THE $30,000 LUNCH
Sign! Sign!! Sign!!!
August 4, 2017.
The vultures had been circling overhead all morning.
At 2:00 p.m. they swooped in for the kill. Their prey, Dr Baldeo, was in a conference room at Mineola, Long Island Family Court. He, his Father, his two lawyers, and I were seated around the table.
The evening before his lawyers, Dennis Wrong and Betti Sachs, had negotiated with their opposites for several hours. I received a copy of the new proposed agreement (the technical term is “Stipulation”) via email. It was painfully obvious that Dr Baldeo had lost everything. The next morning I decided to forego circumlocution.
“You got nothing,” I spat out. Wrong could see I meant business, so he too (for a change) decided against verbal evasion.
“That’s true, we got nothing.”
“Then I cannot in good conscience recommend that Dr Baldeo sign the agreement.”
The day before Dr Baldeo and I had narrowed the points of contention down to five. I was hoping to win on a few token items, totaling $30,000, so as to enable Baldeo to save face and not walk out a broken man. He had already lost over a million dollars in liquid assets and his home, his life’s savings.
The lawyers for the Plaintiff, Azimoon, conceded a few of the token points but then jacked up their new attorneys fees by $30,000. Through my own ears, and straight from the horse’s mouth, I heard Michael Chetkof, the senior partner representing Azimoon, reckon that new attorney fees came to $50,000. But when he returned from lunch an hour later, Chetkof demanded $80,000.
He was billing at $30,000 per hour for his lunch break!
After informing Baldeo’s attorneys that I would not bring moral pressure to bear on him, the lawyers for both sides entered another round of negotiations. Baldeo’s lawyers emerged from the room an hour later downcast.
Behind them, Chetkof marched out. “You went from $50,000 to $80,000 in the blink of an eye,” I shouted. “You’re a goniff!” Visibly shaken, Chetkof beat a swift retreat. A few moments later he reduced new attorneys fees by $5,000.
First lesson: An ephemeral outburst laser-guided at The Goniff’s public persona achieved more, if still a pittance, than Baldeo’s attorneys managed to wring out in hours of tedious negotiations.
But the writing was on the wall. The attorneys fees were piling up. Under current matrimonial law, the “lesser-earning spouse” doesn’t pay any attorneys fees. The bottom-line was, Dr Baldeo had to foot the bill for four lawyers, his own and Azimoon’s.
The “logic” behind this statute is to even the legal playing field between the parties. But the practical result was, the attorneys had no motive to settle. The more protracted the proceedings, the more they stood to gain, especially as Baldeo was a physician: that is, a milking-cow.
Chetkof and Burger billed at $950.00 per hour; Dr Baldeo’s lawyers at $500.00 per hour. After each day in Court, Baldeo was more than $10,000.00 the poorer. If the case continued a few more days, he would wind up in debtors prison.
If Chetkof and Burger did settle, it was because—savoring the lucre, licking their chops, hungering for the flesh—they wanted their fees now, not later.
Whenever Chetkof heard “attorneys fees,” his eyes lit up like bonfires a-blazing. Wrong nicknamed him “Mr Check-Talk.”
After relentless threats and intimidation, compounded by mounting attorneys fees, Dr Baldeo finally succumbed.
He never got his day in Court. He didn’t even get to cross-examine the first witness. The trial was over before it began.
“It has to come to an end,” Baldeo sighed in resignation, a wan smile on his face.
Just before the agreement was signed, Chetkof approached Dr Baldeo.
“I want you to know that I respect you.”
Chetkof and Burger had alleged in hundreds of pages of Court papers that Dr Baldeo was a sadistic monster.
But now Chetkof says, “I respect you.”
Chetkof, of course, didn’t believe a word in the Court papers. He, of course, knew they were all lies.
Otherwise, how could he possibly “respect” Dr Baldeo? Did the prosecutor “respect” Jack the Ripper?
But the truth didn’t deter Chetkof from framing and blackmailing Dr Baldeo.
From torturing him.
“My job is to do whatever it takes to win,” Chetkof sputtered to me just before the denouement. “Baldeo is stupid not to settle. He will be destroyed.”
The first four days in Court, Chetkof dug deep into his bag of dirty tricks in order to make Dr Baldeo writhe in excruciating agony.
But, like the Gestapo agent who ups the amperage on the “defendant’s” testicles, it was nothing personal.
How easily the words flowed from Chetkof’s lips, “I respect you.”
Jaded to the point of moral desiccation, after decades of administering the electrodes Chetkof didn’t even notice the irony in his praise.