In an alternate universe I am a lawyer. I represent the plaintiffs in Erin Brockovich-type cases against big companies who pollute drinking water that causes cancer in poor communities. I prosecute murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. In my spare time, I work pro bono for people who are wrongly accused, gaining freedom for death row inmates. That’s The Good Wife fantasy version of my life. In reality, I am a wife (mostly good), mom and writer, with an advanced degree in film producing and an obsession with justice.
My dander is up over the guy who sold us our home ten years ago, call him Mr. X. As both the owner and a general contractor, Mr. X was responsible for overseeing the construction of an addition that looked slick on the outside but which had a host of problems lurking beneath. Like, sixty thousand dollars worth of problems, stemming from improper waterproofing. While Mr. X is not a murderer (to my knowledge), he did cut corners that could have resulted in bodily injury to our family. On the upside, our homeowner’s insurance is paying for most of the repairs. When the new balcony is attached and the ceiling is put back on our family room, we will have a safer, more sturdy and beautiful home.
The part that gets me is Mr. X knowingly, willfully, represented the house as safe and secure when it was not. And that’s wrong. When I Googled his name I discovered that he’s still working as a contractor – installing pools, no less — with a bunch of testimonials from satisfied customers on his website. The real estate attorney I consulted said we have a case for fraud against Mr. X. My husband thinks it’s a waste of time. It costs money to sue, and there’s no guarantee we will prevail. He jokes that because I am one-eighth Italian, I have revenge in my blood. It’s not like I’m some Mafioso, I snap at him, certain that my logical German and English DNA balances out the passionate Mediterranean part.
The lawyer asks what I hope to gain from a suit. “A little money,” I tell him. After a short pause I add, “I don’t really care about the money. I want him to admit that he did it.” If Mr. X would go online and publicly acknowledge his transgressions, if he would apologize to us for the pain, suffering and loss of money, there would be no need to sue. With the same gentle tone I use with me 6-year-old, the lawyer tells me that, even if Mr. X agrees to a settlement, he’ll never admit to fraud in writing. So what’s a passionate, justice-seeking person to do? The lawyer cautions me against going on Yelp and airing my grievances publicly. “But it’s the truth,” I whine. “Yes, truth is your defense. But do you really want to spend the money defending yourself?” he says.
As a kid I watched my dad, a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, act as a modern-day Robin Hood, gaining large settlements from defendants’ insurance companies for his low-income clients. I admired his ability to dispense justice while paying for private school and driving a Porsche. When it came time for me to choose a profession, however, he said, “Whatever you do, don’t go to law school.” Was it bad advice? Should I have overlooked my aversion to pantyhose and pumps, and become an attorney? Would a J.D. have satisfied my desire to right the wrongs of the world? Probably not. Law in the real world is often a game; it’s tough to legislate morality. Only on TV and in movies do you get that kind of satisfaction. And so, as far as Mr. X goes, I must rely on the laws of the Universe and hope that through karma, justice is served.