It's very important to show respect for all of the parties in a case, and I have a particular case that demonstrates that point.
I had a case where I needed to interpret a living trust. Husband and wife created a trust. Husband died. Wife was still alive and they had a number of adult children.
The interpretation of the trust was unclear, so it had to be brought to court. So here's a family. This is a close family.
They have been close for many, many years. They live close to each other, they see each other more than once or twice a week. This case was really tearing their family apart.
What had happened was the father, who was a wonderful provider, had invested wisely, had decided to write the trust himself using only a self-help book ... but it resulted in a trust that could be interpreted in at least two ways. And the two ways were either that the community property portion of the trust would go to the mother during her lifetime and then would be distributed to the children, or the community property portion of the trust would transfer to a group of the children.
It was very important to understand, despite the fact that the people in this family were angry with each other -- one of the sons was very angry -- this wasn't growing out of the fact that anyone was a bad person ... and this was really coming from a lot of the grief over their father's death, the grief over her husband's death and what he had meant to them.
My understanding that that's a lot of what was motivating this made it easier. I was eventually, after listening to the statements the father made, what the father had done in an earlier document, I was able to resolve the case. But treating each of those parties with respect, having compassion for each of those parties, was very, very important. Now, they were on opposite sides. It seems odd to have compassion for people on opposite sides. But it really is required.
I needed to have compassion for the son, I needed to have compassion for the sisters, and I needed to have compassion for that mother. They knew I respected them, they knew I had compassion for them, I would do everything in my power to make that living trust express the intentions of their husband and father.
And I think without that, my decision would not have the power that it did.
Once I made my decision, I provided that to the attorneys, and I met with the attorneys several more times to make sure everything was smoothed out. Because I wanted to make sure this was not a cause of disturbance in that family. I wanted them to be able to go back to the close relationship that they had.