The feisty and flamboyant divorce lawyer--whose specialty is winning child-custody rights for fathers, by any means necessary--is usually on the attack, using the courts as a weapon in his especially bloody brand of domestic combat.
Now Hirschfeld is on the run, fighting a defensive battle against a judge who has brought out the big guns, slapping a five-figure fine on the renegade barrister and issuing a warrant for his arrest. In response, Hirschfeld has pledged to fight the judge in the Arizona Supreme Court and has gone into hiding to escape being thrown in the hoosegow.
Hirschfeld--who was profiled in a New Times story last year (May Divorce Be With You," September 15)--contacted the newspaper from his refuge "somewhere in North America" to tell his side of the conflict with Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Rogers. The saga of judicial jousting goes like this:
Hirschfeld ran afoul of Rogers during the summer of 1993, when he was representing a Phoenix man, Clint Taliaferro, who was battling his ex-wife, Johanna, over custody of their son.
Taliaferro, who has a long history of mental problems and alcohol abuse, became depressed during the proceedings and--according to hospital records--intentionally overdosed on a prescription antidepressant.
Hirschfeld, who says Taliaferro "didn't really intend to commit suicide," citing as evidence the fact that he phoned 911 shortly after ingesting the handful of pills, decided not to inform the court of the incident.
Johanna Taliaferro's lawyer, Martin LaPrade, found out, anyway, and notified Rogers.
The judge, enraged that Hirschfeld would sit on such information--the whole point of the proceedings was, after all, to determine which parent was more stable and fit for parenthood--administered a tongue-lashing to the lawyer and promptly gave custody of the boy to his mother.
Rogers then topped it all off with a $20,000 fine, an amount the judge estimated to be equivalent to Hirschfeld's fees in the case. Hirschfeld immediately filed an appeal on both the custody verdict and fine.
Rogers' secretary says the judge won't comment on the Hirschfeld case. But LaPrade, who continues to represent Johanna Taliaferro, minces no words.
"I think Hirschfeld is full of shit, and should not have a license to practice law," he says. "We're talking about the custody of a 5-year-old kid here; we're talking about what's best for the kid.
"The judge should know if one of his parents tried to 'off' himself, don't you think?"
Hirschfeld insists that his knowledge of Clint Taliaferro's "medical problems" was a private matter between lawyer and client.
"The guy wasn't a danger to anybody," Hirschfeld says, "including himself. It wasn't relevant to the case."
Hirschfeld claims the fine was imposed simply because of his long-running feud with Rogers, who the lawyer insists is opposed to both his method and his mission.
Himself the "victim" of a tortuous custody battle for his own children, Hirschfeld has dedicated his career to "leveling out" the child-custody process, establishing men as being equally qualified to raise and nurture their offspring. For him, every case he wins--and he has won nearly 600 in all--represents another victory in this long "men's rights" crusade.
A crusade calls for extreme measures, and Hirschfeld has earned a reputation for applying them with relish. He is a courtroom dervish who browbeats women with manic questioning until they break down--revealing themselves to be "unfit" or "unstable" mothers in the process.
He will do almost anything for a client or to advance the men's-rights agenda. And that, he says, irritates the judge.
"Rogers doesn't like my aggressive style," Hirschfeld says, "and to make it worse, he is firmly opposed to giving any kind of custody rights to fathers. He absolutely thinks it's a moral wrong."
That may be mere Hirschfeld hyperbole--or maybe not. Several members of the Arizona domestic relations bar contacted by New Times agreed with Hirschfeld's assessment. Even one woman attorney--who has represented mothers against Hirschfeld's male clients in the past and who calls his general demeanor and methods "disgusting"--confirmed the accusation.
"It's widely known that [Rogers] doesn't give custody to fathers unless the mother is completely insane and violent," she says, asking not to be identified. "He has a real block about it, and that could be one reason why he doesn't like Hirschfeld. Or, it could be that [Rogers] just recognizes [Hirschfeld] is a pig."
Whatever the source of the ill will, it does seem curious that Rogers is pursuing Hirschfeld with such vigor, and is doing so now--rather than let the formal appeals process on the custody matter and fine run its course.
Maybe, Hirschfeld speculates, it's because the judge is due to rotate off the domestic relations bench in July, after a two-year term, and wants to settle up with Hirschfeld before then.
In March, after months of inaction on the case, Rogers suddenly issued a warrant for the lawyer's arrest and circulated memos to all Superior Court judges, advising them that if Hirschfeld appears in court, sheriff's deputies should be immediately summoned.
Enlarged photos of Hirschfeld have even been distributed around the Maricopa County Courthouse to help the in-house security team nab him.
They aren't likely to get a chance, since Hirschfeld has fled to points unknown, and swears he won't return until he "finds a way to put Rogers in his place."
"This guy has a reputation for running roughshod over people, and he has to be stopped," Hirschfeld says.
The lawyer has embarked on a series of complex legal machinations to do just that, petitioning the Arizona Court of Appeals to suspend the arrest warrant. Last week the justices turned him down, and so he has turned to the state Supreme Court, which will probably rule on his request by Friday.
In the meantime, as his law practice falls into neglect and he ponders whether he will soon be counseling clients from inside the Maricopa County lockup, Hirschfeld confesses to feeling the pangs of martyrdom.
"In the New Times story about me, you guys painted me as some kind of orange-faced devil," Hirschfeld says. "But I've helped a lot of people through the years, kids and dads alike. I certainly don't think I deserve to sit in a jail cell for helping my clients.
"And certainly not because some petty, vindictive judge thinks I'm the antichrist.