Benjamin Franklin said, "Honesty is the best policy."

This statement was not based on morality or religion. Franklin recognized the person who tells the truth will be better off in the end. My father advised, "Always tell the truth to your doctor and your lawyer or it may be fatal in either case." Daddy's advice may not have been original but it is good advice. When you tell the truth, you do not have to remember what you said.

Our clients are better than anyone else's clients. This does not mean that our clients are perfect. No matter how bad your spouse and no matter how much your spouse may be at fault, some facts probably reflect unfavorably upon you. When preparing your case, we must know the bad facts. To represent you effectively, we must be prepared to deal with whatever is brought before the court, although it may be bad or may be untrue. Usually there is some valid explanation or some way to reduce the impact. We want to be prepared for any unpleasant fact.

We see our role as lawyers as first determining the truth and then explaining to the court why the truth is favorable to our client and why the truth entitles our client to a favorable result.

If you make a false statement to your spouse or to another person, then the other side may use the false statement in court to impeach you to show your testimony should not be believed because you are not an honest person. See My Favorite War Story #3: A Pointless Lie, page 14, for a good, or bad, example of what can happen when someone lies.

If your spouse or anyone else asks you a question outside of court, you always have the right to respond, "I will not discuss that" or "That is not your concern." You may even state, "My lawyer advised me not to discuss that" and it will be true because I advise all clients not to discuss their cases except in my office and in court.

Perjury is a dishonest statement on a material fact under oath. Perjury is a felony, punishable by up to five years in jail. Criminal prosecution, while a risk, is not a great risk. The greatest risk of perjury is that if the trial judge recognizes perjury, he will not grant relief to the person committing perjury and will probably rule for the other side.

Our clients tell the truth, even when the truth hurts. We expect the trial judge to believe every word of our clients' testimony. You will benefit because our past clients have told the truth and our future clients will benefit because you told the truth.

If a witness tells the truth when the truth is embarrassing or unfavorable, then that witness enhances his own believability and makes the remainder of his testimony more believable.

Our policy on perjury is inflexible. We will not tolerate it. When we recognize that our witness is not telling the truth, then we ask the judge for a recess. We advise the witness he must correct the perjured testimony. If he does not correct the testimony, we advise the trial judge of the perjury, unless the witness is our own client in which case we ask the trial judge to relieve us immediately as his attorneys.

If the witness who commits perjury is an adverse party or witness then there is little we can do except try to expose the perjury and hope that our client will be believed. We never encourage criminal prosecutions by individuals. Several family court judges who believe a witness committed perjury, order a transcript of the proceedings delivered to the circuit solicitor’s office with the recommendation the witness be prosecuted for perjury.

Honesty is the only acceptable policy.

My Favorite War Stories #2:
Making the Best of the Truth

The husband sought a divorce upon the grounds of habitual drunkenness. I represented the wife with a severe alcohol problem. She admitted her alcoholism. I argued that she needed alimony because the disease of alcoholism impaired her ability to earn income. The family court judge agreed with me and awarded alimony. The happy ending: My client is now a recovering alcoholic and is leading a happy and productive life.

My Favorite War Stories #3:
A Pointless Lie

My client told me this was her fourth marriage. She had a good case, a 20-year-marriage, a bad husband, a need for alimony and attorney’s fees, and an entitlement to a good property division. When I questioned her in court, she was an excellent witness, honest, sincere, and sympathetic.

On cross-examination the other lawyer, a very fine attorney who has since become a judge, asked my client how many times she had been married. She replied four. He asked if that included this marriage and she said yes. He asked her the names of her husbands and she named four. I did not like where this was going because I knew that the other lawyer knew something that I did not know. He then asked her, “What about Sam Smith?” She replied, “I did not think that anyone knew about that.”

The judge believed nothing my client said. He resolved all issues favorable to the husband. I was sick and she was broke, all because she did not tell the truth about a matter that made no difference so long as she was honest.