Seidemann: A liar or a brother?


From the other side of the bench

By David Seidemann

Issue of May 8, 2009 / 14 Iyar 5769

It’s not for mortal man to view what happens to another and opine as to whether he or she “deserved it” as a punishment, a reward, or any other possibility. We are cognizant of the measure for measure means employed by G-d, but it would be presumptuous on anyone’s part to affix its application to a certain event.

Nevertheless, sometimes something happens that just makes you wonder if G-d is playing connect the dots right before our very eyes. So here goes.

True story. I have a client who, to protect his privacy, I’ll call Sidney (his real name is Ira). He was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2007 that broke his left ankle and tore a tendon in his left shoulder. His vehicle was rear-ended by a truck. The accident occurred while he was working, so under the law he was able to file two separate claims. I represented him for his third party negligence claim against the truck owner and operator, and another attorney represented him for his workers compensation claim against the insurance company that covered his employer.

Given these facts, workers compensation would pay for his medical bills and his lost wages, and award him a lump sum payment for the amount of disability or loss of use to his left ankle and left shoulder.

Whatever he would recover in his third party negligence suit would be subject to a lien by workers compensation, meaning that if he would recover more than $50,000 in benefits from workers comp, he would have to pay that overage back to the workers comp insurance carrier. As it was, he received less than $50,000 in workers comp benefits, so whatever he receives from the negligence suit is his to keep minus my fee.

At any rate, he appeared in Workers Compensation Court approximately a year and a half ago sporting black pants and white shirt, and a yarmulke that was approximately the size of Madison Square Garden. Much to his delight, the workers compensation judge was also an Orthodox Jew, complete with a beard and yarmulke. Sidney (Ira) figured he had a slam dunk.

He finished testifying and exited the courtroom, followed a few minutes later by his attorney who remained in the hearing room to make his argument to the judge. Sidney (Ira) was crestfallen when his attorney met him in the hallway and said, “the judge said you are a liar; he doesn’t believe a word you said and was confident that when you are examined by the workers compensation doctor, you will be proven to be a fraud.”

Fast forward a few weeks. The doctor’s appointment went well and the doctor issued a report which substantiated all of my client’s claims. Weeks passed and once again Sidney was to appear before the workers compensation judge, the same one who, weeks earlier, had been so dismissive and derisive of his claim.

In walk Sidney and his attorney, not knowing what to expect. What they witnessed was surely the last thing they expected to see. There, seated on the bench was the judge, his left foot elevated and in a cast, his left arm and shoulder in a sling. “Give this man the full amount he is entitled to” bellowed the judge as he pointed to my client.

When the hearing was concluded, Sidney approached the bench and hesitantly asked the judge, “What in the world happened to you?”

The answer stunned him.

“I sit on the bench all day and, one after another, injured people come before me. And I believe every single one of them. Black, White, Hispanic, American, Mexican, it doesn’t matter. They enter, I hear their story and my natural inclination unless proven otherwise is to lend credence to and believe their testimony. But when my own flesh and blood, my own “yiddishe breeder” (Jewish brother) stood before me, my instinct was to treat you just the opposite. My instinct was to discount your account, my instinct was to disbelieve you and not only privately but in front of others. The judge continued. “Within days of your first appearance before me, I was involved in an auto accident at which time I fractured my left ankle and injured my left shoulder. I am begging you for mechilah (forgiveness).”

My client responded to the judge, “No problem, I forgave you the minute I heard what you said about me weeks ago.”

Take your pick. There are many lessons to be gleaned. Measure for measure? Perhaps. But that’s too obvious. I, for one, am struck by two other lessons. Firstly, how often do we treat our own with more suspicion than is called for? Ask a psychologist or sociologist why.

The second lesson, the one I will carry with me, is the immediate forgiveness extended from Sidney to the judge even before forgiveness was requested. Sidney’s ankle might be fractured, but his heart is as whole as whole can be.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds[at]