Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


In law and politics, denials reign supreme. Rarely, if ever, will one find a lawyer or politician apologizing (unless it is long after the fact and is done to mount a comeback or for some strategic reason undermining the sincerity of the apology).

In fact, denials are so ingrained in the law that California allows a defendant to generally deny all of the material allegations of an unverified complaint. (C.C.P. Sec. 431.30(d) ("If the complaint ... is not verified, a general denial is sufficient ....").)

Last week, I mediated a business dispute where I represented the claimants who believed they were defrauded in their purchase of a restaurant. (By way of background, mediations are confidential settlement conferences before a neutral, so what is said during them cannot be used against the party later in court.) In this mediation, I got to observe the difference between a lawyer and a layperson apology.

After I spoke on behalf the plaintiffs, the defense lawyer started by addressing my clients directly. He said that his clients "felt bad" about what happened. Then, his next sentence communicated that they were not responsible. Not a very satisfying apology.

Nevertheless, we were eventually able to settle the dispute at terms highly favorable to my clients. Then they unexpectedly received a sweetener. The other side asked to speak with my clients and apologized for the whole ordeal. It was sincere, complete and healing. The apology didn't cost the other side any money, but it was extremely valuable to everyone.