It was one of the worst periods of time in my life.
Recently separated, I had just lost custody of my 2 daughters and was forced to vacate my newly-renovated home (with 3 days notice) that contained the well-equipped recording studio I had spent 2 years building prior to selling my drycleaning business (in order to build a long-desired music production company).
Divorce - Canadian style!
Two years before, I discovered that a *friend*, a music contact I had worked with and even spent time with in Hollywood a decade prior, had stolen a song that I and my music partner had written and presented to this budding writer/producer at that time. He had since become a major player in the music business and had lifted *so much* our song, placing it on the album of a multi-million selling female artist.
After much consideration and consultation with a prominent Detroit attorney, we decided to proceed with a lawsuit against this record producer. And, as these matters usually go, we had to retain high profile legal representation in California and also sue the 'innocents', in this case the recording artist, record company and publishing company, with the hope (at least mine) that they would bring pressure upon the sole guilty party to get a just settlement.
And of course, I was counter sued for over a million dollars and had to begin dealing with that ugly business.
Now, living with friends during this confusing, dark period of time, a call came from my California attorney. I was forced to confront the inevitable - a trip to Los Angeles for a legal hearing.
I had neither the heart nor the will to follow through with this. Neither did I have the money for the flight and hotel as all my assets had been frozen by the divorce court at the time.
I recall, as if it were yesterday, how Doug somehow sensed my emotional turmoil and just matter-of-factly told me to pick up the airline ticket at the terminal and then invited me to stay with his family. This is where the real story begins.
Immediately after meeting Doug in person for the first time at the airport on a Friday afternoon, I felt so unusually comfortable. The hearing was on Monday but he had no intention of discussing the case at all on the drive to his home. Instead we talked about our families, friends, careers and hobbies. His was mountain climbing and he has since scaled the tallest peaks on the continent!
He told me about how much his wife and daughter were looking forward to having me stay with them. And, that he had planned get- togethers with some of his rather famous friends. See, we had built a rather unique friendship over the phone during the time building up to this hearing, but I had no idea Doug would be going all out during our short visit.
I arrived at his beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills to the warm hugs of Doug's wonderful wife and cuter-than-cute little daughter. If you've ever visited someone's home for the very first time and immediately, and truly felt right at home, well, this was one of those rare instances. Mi casa es su casa.
All of us had a great amount of fun getting to know one another and, as promised, we had most enjoyable Friday and Saturday evenings with Doug’s crazy but wonderful friends in the entertainment world. After all, I was in my element
Sunday night was sleepless however. Although I was very confident in Doug and his abilities (I'd love to be able to tell you who he has represented in the past but the terms of the ultimate settlement in this action prohibit me from sharing any details that would identify any of the parties involved), I was still very concerned about being in court with 4 sets of high-powered attorneys against, well, just me and Doug. Rumor had it that the defendant's father, a very high profile attorney from a major U.S. city, was also flying in for the showdown.
On the drive to downtown LA on Monday morning, we finally began discussing the case. Doug had put my mind at as much ease as possible as we headed toward the magnificent skyline. If you've ever seen the skyscrapers of Los Angeles in person or in movies, you will surely remember the tall, white, rounded building in the center. Doug's office was near the top floor.
He didn't park anywhere near it however. He pulled into this pay- per-day lot in a less than fashionable neighborhood many blocks away. Strange. Homeless people populated the streets. We started the long trek towards the ivory tower but suddenly Doug stopped to speak to an old man with a wind-weathered face, crouched against a building clutching a "mickey" of cheap “Thunderbird" wine in his dirty, gnarled hands. He simply asked this poor soul how he was doing and if he had anything to eat recently. The reply was incoherent and Doug just smiled and handed him 2 one-dollar bills. We walked onward.
As he repeated this gesture along our long route, even walking half a block out of our way to greet and hand yet another homeless person a couple of bucks, I noticed Doug's right pocket was bulging with what could only be one dollar bills. I didn't ask him about this ritual, preferring to know that Doug just did this 2-buck thing every day.
Finally, and as if in another world altogether, we entered this stunning building and were soon going over the infinite details of our case in his impressive office.
Suffice it to say although this case was settled somewhat satisfactorily in the end run, this initial hearing did not go well. After the hearing and while Doug was in chambers with the judge and principle lawyers trying to negotiate a fair settlement, the other participants/all on the other side (some came with an entourage) gathered into the hallway. I made my way to each one of them and offered my apologies for having to have them and their clients involved. They all accepted. Even the defendant's high-powered father was understanding and exceptionally cordial. We started chatting about sports and he even made some off-the-record remarks about his arrogant offspring.
While this conversation was taking place, a loud voice angrily bounced off the marble walls, "So dad, you switching sides now? " My former musical friend was now in the hall, obviously witnessing his dad and myself acting civilly. I walked over and with a simple gesture of peace, offered my hand to him. It was readily and violently slapped away.
I am what I feel most would say, a peace-loving, passive human being. But having the physical sting of an assault like this brought the instinctual animal out in me, to defend, and I began to react accordingly . . . good thing for Dad who rushed to the scene and ushered his son back into the courtroom.
Doug soon emerged with the bad news that anything approximating a fair settlement was not going to happen this day. That disappointed me, but didn't seem to surprise my esteemed lawyer, as he assured me that we would need to apply more pressure in due course. Not a nice business.
After our *tough day at the office*, Doug was soon digging back into his right pocket on our way back to the parking lot, even placing currency into the hands of some of the same indigents. I then came to the conclusion that they weren't all strangers.
We pulled in to get some gas just around the corner from the parking lot and were standing at the pumps when a disheveled fellow approached us. This time it was me who engaged him in conversation. He was a Vietnam veteran with a severe chip on his shoulder and he seemed to be glad just to have someone to listen.
As if by magic, penniless me turned to Doug, who, with a big smile had his arm outstretched with 2 dollar bills just dangling for me to take.
My thoughts immediately ran back to several months before when I encountered a homeless man begging on the downtown Detroit street that led to the tunnel to Canada when I was returning home from a meeting with my Michigan attorney. I had a few U.S. dollars in my pocket and handed them to this man, but, with the following, loudly spoken condition: "this is for food, not booze!"
But, this was not the way Doug gave - he gave as Giving should always be – without condition. So, into the hand of this man went my 2 bucks along with my most sincere wish - "Good Luck!" He hobbled away, mumbling to himself.
Doug and I have remained friends over the years. We exchange email and he sends me a Christmas card every year as well as his articles that have been published in the top law journals.
His giving though, went well beyond helping those souls on the street.
In the end, and with the final decision left totally to me, we made a settlement agreement that would not even come close to compensating me and my music partner for having created a song that was a vital part of such a successful, worldwide recording project, and he, for ALL his time, effort and expertise in trying to get justice for me and my music partner. In Doug's heart-of-hearts, he knew it would simply end the great stress that this case represented for me at this totally tumultuous period of time. And that was good enough for him.
I've never made mention to Doug of our long walk to and from the office in all this time but I fully suspect he still leaves home each day with a pocketful of one dollar bills, parks far from his office so that he can bring a little joy into the lives of the less fortunate, and, takes on clients that are in the same position as I was a decade ago.
In other words Giving - as Giving should always be.
© Rick Beneteau