have known by then what scum men are. But rather for some other reason that is no longer operable.

In 1997, she had Mr. Bailey examined for Alzheimer’s because of “profound memory loss.” Then, in January 1999, she got Mr. Bailey, then 73, to sign off on the addition of a “bad boy” clause to their pre-nuptial agreement, which would require him to pay her $16,000 a month for life if he cheated on her, deserted her, or physically abused her. She says he chose Door Number One.

He cheated on her. She knows this because a few months after he signed the agreement, she found, “a lace nightgown, brown hair, a toothbrush and stains on the bedsheets,” none of which—except the bedsheets—were hers. She also hired a private detective who claims to have “discovered that Richard Bailey met with his third wife, Anita, several times between July and December 1999.”
6

And are you ready for this? Mrs. Bailey—I think we know her well enough now to call her Nanette—Nanette says DNA from the stains on the bedsheets confirm that Mr. Bailey—Richard—was mutually funding with another woman at their summer home in Woodstock, Vermont. So, according to CNN, this is going to be “the first adultery case in history based on genetic evidence.”

Cowabunga!

But as bad as this might look for Richard, his lawyer says, “This was a setup that was carefully constructed and manufactured by Mrs. Bailey.” He says Richard has Alzheimer’s. Not just Alzheimer’s, REALLY BAD Alzheimer’s. He says his client “can’t admit or deny anything. It’s like asking your 88-year-old grandmother what she ate for lunch three days ago. He could tell you that he’s just watched ‘Star Trek,’ and it hasn’t been on for 20 years.”

All right, apparently Mr. Bailey’s lawyer has somehow missed out on the advent of syndication and cable television in the last twenty years, but you gotta give him credit for coming out with both guns blazing. He adds, “They claim they found some sheets that were sent to a lab. The test was never done. The lab doesn’t exist anymore. If there’s a DNA report, it doesn’t identify whose DNA was on it. It could be a housekeeper. It could be a pet.”
7

He also says the post-nup is no good because there were no witnesses and “she made him sign it in front of a notary who was a friend of hers.”

Wow! What a defense! “Nobody saw me; it’s not my DNA; the lab doesn’t exist; if it does exist, the report is lost; if it’s not lost, it’s inadequate; I didn’t do it; if I did, I was crazy; the post-nup is voidable; and the dog stained my bedsheets.”

That’s not a defense, it’s a starting line-up. The opening statement should be read by Vin Scully.

They don’t need a judge, they need a ringmaster. I not only would do this trial for nothing, I would take vacation time to see it.

They should have auctioned off the judging rights and made the state of Florida a few bucks. Hell, me and Paul Turner would have sold our cars to get into the bidding for this case.
8

And you wanna hear the kicker? This is the last line from CNN’s story: “The trial is expected to last three days.”

Three days? Three days with nine defenses, six ex-spouses
9, DNA, a private detective, marital infidelity, a psychiatric defense and a contested contract? It’ll take three days just to assign seating.

This is the family law equivalent of Dempsey versus Tunney. When the judge asks for a time estimate, you don’t say, “Three days,” you say, “Twelve rounds.” You don’t answer “Ready” until you’ve lined up a good cut man and found out whether the trial jurisdiction employs a standing eight-count.

And when I’m not outside washing my Honda, I’m gonna be glued to the set. Except for the scary parts. I’ll just close my eyes when the monster opens its gaping maw.

Beds' Notes

1 I’ll save you the trouble. Legend has it that Lawrence’s reunion with his maker was accomplished by roasting him on a grill. Catholic school leaves a lot of weird detritus stuck in your gray matter. back

2 Not to mention the spectacular-but-deeply-flawed-(she’s-dating-Rush-Limbaugh-for-crying-out-loud-which-is-pretty-much-my-definition-of-deeply-flawed-,-if-not-deeply-disturbed-,-and-would-be-even-if-she-hadn’t-failed-to-respond-to-any-of-my-twenty–six-letters)-Daryn Kagan. back

3 Not to be confused with “she who must be obeyed” for you Rumpole fans, but the relationship is similar.
back

4 See what I mean about how much fun these are? back

5 CNN describes her variously as a “socialite,” “ a horse enthusiast” and a “Ph. D in art history.” These are all code for, “Her family moved when Rockefellers bought adjacent property.” back

6 This, in turn, was discovered by People Magazine. Apparently, I’m like the last writer in America to find out about this. But hey, I got a day job, and my only staff is Bob Mars. This is the best I can do. back

7 Remember, these people have horses. back

8 Which would have been futile because Paul Coffee has a nicer car and would have outbid us, but which demonstrates just how many voting machines Florida could have bought off the proceeds. back

9 Counting Nanette, which I think is reasonable since, even in Florida, few divorces are denied.
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