Posted: Feb. 14, 2007
JUSTICE DELAYED BUT NOT JUSTICE DENIED
By Celia Cohen
"Carolyn Catts" is the name that appears in the legal documents. It was coined to keep the woman's real identity a secret -- appropriately enough, because a humiliating, emotionally crippling secret haunted her for more than 20 years.
She told no one -- not family members, not friends, not even the trusted family doctor she had seen since she was a teen-ager.
She put her secret out of her mind. Almost. "The only time I would think about it, when I was up on Route 202. I would avoid it. I would take the back way to Concord Mall," she said.
If she stayed off Concord Pike in Brandywine Hundred, she would not pass Independence Mall and not see the site where Joel D. Tenenbaum had his law office in 1983.
Tenenbaum was disbarred by the Delaware Supreme Court last week for what happened in that office back then. He was a big shot -- the first full-time executive director of the Community Legal Aid Society in the early 1970s, the first federal magistrate, a junior judicial officer, to be appointed in Delaware, a lawyer nationally and internationally recognized for work on adoption laws.
In the court's sanitized legal terms, Tenenbaum was handed the ultimate punishment for a lawyer because of "clear and convincing evidence" of unlawful imprisonment, indecent exposure and sexual assault.
Tenenbaum, who is 66, denied it happened. The case was unusually difficult to prosecute for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the state Supreme Court's arm in charge of policing lawyers' conduct, because of the long passage of time.
"This was a complex legal issue. There was no Delaware Supreme Court precedent in lawyer disciplinary cases on the issue of delay," said Andrea L. Rocanelli, the chief disciplinary counsel who handled it herself.
The case probably never would have reached the court at all, except that "Carolyn Catts" by chance saw a newspaper story that gave her enough courage to contact Rocanelli.
"She had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. The criminal statute of limitations had run. The civil statute of limitations had run. She had absolutely nothing to gain -- except the pain of telling her story," Rocanelli said.
On disciplinary cases, the statute of limitations never runs. It took a year and a half of work to bring about the disbarment. "That was probably the best phone call I've ever had a chance to make, to tell this woman she had been vindicated 24 years later," Rocanelli said.
"Carolyn Catts" today is a 47-year-old teacher who lives in Newark and has three children, two in college and one in high school. She is finished with keeping her secret because justice finally was done. She no longer needs the pseudonym that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel created for her.
She wants people to know that it was Jill Chadwick who was assaulted. "I'm tired of hiding. The only one who knows who I am is him. I'm tired of feeling like I'm the bad one," she said.
Jill Chadwick was in her early 20s back then. She needed a lawyer because she had been stopped for drunken driving at the beach, and a co-worker at a Christiana Mall department store recommended Tenenbaum. She went to see him, and he agreed to take the case. His fee was $800, and she waited to go back until she collected a couple of paychecks.
Tenenbaum scheduled their next appointment for 7 in the evening. She assumed he had regular evening hours and was surprised that no one else was there. They went into his office, and he locked the door. She asked why, and he said he did not want to be disturbed, perhaps by a janitor. She paid the fee, they talked briefly about her case, and she got up and waited for him to let her out.
Her testimony in the legal documents says he grabbed the back of her neck and forced a kiss on her. She struggled, but he was big. He pinned her on a chair, pulled her shirt up and pushed her pants down. He popped his suspenders off.
She was yelling, but he said no one would hear her. His fingers penetrated her, and he ground against her. He told her he would hurt her or go after her family if she talked about what happened.
She had not even told anyone she had been arrested for drunken driving, so she kept this a secret, too. She was so traumatized, she did not try to find another lawyer.
It was a time of different attitudes -- the heyday of Mothers Against Drunk Driving crusading for a crackdown but a boys-will-be-boys permissiveness in the office.
"He's this big attorney. Who are people going to believe -- a blonde, size four, who goes out all the time? I have never been more afraid in my entire life. My life ended that day emotionally," she said.
"I still had to go to court with him. It was horrific to me, absolutely horrific that I go into the courtroom, and there sits MADD mothers."
She entered a first offenders' program for drunken driving and moved on with a periodically troubled life for the next 22 years, until she was eating a spinach salad one evening at a restaurant and a friend had a newspaper. She saw a story that Tenenbaum had been suspended for practicing law for sexually harassing female clients and employees.
Among the findings then, Tennenbaum had sex with a client and gave her a break on his legal fees, he bit a legal secretary on the neck while she was working, and he fondled a client who was the daughter of his longtime housekeeper and called him "Uncle Joel."
"I saw the word 'Tenenbaum,' and I nearly fainted. I was hysterical. I never even contemplated that I would get a chance to tell my story," she said.
As she eventually testified, "I had always in the back of my mind hoped that someone, just anybody would have come forward -- not that I hoped anybody else would have been sexually assaulted or anything like that. I just never wanted to be alone. . . . I just didn't want to be the only one because I didn't think anybody would believe me."
With Tenenbaum denying even any memory of her, the disciplinary counsel dug up old court records and tracked down the state trooper who had arrested her and actually remembered the case because he had stopped Tenenbaum's wife for speeding about two months earlier.
Jeffrey M. Weiner, who represented Tenenbaum, tried to impeach her testimony because of a faulty memory of the office layout and furniture. Tenenbaum had old photographs of the office -- including one that probably did not help his case.
The photograph showed him holding a cake to celebrate his 50th birthday. The cake -- which can be seen by clicking here -- was shaped like a naked blonde.
Tenenbaum, who could not be contacted for comment, has moved out of Delaware to New Jersey. In his testimony, he pleaded to be allowed to serve out his suspension and seek readmission to the bar, solely for the purpose of retiring and resigning without the "death knell" of disbarment.
"A lawyer's worst nightmare is being disbarred," he said.
A woman's is being attacked sexually, so it makes Tenenbaum and Chadwick even. If ever there was a case that explains why Justice is a woman who holds a balanced scale, this one is it.