Monday, July 22, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
HENDERSON -- No longer do Americans walk out of courtrooms after prolonged legal battles either winners or losers.
In some cases, they emerge as victims of a newly defined form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Karin Huffer, a Las Vegas marriage and family therapist, calls it "legal abuse syndrome," and she used the term as the title of her new book.
"Legal Abuse Syndrome," published by Fulkort Press, helps those who have been traumatized by a courtroom action to understand the dynamics that cause this stress, and offers suggestions to victims to help them get on with their lives.
At a book-signing Sunday at Borders Books & Music in Henderson, Huffer explained that all too often, people who go to court find themselves in the middle of an adversarial situation "where the pursuit of justice is treated as a sport."
This happens frequently when one side has more resources than the other, Huffer said.
This often occurs in divorce cases, when the husband has the paycheck and the resources to afford a good attorney, Huffer explained. It is also often the case in legal battles between big corporations and individuals or small businesses.
In short, the little guy doesn't have the time or resources to compete. Before the action is resolved, the individual or small business could be bankrupt. And attorneys for big corporations, well aware of the financial problems experienced by the opposing side, will file frivolous motions and do anything else they can to stall the outcome.
These tactics, which Huffer refers to as "cash violence," constitute standard operating procedure for many corporate attorneys.
"If I own a large corporation, and I have a team of lawyers that are on the payroll, then I might as well give them a job to do," Huffer said.
Many tactics by attorneys to influence juries and win cases these days go way beyond the bounds of proper judicial conduct, said Huffer, who pointed to the way defense attorneys for O.J. Simpson treated Los Angeles Police Department criminalist Dennis Fung.
"After several days on the stand in which attorneys did their best to rip this man apart, apparently that wasn't enough," Huffer said. "Attorney Robert Shapiro then passed out fortune cookies to the press, saying it was a celebration of 'Hung-Fung Day.'"
Shapiro later apologized, but Huffer said the damage was already done, and Fung, who was only trying to do his job, suffered immensely for it.
Huffer said Americans who experience legal abuse syndrome typically feel let down because they put their faith in the promise of a fair trial, and they end up feeling shortchanged by the American legal system.
"They say it's the best system in the world, and maybe it is, but the point is that we are promised an opportunity for justice, and often we leave the courtroom feeling as though we were victimized once again," Huffer said.
Typically, people who experience legal abuse syndrome begin to "wrap themselves in cellophane," said Huffer, who explained that they tend to avoid financial and emotional commitments with others.
"It gets to the point where you want only a six-pack, a dog and a television in front of you," Huffer said. "That's your evening."
Huffer explained that legal abuse syndrome can start as soon as a client experiences his first meeting with an attorney. After paying a large retainer, a typical client complaint is that that communication breaks down with the attorney, who stops returning phone calls.
"My practice is full of people who say their attorneys won't return phone calls," Huffer said.
"When you walk into an attorney's office, you should ask yourself: Who's the hostage? It helps to write down everything you expect from your attorney. It doesn't have to be complicated. You can write it on a legal pad."
Strangely enough, Huffer said, even attorneys often fall victim to legal abuse syndrome.
"Statistics show that 11 percent of attorneys consider suicide once a month," Huffer said.
Huffer said it's up to judges to prevent legal abuse syndrome.
Huffer explained that they are the ones who run the courtroom, and they are the ones charged with balancing the power and tactics of attorneys with the fair intent of the law.