When I first started in the brokerage business, I was an in-house lawyer at Prudential-Bache Securities (which then became known as Prudential Securities, which was then purchased by Wachovia Securities, which was then purchased by Wells Fargo Advisors) in charge of the firm’s collections. I had a number of “interesting” cases, one of which involved a firm customer named Robert Bialkin. (Mr. Bialkin passed away in 2000, according to his New York Times obit.)
Mr. Bialkin owed Prudential-Bache money. I remember meeting him in my office. I had information that led me to believe that my physical safety was at risk, so I had the head of the firm’s corporate security department stand outside my office (with his gun discreetly holstered under his suit jacket). My meeting with Mr. Bialkin was uneventful, but unproductive. He was not going to pay the firm the substantial sum he owed.
We started litigation in Boston in Federal Court. We were represented by Bingham, Dana & Gould (now known as Bingham McCutcheon). My direct testimony was submitted by affidavit, as was Mr. Bialkin’s if I recall correctly. Anyway, I became aware that Mr. Bialkin claimed that I had threatened him in my office. He said that I told him something along the lines of “I want my f—-ing money.” I am known to use the occasional profanity, but I recall specifically not using it when talking to Mr. Bialkin. Remember, I was concerned about my safety.
As I said, my direct testimony was by affidavit but I flew to Boston to be cross-examined in front of the jury. Mr. Bialkin’s lawyer asked me if I threatened his client. I told him no. He asked if I had used the profanity I described above. I told him I was certain I did not. He made the fatal mistake of asking me “why?” And I told him what I had learned about his client and that I was concerned about my physical safety. He objected to my testimony, but the jury had heard it. We won the trial.
Mr. Bialkin appealed. I recall the appeal and the briefing. I kind of wish I had it, because it would probably be entertaining reading, like a walk down memory lane. As I recall, one of the appellate issues was whether it was appropriate to allow my less-than-favorable testimony about the background I had developed on Mr. Bialkin and its effect on the jury. The First Circuit ruled here. Mr. Bialkin was unsuccessful. The court essentially said “Your lawyer asked the question. Just because you didn’t like the answer, doesn’t mean it should be stricken.” and upheld the jury’s verdict. That was 1992 (and I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.)
The old saw “Don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to” sometimes applies. In this case, it sure did.
That’s a nostalgic view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m a warm and toasty Marc Dobin.