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A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

June 13, 1973 was a day in the life of a young 12-year-old boy, which will never be forgotten. The day began like any other. My sister Pam and I walked to school that morning, Pam going to Fulton Jr. High in Van Nuys, and myself going to Valerio Elementary. Both of us were eagerly looking forward to our graduations from our respective schools in just a few more days. While sitting in our classrooms, however, we had no idea what was transpiring 350 miles up north in a little courthouse in Martinez, California, the Contra Costa County Courthouse.

My father, Jack Edzant, became a lawyer later in life. After working hard owning and running a printing company in Hollywood, Dad decided in his late 30s to fulfill a dream and become a lawyer. He graduated in the first graduating class from the San Fernando Valley College of law, passed the bar, and hung up his shingle to practice at the age of 43. Like many lawyers of that generation, my father took any case coming into his small office, including family law matters.

Dad was retained by Joyce Long to assist her in her divorce and to seek full custody of her 11-year-old son, Chris. A hearing on the custody issue took place in the Contra Costa Courthouse, with Joyce, Chris, and Joyce’s husband, Eugene Long all being present. The hearing began in the morning, and the judge recessed the Court for lunch. Eugene Long left the Courthouse.

Following lunch, my father, Joyce, and Chris were in the Courtroom hallway, seated on a bench, waiting for the Courtroom door to once again open. At that time, Eugene Long walked up to the group of three, pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and began shooting. The first bullet pierced Dad in the abdomen, destroying two of his fingers in the process. The second one missed Joyce. As Dad went to protect himself, he was once again shot in the lower back. The fourth bullet missed Joyce again. Long was tackled by a bystander and the carnage ended. My father mustered up enough energy to run out of the courthouse, and collapsed on the entrance steps, critically wounded.

When my sister Pam and I arrived home from school that day, Mom’s only words to us were, “Your father’s been shot.” Miraculously, however, the bullets missed all vital organs, blood loss was minimized quickly, and due to the amazing work of a small county hospital in Martinez, my father’s life was saved.

Following multiple major surgeries, and a year of recovery, my father’s outstanding surgeons and therapists not only saved his life, but gave him the ability to once again pursue his dream of practicing law, inspiring me to follow in my Father’s footsteps.

This incident on that fateful day was a strong catalyst for installing metal detectors in courthouses throughout our state, and perhaps the country. Every time I enter through a courthouse metal detector, I thank my father for the sacrifice he made for our colleagues, our jurists, and our clients.

Family law is perhaps the most volatile area of law, given the inherent emotionally charged issues at stake. Practitioners must be zealous advocates for their clients, while at the same time be their therapist and friend. Not many areas of law require this critical blend of roles. It is an unfortunate reality that family law attorneys must at all times monitor their client’s emotional state, as well as that of their client’s spouse.

In family law, a practitioner should have some understanding of their client’s, and their opponent’s, past and present state of mind. Have they been violent in the past, and are they capable of being violent in the future? If so, extreme caution must be taken in the handling of the case, and the practitioner should be willing to walk away from the case if there is any hint that violence is possible. While you may not have a clue, as was the case of my father, constant awareness is vital in this area of law.

Dad lived in good health following the shooting until March of 2008, when he passed due to kidney cancer. He made many important contributions to the profession, including two published appellate decisions. He practiced law, albeit limited, until his last days. He would never have fully retired for he was given a second chance to do what he truly loved and he never took that for granted.

Ironically, Pam now works for Trope and Trope, a premier family law firm. As for me, well, I’ll stick to fighting battles with auto manufacturers and insurance companies, thank you very much. I prefer not to deal with “real” people!

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