Friday, April 15, 2005

Am I just being a hardass? (I think not!)

Today, we finally closed on the sale of my grandmother's apartment. None of the proceeds of the sale come to me. Rather, the money goes to a cousin of mine. Not that I'm complaining. She left me other things. Today's event was part of my duties as Executor of her estate.

So we were at the offices of the management company (her apartment was a co-op, and the closing had to be at the management company's offices). In the course of my being handed documents, they gave me one that said there was a working smoke detector and a working carbon monoxide detector in the apartment.

I knew there was a smoke detector there, but I was equally certain that there wasn't a carbon monoxide detector. Apparently, this is a legal requirement. (It would have been nice if they told me in advance, so I could install one. Actually, it would have been nice if they told my grandmother back when the rule went into effect. She was very by-the-book, so I'm certain they didn't tell her, or she would have installed one.) So I told the purchaser that we could give her a few bucks to get one. That seemed to me to be the end of the issue.

No, the attorney for the management company said the document (an affidavit, actually, sworn to under penalty of perjury) had to be signed by me. I refused.

It was just a formality, he said. Of the six of us in that room, four (including myself) were attorneys. Of the four of us attorneys, I was the only one who seemed to care that the document was inaccurate.

Since I didn't seem to be getting through to this guy, or anyone else in the room, I looked him right in the eye and said, "This document is not accurate. I am an officer of the court, and I will not sign a document containing statements I know to be false." I told him I didn't care if that caused a problem. What amazed me further is that my fellow officers of the court had no problem with my signing it, even after I told them it wasn't accurate. What the hell was their problem?

When they finally got the message, they decided to re-write the document, so that it simply stated that the smoke detector was there and the purchaser would install a new carbon monoxide detector. Now was that so hard? Of course not, but the management company's bureaucratic attorney--with the tacit approval of the others present--would rather encourage me to lie under oath, rather than have to actually divert from his ordinary way of doing things. The whole thing made me nauseous.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the honor is going out of all forms of business. Being a lawyer--all jokes aside--is supposed to be an honorable profession, and the colleagues of mine with whom I voluntarily associate are honorable people. I fear that the ones I was with today are more representative of what's out there. I draw this conclusion from what I've seen in other fields recently--doctors, accountants, businessmen, etc. So many people without scruples in so many professions. How do they live without honor? How do they find value in their lives? I'm not saying I'm perfect--far from it--but I try to play by the rules and wind up with what seems like the right result in whatever I'm doing. Do I always succeed? No, but I try. Is it so much to expect the same of others?

4 comments:

Mr. H.K. said...

I like that you are an idealist.

Jess said...

Thanks, but I feel like I'm in the minority!

Greg said...

Never feel wrong for doing the right thing. It's unfortunate that others see blurring the lines as an okay practice, though.

joe said...

i'm not a lawyer, but I have great admiration for what they do. I deal with them all the time for work, and I do have to say, some are quite scary. keep up the idealism, because I think it shouldn't be idealistic to believe that people can strive to be better people.