The Law (and the World) According to Me

The Late, Great Len Berk

It was sometime around 1972–maybe a little earlier–when a friend invited me to play baseball. Not wiffle ball; not stickball. Not softball. Baseball. Where you wear spikes and run 90-foot baselines. If you grew up mostly anywhere near a city, baseball was something you simply watched or listened to. Only a few guys I knew played Little League baseball, and that ended at age 12 or 13.

As a kid, I played 50 different versions of ball–wire, stick, wiffle, soft, step, awning, half, fungo, running bases, and others. But facing a live, over-the-top pitcher throwing probably 70 miles-an-hour was new, and it was exciting. I didn’t know it then, but those were the most fun days of my life.

We chose sides. Sometimes there were 24 guys (12 fielders!). Other times there may have been as few as 10 (no hitting to rightfield). We played in the rain, and on fields sometimes too small for baseball. We chipped in to buy wooden bats and baseballs. Guys came and went. Only one thing remained consistent: the pitcher.
The pitcher threw for both teams, and the games lasted until we couldn’t see anymore. We played twice a week, each game probably 11 or 12 innings. Balls and strikes were not called. So the pitcher threw about 500 to 600 pitches a week.

The pitcher was Leonard Berk, a failed minor league pitcher in the 1950’s who became the principal of a Philadelphia elementary school. Back then, we guessed as to his age, but when he died last week at 92, I could figure out that when he was throwing a quarter-ton of pitches each week in the 1970’s, he was in his fifties!

The games ran until the early 1980’s. I recently heard Mr. Berk continued to pitch in some form or another until he was 68. Mr. Berk had three sons, all of whom played in the “Berkball” games. At his funeral last week, Mr. Berk’s sons carried themselves with the same poise, grace and respect that was the standard bestowed on them by their Dad (and Mom, I should add).

Mr. Berk’s funeral was a reunion, a celebration, and a chance to look at some faces not seen for decades. I did not have to look hard to find the same ball-lovin’ face on each former Berkballer that I saw each week many years ago.

People spoke about Mr. Berk’s delightful idiosyncrasies and his caring approach to his neighbors. The former players spoke of his devotion, and how he would bring rakes and forgotten baseball gloves to the games, and how he’d never –never –missed a scheduled game.

To me, though, the larger point was missed, at least as it related to the Berkballers. Mr. Berk brought a bunch of otherwise disparate guys together, twice a week for over ten years, to revel in something we absolutely could not duplicate: competitive, intense baseball games. With no entry fee and no uniforms and no judgment. It would not be a stretch to estimate over 200 different guys passed through those innings. I remain friends with many of those guys today, including one who was 6 years old and standing on the sidelines when I began playing, and went on to dominate our games.

We were rich and poor, smart and dumb, from the burbs and from the city. All pretenses were dropped when the first pitch got thrown. We were brothers, from 6 p.m. until it got dark, twice a week. Some guys dropped out to pursue relationships, others to go away to school or the military. Mr. Berk remained.

His passing was monumental to me, and I know I am not alone. As his family sat on the front row of the chapel and mourned, a very large band of boys, grown up and scattered everywhere now, felt the same loss.


My nephew had an engagement party a few months ago. Actually, he is my step-nephew, the nephew of my second wife. At Matt’s party were his mother and her second husband; his father and his second wife; his aunt and her second husband. Combined, that group of six couples brought with them about 15 offspring, some with their own significant others, and one with a baby.
That was just the future groom’s side. Matt’s intended had her mother there with her new husband; her father with his new bride, and assorted other aunts and uncles with their blended groups of progeny (I do not have quite the same detail for that side of the family; I’ll see them at the wedding and probably never again).
In total, a party that under “normal” circumstances would have hosted 30 people had about 110 invitees.
What, you may ask, are “normal” circumstances? C’mon, you know. That’s when everyone stays married to the spouse they betrothed while in their 20’s, had happy children and grandchildren and reunited at every major family event.
You know people like that, don’t you?
The intriguing statistic in this millennium is not the one that says 50% of married people divorce—it’s the conversely unspoken one that says 50% of married people stay together. My theory has always been that when the institution of marriage was invented (obviously before the wheel), people were dead by the time they reached age 30. So they had to stand maybe 10 or 15 years with the same person. Whoever came up with the idea of living with the same person for 60 years? Who the heck can do that?
If you are over 40, make a list of your friends, relatives and acquaintances, and then calculate the percentage of those still married to their first spouse for over 20 years. If it’s 50% or more, let me know. I want their names, because it’s only a matter of time.
The real headline here should be “Why do People Stay Together?”
Answers (maybe), in Part Two.

Win Win

A former client, who is also a practicing attorney by the way, once observed that it is unusual, if not unfair, that Family Law attorneys will routinely represent either side of a case. Unusual, I suppose. Unfair, I don’t think so.
Usually, a plaintiff’s lawyer stays on that side of the fight. Defense attorneys customarily defend, and do not instigate suit. It is common for a former prosecutor to enter private practice, and begin earning a living defending the very people he or she once tried to bring down. But for an attorney to regularly jump from one side to the other, as a case might dictate, is different.
I may go in on one matter arguing for the support payor, non-custodial parent or dependent spouse at 10 a.m., then represent a payee, custodial parent or paying spouse in a separate case at 1. I see this as a distinct advantage I can offer a client, since I know (or should know) the other person’s argument. The same can be said for opposing counsel.
Which leads me to this common situation: custodial parent (let’s call her Wilma) wants to restrict the noncustodial parent’s time with the kids. Noncustodial parent (Fred?) wants more time, perhaps a shared physical custody arrangement.
The lawyer’s dilemma: fight for your client’s desire, or for what is best for the child (Pebbles, of course). Sometime the mission is the same. The attorney is convinced his client’s goals are worthy. Sometimes…not.
Here’s my test: if I represent Wilma, I ask her if she’d be amenable to slowly expanding Fred’s time, so that he must, over a reasonable period of time, allay her fears of Fred as a parent on equal footing. If Wilma likes the idea, I tend to believe her aims are true. If she does not, she likely has a separate agenda.
Because what does she have to lose? Fred might screw up the additional time—by failing to do school assignments with Pebbles, or improperly caring for Pebbles. Then Wilma was right, and the issue should be shelved. Or, Fred might do just fine—then what basis, other than selfishness, does Wilma have to argue against equal custody?
When I represent Fred, I suggest the same thing. Will you accept a gradual expansion of time? If he’s agreeable, I know his goals are sincere. If not, what’s his agenda?
This is rare—a Win Win solution. It doesn’t necessarily apply in support or property scenarios, but it can on occasion.

My First Weblog

I had a revelation recently that requires me to apologize to my dear departed parents and the rest of their generation. I get it now. It wasn’t that you COULDN’T figure out new technology (i.e., flashing 12:00 on the VCR, programming numbers into the cell phone). It’s that you didn’t want to. This bolt from the blue occurs as I realize that if I wanted to, I surely could get into apps, walls and tweets. I really just don’t want to.
I will, though. I’m sure of that. Unless I want to become obscure, I will have to. And frankly, there are some very useful apps out there for lawyers. Not sure about why I need a wall, though. It doesn’t seem that long ago that everyone was getting excited about hooking a telephone line into the computer to look at cases on Westlaw. I remember hooking up to America Online through my Erol’s dial-up account. My kids and I would wait a couple hours to download a game…
My son Caleb was content back then playing Boloball with me on the computer. Now, he is the Social Media director for The Family Law Offices of Gary Mezzy, LLC. He told me I need to increase my presence on the Web. I need to Tweet. I need to blog. I need to Facebook. (And why hasn’t the World’s biggest Thing come up with a verb for itself?)
So here is my first foray into weblogging, as it was known for a day or two. Adding my blog to what is already out there should have as much significance as the last guy in line at the unemployment office. But here it is anyway.
I hope to provide insights into things as I see them. I will try, as directed, to even tie in issues relevant to my chosen field as a Divorce Attorney. Stay tuned.

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