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Some lawyers have a persistent dream. They spend many of their waking moments fantasizing about the one big case of their careers. They chase after it like Captain Ahab pursued the white whale. Privately, they wonder about themselves and how they will perform when the legal stakes reach the highest point.

These thoughts occur to every lawyer despite his or her level of skill. Even the most naturally gifted worry if they will pass the ultimate test.

The questions are universal. Will I be fully and properly prepared? Will I have the energy? Can I muster a courtroom presence that will convince both judge and jury my client's cause is just? What if I somehow crumble under pressure?

Add to this one more element and you have a heart-stopping melodrama. And Shoen v. Shoen had it.

Steve Bisbee, 46, with a wife and two kids depending upon him, passed his test.

Let Bisbee tell you what happened to him and his family:
"My role as a lawyer in the trial was to make sure that Dr. Sam Shoen's testimony came across forcefully to the jury. He had been head of the U-Haul company and had worked alongside his father for years. He had the insight and ability to explain to the jury what his brothers had done to usurp the company.

"He was on the stand for several days, and his testimony was superb. It was every bit as vital as the testimony given by his father, who had founded the company.

"My wife, Mari, was present in the courtroom during Dr. Sam's testimony. She left during the noon break to go to our home on McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale.

"That afternoon, I remember it was Thursday, September 1, she received the first phone call.

"`Hi,' a man with a pleasant voice said. 'Is Steve there?' 'No,' my wife said. 'Can I take a message?'

"`Tell him to watch his back,' the caller said. Then he hung up the phone. That night there were several more phone calls. Whenever Mari answered, the caller hung up.

"Friday afternoon, at 1:30 p.m., the same caller was on the phone again:
"`Hi. Did you give Steve my message?'
"`You're messing with the wrong people,' my wife said, and hung up the phone.

"Later that afternoon, my wife went out to pick up the mail. There was a message inserted into a plastic advertising flier bag. It was made from letters cut out from magazines. The message was 'He's waiting. What I will do I have done in the past.'"

The reference to the murder of Eva Shoen in Telluride was unmistakable.
"An hour later," Steve recalls, "the family dog was severely drugged. The dog had eaten from a piece of ham with a pill inserted that had been thrown into the backyard of our house. I called the Scottsdale police that night and filled out a report.

"On Saturday, I was home when the mailman came, and I went out to pick up the mail. In it was another message in an envelope with my name on it. The envelope had been placed in the box, not mailed. The message read: 'Brotherly love. Look out. Paying the price.' The mailman took the letter with him to turn over to show U.S. postal inspectors. We were told they would contact us, but they never did."

The intimidation continued over the weekend.
"On Sunday," Steve says, "I went to pick up the Arizona Republic from my driveway. While reading it at breakfast, I noticed that on page A16 there was a headline which read: 'How bleak will it be? Dems fear worst.' But the words had been altered so that they read 'fear the worst,' and below that was written, 'Bitch.'

"Later that morning, our dog was drugged for a second time. Numerous pieces of meat had been thrown over the backyard fence. There was also a plastic bag with a message. It read: 'HI KIDS, BYE DOG.' I filed a supplemental report to the Scottsdale police.

"That night we had our family over for a barbecue for Labor Day. Despite the presence of a large number of people, we later found another cutout threat. It had been placed on the front doormat and it stated: 'I'll be seeing you.'

"The following day was Labor Day and I stayed at home. Sometime around noon, a hole was cut in our bathroom window screen. The following cutout message was inserted between the screen and window: 'A Mother's instinct is to protect her young. See Mother. See Mother run.'

"In midafternoon, my wife answered the phone because I was out for a few minutes. 'Hi, Mari,' the caller said. 'Is Steve ready for tomorrow?' My wife hung up.

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Tom Fitzpatrick