The shooting incident referred to above took place in 1959 outside of Boston’s Probate and Family Court, the same court to which I was appointed as a judge 31 years later in 1990. After the incident, the judge involved kept a gun on the bench. He did not keep it in a holster under his robe or strapped to his ankle, he kept it on the bench within easy reach.
The lawyer referred to in the newspaper clipping, Joe Oteri, went on to become a well know criminal defense lawyer. Over the years, he was quoted in several newspaper accounts as saying that after he was shot he never took another divorce case.
There are many family law attorneys who are good, caring and professional. Nevertheless, the characteristic that impresses me most is their courage. The practice of family law can be tougher than any other form of law practice. Emotions are raw; litigants are under extreme stress. The issues are so sensitive, so personal and so important to the individuals involved that the prospect of someone lashing out violently is ever-present.
It is common to hear yelling echoing throughout the courthouse. Some of the litigants we see are intensely vindictive, abusive, and vicious. When the spouse of such a person decides to break away, it can quickly turn into a hellish situation. Often, what these clients need and want more than anything – more than money or the house or the keys to the car – is safety. However, very few are in a position to just walk away. Attorneys who stay calm in the face of abuse – often directed at them personally as well as at the spouse – who complete all the necessary tasks of obtaining financial and other pertinent information in a dangerous environment, and who pursue a just result are indeed courageous.