Marty HayesA Handshake Deal

by Marty Hayes, J.D., President, Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network

I don’t remember when our society moved away from trusting a handshake. I do remember being told while growing up that a man’s word is his bond, and if one made a deal with another and they shook hands on it, it was as good as any written contract. Concurrently, when one person makes a promise to another, then that person lives up to the promise, period. Of course, that also means one should not make promises they cannot keep.

This must sound quaint to those born less than 50 years ago. Recently, the veracity of my word (the promises the Network makes to its members) has come into question. This disturbs me.

The first major issue was the fight with the WA Insurance Commissioner (OIC). You see, from the onset, the OIC did not accept our word as truth, and argued just that to the courts. The courts also did not accept that the Network’s promise to only pay expenses for someone after a self-defense incident is reliable, when judges’ questions seemed to imply that we were shysters, and because we did not have a written contract, we would not keep our promises to members.

Additionally, an internet promotional video by a lawyer selling retainers (which at least one state insurance regulator has called insurance) argues that since we do not have a signed, written contract, we will somehow weasel out on our promises to members.

Responding to his allegations and those of the OIC, I felt compelled to give a little insight into my thinking and why we do not have members sign contracts and why we are not allied with any insurance company.

When we started the Network in 2008, we openly explained that the money we could spend on any given case would not exceed half of the total of the Legal Defense Fund. Fund balances were and still are stated publicly in our online journals and on our website. For example, in December of 2010, with just a little under three years elapsed since founding, our journal announced a Legal Defense Fund of $85,000 serving 2,250 members, most of whom were our students and professional, industry contacts. Five years later, my 2015 wrap up publicized a $600,000+ Fund balance and in May of 2017, we heralded the Fund breaking the $1,000,000 mark.

As we grew membership and the balance of the Legal Defense Fund, reserving half of the Fund became less of an issue, and about five years ago, we dropped language stating that we would reserve one-half of the Legal Defense Fund, replacing it with a promise to simply cover your legal costs after self defense. In reality, we had already fully paid member legal expenses after self defense, for all of the member cases arising between 2008-2020 anyway; we had never had to implement the half-fund limit. By the time we stopped stating the one-half Fund limit, the Legal Defense Fund had over three million dollars, and now we have over four million dollars in the Legal Defense Fund and expect to keep it at that balance.

At the time we reserved one half of the Fund, we were aware that several insurance-based companies who were competing for the same clients, were offering set amounts of a quarter of a million or more. That was some years ago; I pay little attention to the other companies anymore, so can’t say what they are offering today. I do know that we have plenty of money to back up our promises to our members.

Value of a Promise

The foundational question, of course, is how good is that promise? A promise is only as good as the person or people making it. When I first started the Network 16 years ago, I was fairly well known in the training industry, but not so much in the legal arena. I had worked as an expert witness for armed citizens who were wrongfully charged with crimes involving firearms. I had what I felt was a good command of the legal issues surrounding self defense, having taught for Massad Ayoob with his companies the Lethal Force Institute and Massad Ayoob Group since 1990.

At about the same time, in the early ’90s, I started working as an expert witness in court cases involving firearms use, and use of force in self defense. Then, in 2003, I decided to go to law school, which I attended part-time while running The Firearms Academy of Seattle. Upon graduation in 2007, we started putting together the pieces which would eventually make up the Network, and in January 2008, the Network was formed.

I felt at that time, that we had made a strong, positive start, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to make sure that the people behind the Network were so well-thought-of in the industry that it would be ludicrous to question the promises made to members. So, I asked several of my friends and colleagues in the training industry to join us and be part of an advisory board, to be able to review self-defense cases and to lend their credibility and reputation to the cause. This is how we brought Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, Tom Givens and Dennis Tueller on board, and later attorney and expert witness Emanuel Kapelsohn, gun rights attorney Marie D’Amico, and trainer Karl Rehn.

Interestingly, while other companies have what I would call celebrity endorsers who get paid to endorse the company, none of our Advisory Board members receive any compensation for being a member of our board. They lend their knowledge, expertise, and reputation to the Network because they believe in the mission of the Network and trust us not to let them down.

Do a web search for “complaints about Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.” Wouldn’t you expect to find some reference to instances where the Network broke their promise(s) to members? Well, as of this writing, I could find no such references. Try it with some of the other companies and see what you get.

There are also several websites dedicated to reviews about businesses, Yelp and Better Business Bureau. Below are links to the pages from these websites dedicated to the Network.

Our Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating is A+ and unlike several competitors, the only things listed are positive ratings, without any need to have settled customer complaints over the past 16 years because there have been none.

A notorious site for complaints has no user comments about us at all:

The bottom line? I have worked for 16 years to make sure the Network and how we do business is above reproach. When someone speaks ill of the Network by spewing false information, intimating we will not do what we say, I take it personally. That’s just the way I am.

When a Contract is Formed

We have been criticized for not having a written contract. But that doesn’t mean a contract is not formed. A contract is formed when a person –
1) makes an offer (goods or service) and
2) that offer is accepted, and
3) consideration is then performed. That consideration can (and most always is a payment of money) or it could be some other type of consideration.

For example, you drive through McDonalds, pull up to the reader board and start reading the menu. (That is the OFFER). Then, you order your Big Mac and fries. (That is the ACCEPTANCE of the offer.) At this point, however, a legal contract has not yet been formed. You then pull up to window and pay the money (CONSIDERATION). Now you have a legally-binding contract, and if you don’t get your meal, you could sue.

With the Network, what we tell people on our website is the OFFER. When you hit “Join the Network” you are accepting the offer of what we say we will do for members. When you pay for the membership, that is the CONSIDERATION, and we have a legally-binding contract. So, what does the Network say it will do?

First, we say we will send you educational materials.

Second, we say we will pay your legal expenses (explained on the website) after a legitimate act of self defense. Whatever it takes, we will pick up the cost.

Because we include the words “legal act of self defense,” we qualify our offer to make sure we are not funding defense of criminal acts.

The use of force against another person, whether it is physical non-deadly or deadly force, means you have committed a criminal act. It is only considered a non-criminal act when you have a reasonable explanation for your use of force. This is why you and your attorney need to tell us (in non-specific terms) what your reason was for using force.

Our willingness to pay for your legal defense comes with one big disclosure, that being, we reserve the right NOT to pay your legal expenses. For any reason. We need to include that disclosure to make the legitimate case for not being insurance. Stop and consider the consequences if we arbitrarily declined assistance for any of our members.

I knew when I started the Network, we needed to be sure that if we declined assistance, it had better be for a good reason. That is because in this day and age of social media, we would very quickly lose the majority of our members if we broke our promises to them. That is why we bend over backwards to assist our members, but only after determining the instance was a legitimate act of self defense.

When people criticize us for this, and intimate that we might not pay for the legal expenses in a lawful self-defense incident, I counter with “Show me!” One would think that after 16 years, if we were screwing people over, we would have heard about it.

Next month I will discuss the specifics of our assistance to members.

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