DiCenso v. City of Boston, et al. also known as The L St. Bathhouse Case (1996)
The L Street Bathhouse Case was Martha’s first piece of litigation. As a case originating in South Boston, of course it involved a gym. In the 1990s, the L Street gym had two separate weights rooms – one for the men, and one for the women. However, there were two female bodybuilders who needed the heavier weights in the men’s weight room. As one might expect, the female body builders simply used the weights they needed. Complications arose when one of the female bodybuilders was arrested for trespass. As a facility owned and operated by the City of Boston, the L Street gym’s weight room segregation policy was in violation of the public accommodations statute (M.G.L. c. §§92A & 98). As a tenacious lawyer, Martha took the case, sued the city, and received an award and attorney’s fees and costs for her clients.
Lead Counsel in the “Wall Street Case”
“Mother may have hired a Big Law firm, experts, and had the title of Mother, but what I had could not be bought. I had an outstanding parent who placed his children’s’ needs before his own and gave them a warm, loving and laughter filled home.”
I have tried many cases over the course of my career, but none as heart-wrenching as the Wall Street Case. The parties, Mother and Father, divorced by Agreement in June of 2004. Their marriage had broken under the tremendous stress of infertility, two problematic births, and the responsibilities associated with caring for two children with disabilities. Mother’s first pregnancy was triplets. Only one child survived and he carries the diagnosis of cerebral palsy, remaining completely dependent on the care of others. They had a second child who carries the diagnosis of autism. The Agreement set forth a shared physical custody plan, the scheduling of nannies, and the shared costs of equipment such as a handicap van to transport the children. The parties lived in the suburbs of Boston. They managed the care of the children until the Spring of 2006, when Mother moved to New York City to work on Wall Street, without notifying Father, leaving the children in the care of the nannies.
Father, my client, learned from the nanny that Mother had moved. He immediately left his house and moved into Mother’s apartment, the housing option in the children’s school district, to assume full responsibility for the children. The parties worked out an arrangement among themselves for parenting time, but in March of 2011, Mother filed a Complaint for Modification seeking to take custody of the children and move them to New York City. She alleged, as a “change of circumstance,” better educational opportunities in New York than available in Massachusetts.
Father walked into my office, sat down with his head in his hands, and told me his story. He never once complained about his full time job caring for the boys, and instead told me about the boundless joy they bring him and his severely handicapped boy’s love of Elmo. The one thing he was adamant about was maintaining physical custody of the boys. I filed a counter-claim seeking Father’s primary physical custody, and Mother’s scorched earth litigation then began.
Mother’s financial resources were plentiful. She hired a Big Law firm attorney and spared no expense. Mother’s counsel appointed a Guardian ad Litem, hired an education expert from New York to testify as to the superiority of the educational opportunities the City afforded, employed a strategy of “death by paper cuts” in requesting a tremendous volume of discovery paperwork, and conducted lengthy depositions two days before trial.
Despite my dedication to obtaining pre-trial settlements, there was no way to negotiate a settlement of this matter. The Judge understood this, and trial was set for December of 2011. Mother may have hired a Big Law firm, experts, and had the title of Mother, but what I had could not be bought. I had an outstanding parent who placed his children’s’ needs before his own and gave them a warm, loving and laughter filled home.
At trial, exposing the opposing party’s weaknesses and examining their flaws is critical. Yet, how to examine Mother’s decision to effectively abandon her children without causing irreparable harm to parental cooperation was difficult. I carefully crafted each cross-examination question of Mother to elicit the necessary information without attacking her.
Mother’s expert testified glowingly about the opportunities for the children in New York. My cross examination consisted of five questions, the answers to which revealed the expert’s failure to contact the children’s schools in order to make an educated comparison. Since he could not make the comparison, his opinion that New York was superior fell flat.
We completed the trial in two days. At the close of the evidence, the Judge commended the parties and all four attorneys for the genteel presentation of the evidence. We all took a moment, spoke of the children and looked at recent photos of them.
In the end, my client was awarded custody of the children and Mother remains a strong, caring advocate for them.
Lead Counsel in the “Frivolous Litigation Case”
“I am proud of my work on behalf of Mother as I was able to achieve her ultimate goal: to be free from baseless litigation and to spend her emotional and financial resources on her son.”
In 2006, I represented my client, Mother, in modifying her divorce and custody Agreement with ex-husband, Father. The parties had one child. A Court-appointed Guardian ad Litem recommended that Mother be awarded sole legal custody of the child as Father’s hyper-vigilant parenting was prohibiting joint decision-making. Following 18 months of litigation, the matter settled on the morning of trial. Father agreed to Mother’s sole legal custody of the child, and ability to make all decisions regarding medical, educational and moral upbringing for the child.
Mother was so relieved at the outcome, and appreciative of the efforts to help secure it, that she hosted an Armenian feast for me, my husband and the attorney who had introduced. In the aftermath of the settlement, I would occasionally receive calls from Mother regarding her receipt of angry and abusive e-mails from Father. Mother had tried to show compassion to Father by including him in every meeting at the child’s school and sending him updates when the child was seen by a medical care provider, despite Mother having no requirement to do so. I offered Mother counsel and explained her legal options, but Mother did not want to take any action against Father as she desperately wanted the years of litigation to end.
Nevertheless, in January of 2010, Father filed a motion to regain joint legal custody, claiming that Mother failed to meet the child’s medical, educational and social needs. Father was now represented by a new attorney, the third since I had become involved in the matter. Father was very aggressive through discovery. The Court appointed another Guardian ad Litem to investigate Father’s claims, and the investigator’s report proved very harmful to Father’s case.
The trial began in August of 2011. The Court was aware of my own mother’s failing health and offered to continue trial at a later date. I declined the continuance given my client’s clear need to obtain relief from the stress of litigation, so she could focus her energies and efforts on her son instead of trial.
The trial concluded on November 30, 2011 and the Court issued a lengthy decision which mirrored my theory that the continuing war of attrition was detrimental to the child’s well-being. Further, I requested and the Court Ordered that prior to filing any additional Complaints, Father must first receive the permission of the then presiding Judge. I am proud of my work on behalf of Mother as I was able to achieve her ultimate goal: to be free from baseless litigation and to spend her emotional and financial resources on her son.