The South Is Scary

     OK, you lawyers out there, answer this question: is it still possible to sue and win a large judgment in modern-day America for alienation of affections?
     Do I see any hands out there?
     The answer, naturally, is yes. Why else would I be asking this?
     Apparently I’ve been in California too long. Alienation of affection litigation is definitely alive and well elsewhere.
     We have a recent $1.5 million judgment being affirmed by a state supreme court for alienation of affections (and a couple of related causes of action). The case is Pierce v. Cook and the ruling from the Mississippi Supreme Court provides an important legal practice tip for lawyers.
     Here’s the tip: It’s probably not a good idea to mess around with a client’s spouse. It could cost you.
     The client doesn’t even have to live with the spouse. According to the Mississippi ruling, the male client had actually left his wife and son behind to go work in the movies in California. (Really. I couldn’t possibly make this up. Well OK, I could, but I’m not.)
     Said the court: “In June 2000, Cook decided to pursue a career in the film industry in California. Cook moved to California while his wife and children stayed in Mississippi….
     “In September 2000, Cook and Kathleen separated and ceased marital cohabitation. On or about September 30, 2000, after Cook had moved to California, but while Pierce was still representing Cook and his family, Pierce commenced an adulterous affair with Kathleen.”
     The end result of taking up with an already-separated wife was a verdict of $1 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress, $300,000 for alienation of affections, and $200,000 for breach of contract.
     Law Practice Tip #2: Stay out of the South.
     DEPARTMENT OF IRONY. Speaking of the South, the producer of the Girls Gone Wild theatrical epics has sued a Southern judge and some lawyers who supposedly are his friends for allegedly tossing him in jail to coerce a settlement.
     I can’t possibly do justice to this lawsuit without quoting the whole thing but I highly recommend reading it if you get the chance. It’s not easy to find literature this entertaining.
     Here’s a taste: “With the very First Amendment to the United States Constitution as his protection, enshrined into law by Supreme Court decisions intended to stem the harassment of everyone from Hefner to Flynt, Francis sued the local power structure of the small southern town in federal court, succeeding in a stipulated settlement. But their promises of law abiding carry as much weight in the power structures of the small-town south as did the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment for African-Americans in the Florida panhandle, where Rosewood residents still tell the tale.”
     So who do you think comes in between on the Hefner-to-Flynt spectrum?
     Now here’s my favorite line: “Several seventeen year old women, a birthday away from the age of majority, snuck into the scene, lying and smiling happily along the way, inducing a cameraman to photograph them and their sexual expression.”
     It’s so easy to take advantage of cameramen.
     DEPRESSING THOUGHT. The “MCLE Self-Study” portion of the August issue of California Bar Journal tells us that if a client indicates he or she may commit suicide, you “would not be able to disclose the information because suicide is not a ‘criminal act.'”
     For some reason, the bar lesson doesn’t give you the advice you need most in this situation: how are you supposed to get your fees paid?
     I recommend quickly pouring the client a drink and asking to see his or her wallet.

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