On occasion, it becomes clear that someone calling You and the Law is suffering from mental illness and has had difficulty in explaining their legal problem to an attorney’s secretary or paralegal in an understandable manner. At times, rambling incessantly about things unrelated, they wind up never put through to the lawyer.
Then by going online, and researching a key word, up pops one of our articles that deals with a problem similar to theirs. We listen, even to their rumblings, which often yield a clue enabling us to help them.
Such was the case with “Denny,” who lives in a small mountain community in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada. In mid-May of this year he phoned us.
“Mr. Beaver, I read your story about the lady who you helped find her safe deposit box at the Bank of America, and I am in a similar situation. They won’t let me get into my box!” he stated, going from calm to angry within seconds.
No California I.D. or driver’s license - involuntarily committed
“Why won’t they let you in your box?” I asked.
“They need a valid form of state-issued photo ID. My Veteran’s card has no photo, and I do not have a California I.D. or driver’s license,” he replied, with an explanation that opened the door to his state of mind:
“I had a temporary license but never got my real license. Each time I go to DMV they refuse to help me and call the police! That’s why I’m calling you! I want to sue the State of California. I’ve already sent letters to the Governor, our senators, the White House, and those people at the bank had better watch out!”
Practicing law a long time, you get a feel for people, and somehow just know the answers to question you’re about to ask.
“Denny, please correct me if I’m wrong, but in your past I see you getting in trouble with the law. Am I right?”
He immediately replied, “Yes, I violated a restraining order and spent 2 weeks in county jail. A long time ago I had some mental health issues with the VA and even though I was perfectly sane they put me in a mental hospital. Just call my daughter, she will tell you.
(We did. “Dad was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic while in the Army. He refuses to take his meds.)
“There’s nothing wrong with me except I can’t get my bonds from the safe deposit box and I hate those people! Also, I know very important issues of national security which could harm them!”
No attorney client privilege - call placed to Bank of America
As these types of calls do not create an attorney client relationship, I immediately contacted Bank of America’s Media Relations Vice President, Colleen Haggerty. She has always been a terrific problem solver for our readers and this time it was our turn to help B of A.
“You have a mentally-disturbed customer who has made non-specific threats against a branch. Please alert your security people. But he may have a legitimate complaint - they won’t let him into his safe-deposit box for lack of proper identification.”
Banks must know their customer
“Due to the Bank Secrecy Act, banks must know their customer, and this includes seeing a Social Security number, driver’s license or state ID,” Jerry Pluard told You and the Law. He is President and Co-Founder of Safe Deposit Box Insurance Coverage, LLC (SDBIC) — the only company in the United States specializing in insuring contents of a safe deposit box.
“In a situation like your reader’s, common sense should apply. Is he a regular customer? Can they ID him with information on record from when he opened the box?
“If a regional manager is contacted, usually the ok will be given to staff who in fact know the customer. Even though he may not have their required ID, knowing him personally should be enough this time, and he should be instructed to obtain proper ID for future visits,” Pluard recommends.
Safety assured - customer got in his box
Bank of America takes these things seriously and we received a call from B of A’s Corporate Security Manager based in California. At the bank’s request, we will just call him Mike. “Protecting our employees is critically important,” he stated, adding, “And we will try to make this a win-win for everyone.”
As she always has, Colleen Hagerty came through, arranging for Denny to get into his box. Over the next several days he repeatedly called our office, each time saying, “Thank you, I got my bonds and closed the box.”
It was enough for us to break out the emergency Valium.