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I see, via Wiki, that today is the birthday of Corbin Bernsen.  Many happy returns, of course, but this reminds ol’ Robbo of a somewhat humiliating incident from his past, over which he still occasionally grumbles.

You see, back in law school, I took a course in legal ethics.  (You can stop your snickering, thank you very much.  There are a few responsible lawyers out there.  Also, it was my last term and the class was a slam-dunk gut, the prof who taught it being notorious for handing out 4.0’s by the truckload.)

Anyway, one day the prof posed the following question:  Can it ever be ethical for a divorce lawyer to sleep with his client?

Now, I hope I’m sure the obvious answer that springs to the collective mind of the friends of the decanter is, “Don’t be a damned fool.  Of course it can’t.”  However, if law was all about the obvious, we bar members would all be out of a job.  The prof suggested that maybe some states, not content with the plain and simple, were perhaps “pushing the envelope” as they like to say, figuring out legal justifications for such naughty behavior.  “You know,” said the prof, “like with that Arnie Becker guy out in California.”  He invited the class to pick a state and do some research on the status of its bar ethics decisions on the topic.

Well, ol’ Robbo can take a hint as fast as the next fellah.  The sum of my notes on the assignment was, “Research California ethics decision(s) re Arnold Becker.”

With this tip straight from the stable cat still fresh in my mind, I hurried off to the library to do a Lexis search.  (This, by the way, was in the days before the Internet, WiFi, laptops and other such whiz-bang tech thingies taken for granted nowadays.  Lexis was still something of a novelty.  Indeed, I was still churning out papers on my trusty Smith-Corona electric typewriter at the time.)  I duly pulled up the relevant database and proceeded to type “Arn! & Becker” into the search field.

Result? “No results found.”

“Huh?” I thought to myself.  “Perhaps I misspelled the name?”

So I tried again: Bekker.  Bechur.  Bicker.  Boecher.

Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

Was it possible that the prof was referring to a court case instead of a bar ruling?

State cases.  Federal cases.  District court.  Appeals.  Supreme.


Okay, was it possible he meant “West Coast” instead of “California”?

Oregon.  Washington.  Nevada.  Arizona.

Goose egg.

I was by this time starting to become highly irritated.  A passing friend, noticing me furiously scowling squinting at the screen, asked me what was wrong.  I explained my predicament – the question at hand, the prof’s tip on where to look, the fruitless results of my now somewhat lengthy efforts.   My friend started to laugh.

“Dude,” he said, “Arnie Becker is a teevee character.  Don’t you watch ‘L.A. Law’?”

I think the answer to that question is pretty self-evident.¹

Anyway, ever since then, I’ve always held a nebulous, inchoate feeling that somehow Corbin Bernsen owes me for the time I wasted chasing this bogus lead. (Some may argue that the prof is the more liable party here.  I would point out to them that a) the prof did, indeed, give me a 4.0 in the class, so I can’t really complain, and b) Bernsen’s pockets are considerably deeper.)

Anybody know a good lawyer who could help me soak him for it?

¹Now, if the prof had said “Professor Kingsfield,” as absurd an idea as that might be, I’d have been on to him right away.


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September 2011