Anne on July 7th, 2010

As I mention in the page About the Story of Anne’s Life, I’m writing the story of my life here because I have been asked by many people to write the story of my life, and encouraged to do so by many more. Of course, having family and friends ask or suggest it has been the most compelling reason.

But many others have asked, encouraged, or otherwise influenced me to write my story. And many – if not most – of those have done so after reading the “about me” page at my original personal blog, Mange

(If you don’t happen to speak French – and, make no mistake, I don’t, but I can swear like a sailor in a few languages that I don’t otherwise speak – you can check out the Google translation of the term “mange merde” here, but be warned: it is very rude.)

Now, actually I rarely swear, but somehow swearing in a foreign language just doesn’t feel so unladylike.

Anyways, so that you don’t have to go look it up on that potty-mouthed site of mine, here is what that original “about me” page says:

From street urchin to high school dropout to M-16 slinging truck driver to abused wife to single mother to Stanford Law School, CEO and policy maker, this is my story.

All pure, unexpurgated me.

I was born in the spring many years ago, in what was then a rough part of New York City affectionately known as “Hell’s Kitchen”.

I was born on an April morning, and so my mother wanted to name me “April Dawn”. My father nixed that idea, saying that with a name like that I could only grow up to be a stripper or a hooker. I suspect that he may have regretted that intervention when I instead became a lawyer.

Also, I was born at Bellevue hospital, which was probably a great portent of things to come.

I had my first encounter with the legal system when I was about 18 months old: my then-single mother went to a Christmas party on Christmas eve, leaving me in the “care” of my three older half-siblings, the eldest of whom was all of 6 years old. Christmas morning arrived and she still had not come home. I got into one of the other kids’ Christmas presents – a paint set, and smeared it all over my body – panicking, the eldest went to a neighbor’s apartment and asked for help, and that’s when Child Protective Services was called in. I spent my 2nd Christmas in protective custody.

My mother ultimately abandoned me for the final time at the age of 3 – by which I mean she dropped me off for a visit one day and never came back for me. I then went to live with my father, who did a spectacular job of caring for me, but had some issues of his own. And so I struck out on my own at the age of 11, finding places for myself to live until I got my first apartment on my own at the age of 16.

Along the way I had been emancipated by the state of Massachusetts, and it drove the principal of my small-town high school – one of four which I attended over the years – absolutely crazy because if I missed a day of school, I would just write myself a note, and they had to accept it.

“Please excuse Anne for having missed school yesterday. She wasn’t feeling well. Signed, Anne”

Half way through my senior year of high school I got rather sick. I was at that time supporting myself by working full-time nights in a nursing home, going straight to school in the morning, and then going straight to another part-time job after school. Maybe I wasn’t so much sick, as just very, very tired. Something had to go, and as I was supporting myself, it couldn’t be my jobs. So I dropped out of high school half-way through my senior year, and took my high school equivalency.

And, oh yes, I also joined the Army.

Now, my primary reason for joining the Army was to get the GI Bill, which we still had back then. I figured it was the only way that I had a prayer of paying for college.

While I was in the army, I met my first husband. We got married, and 10 months later our daughter was born.

My daughter is a wonderful person. Unfortunately, my then-husband had a terrible temper, and no problem with turning that anger outwards, to us.

So I left.

This, by the way, is why I have little sympathy for battered women who stay. That’s just bullshit. Yeah, I know, I’m going to piss off a lot of people by saying that, but if I could do it, so can they.

My motto has always been “you do what you gotta do”, and you know what? It works.

I single-parented my daughter, and pulled us both up by my bootstraps working as, among other things, a pharmaceutical sales rep, and an office manager for a dental office. I had enrolled in college, and so was single-parenting, working full-time days, and going to college full-time at night. Thank goodness for that GI bill!

During that time, I became heavily involved in fathers’ rights. How and why that happened is another story for another time, but I ended up founding a national fathers’ rights organization on top of everything else that I was doing, testifying at legislative hearings and holding support meetings for disenfranchised fathers.

It was also around this time that I discovered the Internet. Oh, it wasn’t the Internet as most of you think of it today. There was no worldwide web, there was no DSL. Commercial email services had only just started, and people connected to them with 300 baud modems.

But it was wonderful, and I became active on the new Internet services, ran forums, and set up a fathers’ rights BBS.

While I had not originally intended to go to law school, I was hooked from the moment I took my first law class in undergrad. So I declared a legal studies major, worked my ass off, made Phi Beta Kappa, and applied to law school.

In 1989 my daughter and I moved out to California so that I could attend law school at Stanford.

I’m probably Stanford Law School’s only high school drop out.

When I arrived at Stanford, one of the first things I did was to set up my fathers’ rights BBS, in my student housing, on my Commodore 128.

Once I had graduated and took the bar, I became one of only a handful of fathers’ rights attorneys in the country.

I represented single fathers (only) in private practice – reconnecting them with their children and putting them back in their lives – until 1998.

At that time two things happened – the first was that I hit the wall – I had completely burned out. Always representing the underdog – particulary single fathers – is a constant uphill battle, and is soul-destroying.

The second was having a son with one of the only men on the planet brave enough to make sure that one of the only fathers’ rights attorneys on the planet would never be able to represent them, by, you know, marrying them.

[Editor’s note: Since the original writing of this piece, we moved to Boulder, Colorado, and then subsequently divorced. Turns out that marrying a fathers’ rights advocate was a pretty shrewd thing for a father to do. We parted amicably, and co-parent cooperatively. I got custody of Boulder in the divorce.]

So I was really ready for a change. And I was on the phone one day with my friend Paul Vixie, who had at that time founded the first anti-spam organization, MAPS, and was crying on his shoulder about how I was closing my practice, and didn’t know what I was going to do next, and he said “Well, we’re about to get sued, and you are one of the few attorneys I know who really understands the Internet, so why don’t you come in-house for me?”

So I went in-house for MAPS as their director of Legal and Public Affairs, and that’s how I ended up in the anti-spam, email delivery industry.

I stayed at MAPS for a couple of years, and was then recruited to be the CEO of a new anti-spam, email delivery start-up which we eventually called Habeas.

I left Habeas when I was summarily relieved of my duties by the primary VC due to our religious differences.

He believed he was God, and I didn’t.

From Habeas I went on to be the CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy (ISIPP) (formerly known as the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy), where I am today.

In the course of my professional life I have had many amazing moments, and many great honours. For example:

I have been asked to consult with the California legislature regarding child support and spousal support.

I have been asked to speak to the California judges association about bias against fathers in the judicial system.

I have been personally invited by then Governer Pete Wilson to speak at his specially convened Focus on Fathers Summit.

I have been invited to teach at a law school, which I did for many years before moving out of state, to Colorado.

I have been asked by Senator McCain’s office to help them architect and author legislation which goes after affiliate spammers.

And I count among my business friends many amazing people for whom I have a great deal of respect, and about whom I still think to myself “You like me! You really like me!”, among them, in addition to Paul, being Warren Farrell, Tom Campbell, and Guy Kawasaki (the latter two whom I am lucky enough to have counted as my mentors – one of whom kept me sane during my theological questioning and subsequent excommunication from Habeas).

The list goes on and on, and so could I, but I won’t.

Because my point – and I do have one – is this:

Not bad for a kid from Hell’s Kitchen who struck out on her own at the age of 11, eh?

So to those very few people who actually believed that the whole of me was greater than the sum of the parts of my life: thank you. Your faith in me helped instill in me one of the most important ingredient in this life: the knowledge that I could do anything, if I set my mind to it.

And to those of you who thought that a girl with my background and history could never amount to anything – like my professor at university who upon hearing that I had applied to Stanford and Yale, when I asked him for a letter of recommendation for law school, snidely said “don’t get your hopes up”, well… the name of that potty-mouthed site says it all.

Anne P. Mitchell, Attorney at Law
Dean of Cybersecurity & Cyberlaw, Lincoln Law School of San Jose
CEO/President, Institute for Social Internet Public Policy

P.S. People often ask me what the Esq. means. In the U.S. it designates an attorney who has been admitted to the bar, and is licensed to practice law. A J.D. next to someone’s name means that they have graduated from law school, but are not admitted to the bar and licensed to practice law (or that they feel the Esq. is too pretentious because they are unaware of the different meanings). In Great Britain, the term Esq. designates nobility, typically one level below that of Knight, which is probably why some folks think that using it as an attorney is pretentious. Hey, the U.S. got its system of common law *from* England, so if you want to call me Lady Anne, feel free.

P.P.S. Along the way, I have picked up a couple of other mottos, to go with “You do what you gotta do.” In fact, I have three simple mottos – or rules, really – for life:

– You do what you gotta do.

– It is what it is.

– Make a difference.

The first two will get you through any situation. Really.

The third, well, I’m a big fan of Gandhi’s saying that you must be the change you wish to see in the world.

I try to make a difference in both small, and not-so-small, ways. Most recently I’ve been doing that by making donations to the fund-raising efforts of individuals whose efforts are verified as legitimate, so to someone needing funds for breast cancer surgery, to another needing tuition to take a certification course, to a dog who needed urgent life-saving surgery after being attacked by another, much larger dog, and to the fund-raiser for a young man who desperately wanted to go to college, and who was accepted to college, but could not quite raise the initial entry fees.

The most recent large-ish thing I’ve done is raise over $14,000 for the relief effort for the city of Dushanbe, in Tajikistan, back during their historically harsh winter in 2008 (you can read about that winter here). I promise that I’ll write that up some day, but the basics of it were that I had just interviewed someone with a connection to the World Food Programme, I heard someone from the WFP on the radio talking about how dire things were in Tajikistan, and I live in Boulder, Dushanbe’s sister city (Dushanbe is the capitol of Tajikistan), and so I thought “Hey, I know someone with the connection to the WFP, I live in Boulder, I have to think that the people of Boulder would want to help their sister city,” and so I started making phone calls. The result was this: It’s not pretty (it was thrown together quickly, as it had an short end date), but it got the job done!

Anne on September 19th, 2015

Many, many people have asked me how I got involved in fathers’ rights.

In fact, when people meet me they often say something like, “But, Anne, you are a divorced, single, custodial mother. How is it possible that you could have gotten into father’s rights?” I have had women call me a traitor to my sex, which I consider to be quite a compliment given the sources.

So here is how I got involved in fathers’ rights – this is taken from the transcript of an interview I did a few years ago, so it may not be as polished as it might otherwise be, but it’s from the heart.

How I Got Involved in Fathers’ Rights

I was putting myself through university, and I was doing this by working at a dental office, where I was the office manager. This was an office in downtown Buffalo. It was right near the court. We had a lot of attorneys as patients.

One of our patients came breezing in, very late for her appointment. She was very apologetic. She said, “I am so sorry I am late for this appointment, I was at the capitol testifying. I am part of the New York Family Law Bar and I was testifying about the new proposed child support legislation.” I said, “Well you are in favor of child support legislation, right?” She said, “Oh no, this is a terrible law.” She started telling me all the reasons it was such a horrible law. It had to do primarily with that it first of all gave judges no discretion at all to make allowances in a case. It set up a formula which is pretty much the law of the land.

Most states have a formula where you look at your income, you look at how many kids there are, you look at how much time the children are with each parent, and that is pretty much it. That dictates how much child support the non-custodial parent would be paying. But, because this particular law made it so the judge could not deviate at all unless they jumped through so many hoops that no judge would ever have done this it meant that people who were already paying to the best of their ability were really going to be in a lot of trouble. Especially because the other aspect of it was that it was retroactive. This meant that someone could have been paying to the best of their ability, paying faithfully every month and all of the sudden find out that they are now in arrears thousands of dollars.

Now, as she was explaining this to me, I was thinking about my very recent own personal experience with the family law system. I was very recently divorced, a single mother. Our divorce had been I thought very contentious, now I know that it was really quite tame compared to some. But, the point is our divorce had just been finalized. Even though we were through, for a split second I did the calculations and realized that with this new law I could have destroyed my ex.

And for that split second it was really tempting.

I quickly shook that off. I went, “Oh my god.” Here I am. I’m already done with my divorce and the power this law would have given me was too awful to even contemplate. Just for that second the power trip that was there. How I could have destroyed him. He had just lost his job. He had a baby on the way with his new fiancé, and I could absolutely have destroyed him. But after that split-second where it was tempting, I was horrified. Somehow, I don’t know how, but somehow I had the presence of mind to realize that if this passed, what it would do is it would cause these guys who were really on the edge, trying to make it, it would cause them to go underground, because they wouldn’t be able to do it. That would be really bad for the kids. First of all, the moms and the kids wouldn’t be getting any support, but more importantly, the kids wouldn’t have their dads.

So that’s really what galvanized me. I was extremely politically naïve at that time, and I said to her, “Oh, my gosh, well someone has to do something. We have to have a referendum.” Well New York doesn’t have a referendum. But again, I was politically naïve. I had no idea. I thought that citizens could just go to the capitol and get something going like that. I ended up founding an organization. It had the unfortunate name of; well it was called People for Reasonable and Intelligent Support Measures. Which of course the acronym is PRISM, as you can look through a prism, it bends light. But, when I would call I would say, “Hello this is Anne Mitchell calling from PRISM.” And you can see where that’s going! People thought it meant I was calling from prison. So that was a very poor name. It was a good lesson in naming organizations. It was specifically founded to go and testify in Albany about this law and how bad it was. I am very happy to say that even though that was my very first foray into politics and father’s rights, that we were at least in part responsible for the fact that those two really bad aspects of the law were taken out and were not passed. So, that’s how I got started in father’s rights.

After that I finished university, and I moved to California to go to law school at Stanford. Frankly, by that time I thought…It had already been a couple of years. I was working in father’s rights. I thought I’ve done my civic duty. I’m done now. My daughter and I, remember I was a single parent, her father and she have a good relationship and I always encouraged it, but she came with me to California by agreement with her father. I thought “Now I’m going to graduate from law school and I’m going to get a big job at a big firm and make lots of money and I’m not going to be a poor single parent anymore. We’re going to live high.”

That’s what I was thinking going into law school, but even before I graduated it was really clear I was not going to be able to walk away from it. Because once you have something like this under your skin and you really feel it, you just can’t turn your back on it. I founded a father’s rights organization during law school. I ran a father’s rights bulletin board from a computer in my student housing.

When I graduated I was looking at the possibility of an offer from one of those big Silicon Valley firms and an offer from a tiny, two-lawyer firm that did family law and personal injury. They were going to pay me half of what the big firm was going to pay me but they were going to give me all of the family law I could have. They were going to let me still do my father’s rights work. They took me even before I passed the bar. They said once you pass the bar we are giving you our family law department. I just couldn’t walk away from that.

I actually left that job before I got the results of my bar exam, because I knew that I was going to open my own fathers’ rights law practice, and I felt it wasn’t right to keep taking their money when I knew that I was going to leave.

I opened my law practice for single fathers in 1993, and while I am no longer in private practice, I’ve been involved in fathers’ rights ever since.