Legal TNT wrapped in a robe
This no-holds-barred profile of high-flying divorce lawyer Sid Cutler is another example of the wide latitude we allowed journalists at "The Weekly Herald" in terms of editorial content and story length.
The dialogue could have been scripted from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" or "A Fistful of Dollars." Published the week of February 13-19, 1990, I quoted ex-clients whose comments ranged from “he’s cool, professional” to “he’s an asshole.”
Was I having too much fun writing this colorful profile? I certainly hope so! I wanted it to impart to readers a sense of the ego that propels a highly successful legal gunslinger.
Page 12 — The Weekly Herald, February 13-19, 1990
Legal barracuda eats 'em alive
By WARREN PERLEY
The Weekly Herald
He's called barracuda, gunslinger and hitman. And those are only the complimentary epithets. For every client and colleague who swears by him, you'll find two who swear at him.
You're talking about the King of Divorce Lawyers — Sid Cutler, Q.C.
If you have a major case involving big money, high-profile personalities and complex legal issues, he's your man. He's the Rocket Richard of ambulance chasers — a deadly eye for his opponent's weakness and a remorseless hunter’s instinct during cross-examination.
He's the lawyer other attorneys turn to when their marriages are on the rocks.
"He pleaded with my heart in his mouth," said one lawyer whose divorce was handled by Cutler. "He knows the law and is sensitive to the issues."
Ah, but, caveat emptor — buyer beware! There are former clients who feel they received less than royal treatment from Cutler because their cases lacked the challenge, money and prestige needed to keep his attention.
"I'd rip his balls out with my bare hands if I had the chance," said one former female client. “I'd like to put his picture on a dartboard. Another lawyer recommended him to me as some god-like entity. He told me Sid Cutler was magic. So I went to him because I wanted to scare the crap out of my husband."
The strategy worked until Cutler got caught up in a more high-profile case and dropped the first client before her case went to trial.
Another woman who went to him says he negotiated a less-than-adequate settlement with her former husband, neglecting to make provisions for private schools, camps and medical costs in the child support payments.
"He handles big divorces with multi-million dollar settlements," she said. "I was small potatoes. He sent an associate of his to the actual trial because he had another court date."
- Then there was the dossier of the woman who had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of Cutler's legal parries. Cutler, representing the woman's husband, won an interim judgment allowing his cigar-smoking client to stay in the couple's home pending a final decree and over the objections of the health-conscious wife.
"The only reason I didn't go to Cutler in the first place was because I didn't want a bloody battle," the wife said in an interview. "I wanted to be a lady. Instead, I got murdered. Cutler's a street fighter. That judgment he won forcing me to allow my husband to stay in my home another year took a year off my life, maybe 10. It turned me into a screaming banshee."
Here are a few more choice comments from former clients or adversaries — all female and all wishing anonymity concerning Cutler:
- "He's got a huge ego."
- "He's charming and intimidating sitting there behind his big desk."
- “In the courtroom, he's cool, professional and to the point."
- "He's witty and easy to talk to in his office."
- "He's a straight shooter and fair."
- "He's an asshole."
- "He's sexy."
Will the real Sid Cutler please stand up?
In his tailor-fitted, black silk robes and starched white bib, Cutler, 58, exudes confidence as he sits through an interview in the library of the Palais de Justice.
He is devoid of any ostentatious jewelry, preferring a small, thin-banded Seiko Lasalle watch. "I don't like anything heavy on my hands," he says when asked about his choice of a time piece.
He is equally straightforward when asked about clients he has dropped or given less than attentive service.
"I try to give the same effort to both complex and simple cases, but I'm human. I'm prepared to concede not every client walks out satisfied....I have to be a professional and a businessman at the same time — I have an office to pay for."
Unless a case involves highly complex legal issues or vast amounts of money, why would someone choose a lawyer who acknowledges that his fees are "not substantially less" than $500 an hour?
Two possible answers come to mind — prestige and revenge.
Buying the services of a Cutler is like announcing to your friends that you've just bought a fully-loaded Rolls Royce or a new condo on the French Riviera.
Of course, there's also the matter of causing sleepless nights for your ex-spouse to be. A wife knows she has a better chance of getting a fair, out-of-court settlement if her husband knows she's aiming at his financial empire with 6 feet and 200 pounds of legal TNT wrapped in a black robe.
Ladies, if you're facing him in court, stock up on your Kleenex and your water-proof mascara. Wealthy businessmen, haul in your C.A.s to try to hide your assets. Heck, this guy strikes such fear into their hearts that his surname should be turned into a verb, as in: "I've been Cutlered." For really frantic clients, he should have a toll-free number such as 1-800-DIV-ORCE
There are numerous lawyers who can attest to his courtroom prowess. In Cutler's own modest words: "I've creamed some lawyers very badly. In part, it was due to their own lack of preparation and professionalism. I go out of my way to make sure I'm prepared. At the risk of being immodest, I can be a very aggressive and determined cross-examiner."
On the other hand, if he thinks the witness is expecting him to be aggressive, Cutler might come on like Snow White and feign empathy for his quarry in an attempt to "strip their armor."
"Sometimes you go easy and they (witnesses) say: 'Cutler isn't as tough as they say.' They let their defences down. I can get a lot of information from them that way."
For those who may think he's simply a hired gun with no heart. Cutler says he refuses to take any custody cases unless he believes the position of his potential client is in the best interests of the children. He himself has two children from his first marriage — a daughter of 29 and a son of 25. Neither one practises law.
"My clients know that I have a reputation and they want to trade on that reputation," he says. Even the judges know "I'm not going to do anything wrong, dishonest or disreputable."
The main ingredient for courtroom success is good preparation, he says. Out of 70 to 75 weekly working hours, he spends between five and 10 reading the most current material on family law and procedure.
The objective is never to ask a question to which you don't know the answer. Of course, Cutler doesn't always follow his own advice. Such as the party 10 years ago when he met a beautiful young woman named Annette Pankrac.
Pankrac, 25 at the time, sported pigtails and braces.
The separated Cutler introduced himself to the young lady as a gynecologist. "And what might you do for a living?" asked the undercover divorce lawyer.
"I'm a secretary," replied the ravishing young life insurance broker. Talk about corpus delicti. Given that neither one was under oath at the time, it seemed like an auspicious start to a love affair.
Ten years later, Pankrac has long since shed her braces and sports a blonde Brigitte Nielsen hairdo. She favors unconventional outfits such as one she recently described as a "tight-assed business suit" with a bow tie.
What first attracted her to Cutler, 23 years her senior? "I thought he dressed like an obsessive-compulsive and he spoke very properly — no dangling participles."
Cutler and Pankrac live together in a Cote St. Luc condominium and share the good life. About a month of vacations every year in southern resorts where they indulge their passion for golf.
Cutler, who sports a 15 handicap, also bikes and swims. He loves spy stories, autobiographies, action movies and being chauffeured about in his Audi by the cat-quick Pankrac. He also enjoys doing his own cooking — Italian is his favorite.
This Thursday (Feb.15), they'll celebrate their 10th anniversary. How?
"You don't want to know," she replies with a leer. In legal lingo: Nudum pactum.