By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
There wasn't much left of Janet when Bob Hirschfeld got done with her. A tall, soft-spoken woman, she takes great pride in her rail-straight posture and unshakable composure. But after three hours of questioning, she seemed shrunken and lost--slumping against the courtroom table and weeping into her hands.
Janet knew that the divorce from her husband, Jack, might be messy. There was money to divide, and the kids . . . well, she wanted them with her. Jack had some ridiculous idea about raising them himself, but she was their mother. Surely, the judge would entrust the children to their mother.
"I thought that was just the way it worked," Janet says. "I was a fit parent, a member of my church and the PTA. I thought that if I just told the judge all that, it would be a done deal. That's the way the game is played."
Unfortunately for Janet, that's not the way Bob Hirschfeld plays the game.
For most of the afternoon, Hirschfeld--the Phoenix lawyer Jack hired to help him get custody of the couple's two children--had gruffly pushed Janet through an excruciating examination of every bone of every skeleton in her personal closet. No subject was taboo--her sexual habits, medication she took for stress, embarrassing elements of her family history, the times she had taken drugs or had one too many drinks.
"He was a beast," she remembers. "I got so flustered, he was able to force me to say things that I didn't want to say."
Forced or not, by the time she was done, the kids were being loaded into her husband's station wagon, bound for their new permanent home--with dad.
Tears well up in her eyes as she recalls the moment.
"I was sitting there crying," she says, "and I remember thinking--I've been raped. That little legal monster raped me."
But sitting at another table across the room, ex-husband Jack was downright gleeful. "I felt great," he remembers, jubilantly thrusting his arm skyward. "She didn't expect to have to play hardball, but that is the only kind of ball Bob plays.
"Sure, Bob beat on the selfish little bitch and showed she was an unfit mother. She deserved it.
"You've got to love it--and him."
It's the kind of dichotomous passion that follows Hirschfeld around like a vapor trail. To men estranged from their wives, he is both an avenging angel and standard-bearer for the drum-thumping men's-rights movement. To women he is the devil incarnate, the worst potbellied, bad-tempered specimen of male-chauvinist pigdom.
The only thing on which members of both genders who have passed through Hirschfeld's orbit can agree is that he is one hell of a lawyer, the most successful and well-known domestic-relations attorney in Arizona--with a niche practice that centers almost exclusively on winning custody of kids for divorced fathers.
Years before men's-rights guru Robert Bly was packing lecture halls to discuss Wild Men and Iron John, Hirschfeld was hard at work stumping for a far less esoteric kind of manly empowerment.
Since the late 1970s, Hirschfeld has unabashedly trumpeted what is often still viewed as an unconventional thought: "That dads can be moms, oftentimes better than moms can be moms." Hirschfeld has proved his point by working to make Arizona law one of the friendliest to fathers seeking child custody, and by waging a spirited--some say mean-spirited--courtroom war against any woman who dares challenge one of his clients for rights to their offspring.
"Fathers today," Hirschfeld says, "are nurturers, care-givers, loving parents. Dads today cut the umbilical cord, change diapers, do it all. They are superdads. And when a divorce comes along, why shouldn't a superdad have custody of the kids instead of a 'mom-ster'?"
"Mom-sters and superdads," the self-coined yin and yang of Hirschfeld's universe, are an important clue to understanding the intensely personal reasons behind the transformation of this certified genius and MIT-educated engineer into a master misogynist, at war with half of the human race.
The terms mom-ster and superdad were formulated to describe his first client--who happened to be Hirschfeld himself--and his own ex-wife. It seems it is the ample reservoir of bile within him, fermented during his own messy divorce and bitter experience with the child-custody process, that fuels his blitzkrieg.
It is an approach that has become the stuff of Arizona legal legend. During depositions and cross-examinations, he has been known to berate, laugh at and in general humiliate his clients' ex-wives. It is more than just standard courtroom incivility. Combat with Hirschfeld is so painful that several local attorneys who have battled him admit they sometimes advise their women clients to take the best settlement they can get, even if it means less financial support or an inconvenient joint-custody arrangement, rather than submit to his inquiries.
Hirschfeld's tactics have not only earned him the enmity of women and his fellow attorneys, but the official rebuke of the courts, as well. He has been sanctioned at least three times by angry judges, including a recent $20,000 fine for what one jurist called "outrageous" and "reprehensible" conduct.
But in the men's-rights community, none of that matters. The word has gotten around--if you are a divorced dad and want to keep your kids, call Bob Hirschfeld.