Keeping peace in court
A lawyer responds with love when a colleague challenges her credentials
By Claire Dumontier
I am an attorney. In one of my cases, I was appointed guardian ad litem for two children. A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interest of a child. In this case, the children’s grandparents had asked the court to have custody of the children. They stated that their daughter-in-law was neglecting the children, and that their son had medical problems, thus presently unable to take care of them.
The mother denied these claims and requested that the children be in her custody. At the first hearing, I recommended to the court that it was in the children’s best interest that they live with their grandparents until the issues were sorted out.
I had no previous experience with the attorney for the children’s mother. She was furious with my recommendation. She filed a motion with the court accusing me of not knowing what I was doing and asked that I be removed from the case.
I was shocked. Since becoming an attorney in 1982, I had never been in a position to defend myself of not doing my job correctly.
But I remembered that Jesus said that to be his disciple, we had to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him (see Mt 16:24). Seeing in this situation an aspect of Jesus on the cross, I embraced him in this suffering I felt.
I had to try to love the other attorney to restore peace between us. It was very difficult due to the pain of the attack on my professional work by this lawyer.
At first, because I was so uncomfortable defending myself and my work, I thought I would just resign from the case. But my husband encouraged me not to resign. So, as painful as it was, I wrote up a response to the accusations.
In the end, this turned out to be an opportunity to tell the judge of my work experience, since he had never met with me. I told him that I had had more than 300 appointments as guardian ad litem in that county over seven years. I filed my resume with the court and a letter of recommendation from a prosecuting attorney with whom I had worked for 14 years. He talked about the quality of my work.
In the end, the judge did remove me but said repeatedly, “You did nothing wrong.” This was in itself very painful. This decision confused me — I did not expect it. The other attorney smiled broadly at the end of the hearing because she had “won” by having me removed from the case.
I knew I would see this lawyer again in the courthouse. I focused on a phrase I remembered from Chiara Lubich that to truly love Jesus on the cross, I had to go “beyond the wound” and do an act of love. So I resolved to forgive her and strive to “start over.”
The next time I saw her in the courthouse, I fought against my natural reaction. I smiled and said, “Good morning.” The other lawyer looked very confused by this! I continued to smile and greet her whenever I saw her. It was very, very difficult, but I did it with the honest intention to love my neighbor.
About six months later, I was appointed guardian ad litem in another case in which this same lawyer was involved. I had to meet her at the client’s home. I dreaded it and was very uncomfortable. I worried that she would do the same thing in this case.
However, I was surprised. She was cordial, smiling and respectful. We now have a very good, peaceful working relationship.
I am very grateful to the spirituality of unity for giving me the tool of loving even in situations of conflict, and teaching me to love in all circumstances, no matter how painful.
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