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  • Jim Ferraro

The Personal and the Professional Collide

My colleague Marjorie was a young, up-and-coming lawyer who had worked for me for six years. She was smart and beautiful and thought the sun rose and set on me. She was six years younger than me and extremely fit, and we shared a lot in common. She was eager to please—in every way. I didn’t mind, even though I knew I was breaking my marriage vows.

I’d been putting in so much time at the office for years that I rarely spent any time at home with my wife or my kids. Something was definitely changing at home, and in my relationship with Diane. For me, things began to change when my firm was struggling back in 1987 and I wasn’t getting the support at home that I wanted from my wife. At the time, she was encouraging me to shut down my practice and join a large, established law firm.

I wanted her to believe in me as much as I did; when she didn’t, I felt like an outsider in our relationship. I know it couldn’t have been easy for Diane to be on her own while I worked 18 hours or more a day. Working weekends was common, too. What woman wants that kind of relationship? I felt bad. I really did. At the same time, Marjorie had ways of making me feel good. She was constantly telling me how smart I was, what a good lawyer I was, and how attractive she found me. She became irresistible.

In the three years we’d worked on discovery for the Castillo case, Marjorie and I had spent a lot of time together and had grown quite close. She went to most of the depositions with me, and while I was the one who deposed the witness, I liked having her there by my side. I never told her I would leave my wife, nor did I promise that our relationship was more than it was. I was careful to be clear about how I felt. I loved my wife and children.

Regardless of our personal relationship, Marjorie never wavered from her professional obligations during this time. She was a tremendous help, and knew the case almost as well as I did. We were a team. I was going to have her at the trial, as she would easily be able to handle some of the workload and give me a breather here and there. I thought it would help me survive the onslaught from DuPont’s dozen lawyers. Knowing she was in my corner and ready to assist was a huge relief to me.

As my career took off and our family dynamic changed, Diane’s and my relationship had slowly drifted away from what it once was. Although we weren’t the kind of couple who got into crazy screaming matches or who constantly argued, we had, sadly, become the kind of couple who preferred staying independently busy and spending an increasing amount of time apart.

I knew Diane and I were in trouble when I agreed to take the Castillo case. I don’t think it was a factor in my saying yes. In fact, I’m certain I said yes because every time I looked at my children I was reminded that I felt called to serve a higher purpose in my life. I believed lawyers are supposed to take what they do seriously and work to make a positive difference in people’s lives. While we don’t take a Hippocratic Oath like doctors do, I always felt that it was my job and my responsibility to seek justice for those who couldn’t do it themselves. I suppose this altruistic approach to my profession comes with a high price, especially when working on the time-consuming types of cases I do.

In the fall of 1995, the ultimate cost was the demise of my marriage. After 18 years together, Diane and I realized we were no longer compatible as husband and wife. We were two different people, and as a result we separated on October 1 of that year. I moved to a small furnished condo in Coconut Grove. It came decorated with cheap bamboo furniture, a far cry from the comfortable and well-appointed home that Diane and I had created together for our family. I was living a Spartan existence by choice. I think I was subconsciously punishing myself for my pending divorce.

Leaving my children and moving out of our family home was by far the hardest decision I had ever made. It left me with an empty feeling deep inside my soul. My father had instilled in me from a very early age a meaningful sense of family. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, especially Diane or the kids.

Before I moved out, I came clean with Diane about my affair with Marjorie. I didn’t like lying to her or hiding behind closed doors. It wasn’t fair to anyone. While I never promised Marjorie a future, I had taken vows with Diane. I felt confessing was the right thing to do. As difficult and painful as the truth was to tell, I wanted Diane to know everything. She didn’t deserve to be hurt more than I had already hurt her.

In my next post, I share a bit more of my painful separation, and my predicament with my colleague. Not to mention a public incident involving a client that affects how you’re perceived as a professional.

You can find many more details of my personal background, and my professional path, as well as the story of the landmark Castillo-DuPont case, in my book, Blindsided, from which these posts are adapted.


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