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Q&A: Divorce lawyer Raoul Felder on love, law and New York

Raoul Felder

Raoul Felder

Divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, 73, has represented ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Robin Givens, Riddick Bowe, David merrick and Larry Fortensky. Author of the new book, “The Good Divorce: How to Walk Away Financially Sound and Emotionally Happy,” Felder lives in Sutton Place with his wife of 48 years, appeals court lawyer Myrna Felder.

What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?  Get rid of the bike lanes – hardly anyone uses them. The police should be giving tickets for jaywalking! The potholes are terrible. They’re not fixing them. At least (Mayor Rudy) Giuliani fixed the potholes! Forty-Ninth St. is just disgraceful: There are double decker buses, delivery trucks: It’s crazy. The streets have gotten progressively worse. I have a driver for the Bentley, but I drive a Mercedes and they have these narrow, high performance tires and they’ve all blown out because of all the potholes. I had to buy tire insurance for both cars!

Cry me a one percent river. You drive from Sutton Place to your office at 49th and Madison? You should be biking!

You sound like my doctor. Old Jews and bicycles don’t go together. I could walk, but I don’t like to exercise.

I know some old Jews who would disagree. Anyway, your kvetches remind me of the man complaining about the diamond soles on his ruby shoes losing their luster. You get to pick just ONE thing you’d change in NYC. 

It would have to be the cabs. I take cabs a lot during the day. They’re terrible! Filthy dirty and they smell. The driver has his own office in the front while I can barely get my feet in. I’m six-feet tall and have to put my legs sideways in the cab. The cabbies don’t know where they’re going. And they should absolutely – ABSOLUTELY! - be handicapped accessible: Those people (the disabled) are being denied appropriate use of the city. People who get upset at this should try getting around in a wheel chair. My brother (the late songwriter Doc Pomus) had polio and oh, what an ordeal it was.

What do you think about NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s plan to require new lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before joining the state bar?  It’s a good idea! What do you think we do here? We take cases, people run out of money, and we don’t turn them loose. Other firms do the same thing. People think the criminal justice system is racist. It’s not propelled by a prejudice against race, but if you have a lot of money, you get one kind of justice. If you don’t, you get another kind.

But is it fair for recent law school grads leaving school with record amounts of debt to be the only population subsidizing the right to legal representation for poor people? They could restrict (the pro bono requirement) to the 500 largest law firms in the city: They can afford it.

With gay marriage now legal in New York state, and gaining national momentum, do you predict more gay divorces? We’ve been doing same sex divorces here much longer than same sex marriages, because they would get married in Vermont or whatever, but come to New York courts for the divorce. Same sex divorces are much more contentious than heterosexual divorces. I think it’s because these people have been so screwed over, so scammed and mistreated, they really think they’re going to be happy. They’re so much more disappointed when they finally get married and discover they’re as miserable as everybody else. People are angrier that this societal institution has failed them and they look for a remedy to the injustice.

Why are relationships in New York so hard and the divorces here so contentious?  Money is a part of it. There’s a lot of money in New York and a lot of money involved in the divorces. It’s what they keep under their mattresses and what they caress at night. The richer people are, the more they talk about and think about money. It’s a curse, really. Too, there’s a toughness to New Yorkers. We’re cynical and hard to convince. We grate against each other, we don’t embrace each other. It’s a hostile environment for survival. There’s no grace or elegance in life - unless you’re very rich.

Yet, you’re a rich guy married almost 50 years. What’s your secret? I’ve never had an argument with (Myrna) in 48 years. I’m paid to argue. Why should I give it away for free?

You feel like you give in more than Myrna? All the time! With my kids, too. I had one argument with my son about where he was going to college, and that’s it. They all win every argument. It’s just not worth it to fight. I just don’t argue!

Please share your favorite scrap of obscure New York apocrypha. We had a mayor who got killed flying upside down in an airplane without a seatbelt. It was around World War I. I think his name was Puroy. (After failing to win re-election, John Purroy Mitchel, who was training to fly on the front, fell out of his plane during an Air Service training exercise in 1918 at the age of 38.) I talked to Giuliani about him.

You sound very nostalgic for Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty. The city was run perfectly then! I think he would have made a splendid president. I represented him during his divorce, and that’s when you really get to know a person. He had grace. He got rid of all the squeegee men and improved our quality of life. The city is falling back now.

A lot of people would disagree with you, including many members of the press. He got rid of a lot of the knowledgeable public information people at city agencies and made reporters file FOILs for the most basic public information. Newspapers had to sue to obtain the most basic public information out of that administration!  I wouldn’t know anything about that.

You’re very vocal in your belief that our courts are under funded, and our judges and law clerks over worked and underpaid. But where will the money come from to pay them more? One of the judicial inequities is you’ll get a guy with $125 million tying up the courts for weeks and this other poor guy with 50 cents has to wait until he’s finished (to have his divorce case heard). There’s something wrong with that. These people fighting over $500 end tables, like that guy from Revlon (the five times married Ronald Perelman), should have to pay for the privilege of being in the court system commensurate with the amount of time spent on their case. They should pay the state for the court’s time. At some stage of the case, after financial discovery, which doesn’t take up the court’s time, they should be billed accordingly.

Another thing they should do is implement this program they have in California that works wonderfully: They let every lawyer turn down a judge one time during a case. This works out very well: If you get a lot of lawyers turning down certain judges, the judges have to ask why they’re being turned down. It really speeds up justice and improves the judiciary, but the administrative judges here wouldn’t like it.

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