By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Rogers levied a a $20,000 fine on Hirschfeld August 6 after learning that the lawyer's client--a divorced father seeking custody of his 5-year-old son--had recently tried to commit suicide. The judge felt that the suicide attempt was a bit of information that was highly relevant to the question of who might be the more stable parent, and was enraged that Hirschfeld--who knew of the suicide try--failed to inform him.
"You have perpetrated a fraud on this court," the judge lectured Hirschfeld, going on to describe his conduct as "reprehensible" and "outrageous" and awarding permanent custody to the mother.
Hirschfeld bristles at the suggestion that he was under an obligation to tell the judge about the incident. He justifies his actions with the standard legal refrain: "I am obligated to use any legal resource I can to benefit my client."
"You can't lie or be dishonest," Hirschfeld says. "But sometimes, when you are talking about a sin of omission, well, that is a different story.
"You have to strike a balance between the benefit to the child and the court's rules on disclosure."
In this case, Hirschfeld insists, even though the father made an attempt on his own life, he was still a more deserving parent than the mother.
To his critics, that sounds suspiciously like the "hypocrisy" Hirschfeld lays at the feet of women who insist that only they can properly raise children. They note that while Hirschfeld--who rarely, if ever, represents women--claims to have the best interests of children at heart, he refuses to consider that mothers are often the better parent.
"Bob accurately points out," the lawyer who has opposed Hirschfeld a dozen times says, "that women aren't virtuous parents just because they are women.
"But he seems to think that men, by virtue of being men, are automatically good fathers. He really believes it. I guess you could say he is sort of an ideologue, his ideology being that men make better parents.
"He's so devoted to that idea, it blinds him."
But Hirschfeld's boosters, of whom there are many, insist that it is the lawyer's critics who are blind--to the good he has done for them and their children.
Robert Bergman, a client for whom Hirschfeld won sole custody of two children, is one of the happy customers who sing the lawyer's praises.
"Yeah, Bob is a pretty aggressive advocate," Bergman says. "He doesn't see the process of a custody battle as winning friends.
"But you've got to look at the end result. He's given me a chance to raise my kids, and I am forever grateful to him for that."
Such words of endorsement set Hirschfeld aglow. He is at peace with his role in the custody process, and makes no apologies.
"I have very few sleepless nights," he says. "I don't often sit up and wonder, 'Did I do the right thing?' Men are who they are, women are who they are. I am who I am.
"What's to wonder about?"
@body:Cindy Falkner, Hirschfeld's legal assistant, is herself a divorc‚e. She has worked for Hirschfeld for six years, and displays a candor rare for an employee talking about the man who signs her checks.
"Bob is an asshole," Falkner shrugs casually--as if acknowledging that, yes, indeed, the sky is blue.
"I wouldn't have wanted him to represent my ex-husband," she laughs. "He is very hard on women. But he is tough because he needs to be, because he truly cares about his clients, about what he is doing for them. His behavior comes from his heart and soul.
"He really does care about the kids," she insists. Falkner pulls a box out of her desk, filled to the rim with snapshots of former Hirschfeld clients and their children.
The faces are not somber, there are none of the shell-shocked expressions or the hollow, wounded eyes that children often wear after a hard tour of duty in the divorce wars. There are only smiles.
Falkner holds up a picture of a little boy of about 6, wearing a candy-store grin, clinging to his father's neck. "This is where this kid belongs," Falkner says. "And Bob put him there. Inside, you know, Bob is really a teddy bear.
"Well," she pauses, her eyes twinkling, "maybe not a teddy bear. He's got pretty big teeth for a teddy.