Television is obsessed with courtroom drama, but real life can often pack just as much of a punch. We've assembled a collection of stories in the courtroom where people experienced moments of relief and triumph when they knew they had won. The verdict is in: these stories are great.
Leash Your Dogs, People
“So I filed the lawsuit in January. We exchanged ‘discovery’ (each side sends questionnaires and gets carefully worded answers) over the next few months, and I file a motion for summary judgment, meaning I’m asking the court to let me win the case without a jury because the case is so obvious.
Right before I file this motion, I figure let’s review the discovery materials and see if there’s anything I missed. And what do you know, the other side made a massive mistake on literally just the fourth out of 100+ questions that I asked. It’s a dog bite case, and every single time I asked about the bite, the response says something along the lines of ‘We admit to this and that, but we deny that our dog was involved in any dog attack.’
Well, Question 4 asks whether they admit that their dog was not leashed on the day when it bit my client, and they simply answer, ‘Admit.’ Meaning, they admit their dog was not leashed, AND they admit that their dog was the one that bit my client. That was the ONE thing that was genuinely in dispute.
At the time I wrote the questions, I would not have dreamed that they would have the guts to deny their dog’s involvement. Their dog obviously was the one that did it. They let their dog out every day, no leash, and it terrorized the neighborhood for months (killing chickens, fighting with people’s dogs, chasing cars) before it finally bit my client. It was the only dog that ever did this. And yet the insurance company tried to lowball my clients and refuse to even cover their medical bills, so after two years of negotiating they finally lawyered up.
They tried to argue at the hearing that it was a mistake and they only meant to admit to the lack of a leash, but the judge held them to their word (most likely because the other evidence made it clear it could only have been their dog anyway).”
Even the Lawyer Got In Trouble
“In my divorce trial, my ex wife spent about two hours explaining to the court what a bad person I was and all the horrible things I had done to her and my children and that I was unfit to be a parent. Two solid hours… Lie upon lie.
Just six months earlier? My wife had snuck into my house — she’s the one who moved out — and went on my computer to type me a love letter! ‘Oh, you’re so wonderful! You’re such an amazing father, great provider, great husband! You’ve done so much for the community. Please don’t leave me!’ That’s the gist of it.
Well, she didn’t print it or sign, it was just a file on my computer left on the screen for me to find. So our challenge — after all her testimony to the contrary — get her to admit she wrote this letter. I told my attorney — ask her! She won’t be able to lie if she’s sworn in! Plus she’s going to feel incredibly guilty about all these lies.
So…he handed her a printout. He had one too. He started reading it. He asked her, ‘Continue the reading.’ She started to cry.
He asked her, ‘Do you remember writing this letter?’
Her face was shriveling… She looked at her attorney and said ‘I’m sorry Sandy,’ (her attorney’s first name). Then she looked at the courtroom and said ‘Yes, I wrote this.’
There was silence for a few moments. Then the judge said ‘Attorneys — in my chambers! Now!’
My attorney told me later: ‘The judge understood that when your wife said she was sorry to her lawyer, that meant that her attorney was aware this letter MIGHT be brought up and that she had instructed her client to lie.’ The judge was FURIOUS! Back in the courtroom my attorney went down the list lie by lie. Did he really do this? Did he really do that? When you say he was doing this, wasn’t it really that? Etc. Then he had her read the entire letter again. After that, my divorce went from me being 1/2 inch away from losing all custody and relegated to supervised visits to — I got full custody.
Made for TV or what?”
Except for That, Yes
“I had a client who was accused of taking a young woman’s car and then crashing it/fleeing the scene. The girl testified at trial that she had given him the keys that night because she was beyond tipsy and ‘would never, ever drink and drive.’ Apparently she was not aware that I had requested and obtained a copy of her driving record which showed she received an arrest for impaired driving a month after the incident.
I still remember the look on her face when I handed her driving record to her and said, ‘Except for that one time you got caught a month later, right?’
The look on the judge’s face was equally memorable.”
A Single Macaroni Noodle
“I’m not a lawyer, but I took my old landlord to court when I was in college. They stole my security deposit over malarky: They claimed I ‘trashed’ the place, not knowing that I took pictures and video when I moved in and out.
Their ‘evidence’ was a VHS quality recording of going through a perfectly clean apartment in better condition than it was when I moved in, but then they opened up the top of the stove and found a single piece of elbow macaroni under it, holding it up triumphantly.
That was the crux of their ‘defense.’ The judge was not amused and I got all my money back plus my lawyer fees and the filing fee.
She then fought against her own lawyer to avoid paying him.”
A Higher Power
“It wasn’t at trial, but during a deposition on a case where two former employees decided to start their own company in a VERY niche market, but decided to make their plans on company laptops they unsuccessfully tried to brick. There isn’t anything illegal about wanting to leave one company and start your own. The problem was how they did it, which was trying to poach existing clients while still employed, which breached their fiduciary duty, particularly of loyalty. I believe we also went after them for intentional interference with contract, as they weren’t trying to solicit new clients for their business, but rather trying to get existing ones to break their contracts with our client. Using the company laptop to try to do it just made it way easier to catch them when the company IT guy found all the emails.
One of the defendants was the one being deposed. She said she ‘answered to a higher power than the company.’ When pressed on what that meant, she said ‘herself.’ That got reused prominently at trial.”
A Car Crash Mixup
“I was sued for a car crash. While the plaintiff was on the stand, she began recounting the event and everyone realized it was a completely different crash. Different cars involved, different time of day, everything. Upon cross-examination, she revealed that she had FOUR lawsuits running concurrently and couldn’t keep them all straight. The jury foreman looked at me and rolled his eyes!
Her eventual payout (paid by my insurance co) was a pittance, less than the initial settlement offer before the whole thing went to trial. Her lawyer was shaking with anger when court adjourned. He was one of those ‘we don’t get paid unless we get money for you’ guys, so he lost a lot of money on that one.”
One Company’s Junk is Another Company’s Treasure?
“I worked on a case involving defective processors. In discovery we got emails from the defendant’s engineers that had worked on the processors. They were in an Asian country but the emails were in English because they were going to US executives. One of the more senior engineers basically laid out the exact defect we were suing over, explaining what the problem was and why it was their fault, and finishing with, ‘This is big problem, we ship JUNK to customer!’
Needless to say we hit them over the head with that in mediation, and they settled shortly after.”
Well You See, Your Honor, We Wanted the Money
“Not a lawyer but I played one in small claims court. My lease had an exit clause that said if I fronted two months’ rent, they would work to lease my place and return anything unused. I checked with the office ahead of time, they ensured me there was a waiting list, so I gave them the two months and moved. They never returned a dime. I talked to the new tenant and confirmed they moved in a week later.
In court, the judge was commenting on how he didn’t see anything explicitly saying they would return any unused rent, even though that intent was stated to me a few times. Dumbo from the leasing office piped in with ‘Your honor, in almost every case we can return some money, but in this case we didn’t have a tenant in the two months after he left.”
So she gave the case back to me and I presented the affidavit from the new tenant confirming the move in date. Judge awarded me double what they owed. Turns out leasing office dumbos 1 and 2 thought they could lie to me and ‘return’ my excess rent money to themselves.”
What a Wild Fabrication
“I’m a trial lawyer. I have a ton of these.
My favorite was probably a driving-while-impaired where the cop was in a Buffalo Wild Wings with my client watching a fight. Like, the cop was standing at the bar in full uniform, then when my client walked by him to leave, followed him out.
Client was only actually going to his car to grab his phone charger because he was going home with the bartender. He hadn’t even closed his tab yet). Cop arrested him and charged him with the driving-while-impaired for opening his car door, then fabricated this story for his report about how client got in car, turned it on, and began to pull out of the space to leave the parking lot. He also denied being inside the Buffalo Wild Wings – on the stand, under oath, to my face.
Surprise! I talked to the bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings and got the security tape. It very clearly (like surprisingly good quality, don’t try to steal from a BWW, by the way) showed cop standing at the bar, watching my client walk out the front door, then follow him 30 seconds later. Parking lot cam also showed client barely touched the door handle before cop stopped him.”
“Years ago I had to do something at a strip mall in a bad part of town. It took me about 20 minutes, and then I found that my car had been towed. Got an Uber to the tow yard. Giant sign says ‘cash only’. Had to call another Uber, drive to the ATM and back, and pay them $300-some bucks. Got a hastily made hand-written receipt that, believe it or not, was itemized.
Went home, googled, found that they violated the law in three separate ways: towed illegally; illegally refused to accept credit cards; and had multiple charges that the law called ‘unreasonable’ like dolly fees and load / unload fees.
Took them to small claims court.
The judge began by asking the tow yard owner about his relationship with the property owner and how the decision was made to tow my car.
‘Oh,’ the slimy tow truck dude answered, ‘My cousin works there, if he says tow, I tow. It’s a hundred percent legal!’
The judge’s eyebrows begin to rise.
‘But,’ the dude continued, ‘BUT what I detest the most your honor is this MEAN PERSON claiming I don’t take credit cards. I’m a businessman! I take credit cards all the time! He’s a low life that does not have any credit cards, that’s why he wanted to pay cash!’
I was having a ‘HOLD IT’ overload, and the judge saw me smiling and hopping in my seat and patting my manila folder of receipts.
‘Do you actually not have any credit or debit cards?’ the judge asked me.
I pulled out my wallet and showed him, and then I pulled out a timestamped photo of the ‘CASH ONLY’ sign I took the day of, and another one I took the morning of the hearing.
The guy mumbled something like ‘OK you got me there’ and then had nothing but, ‘Huh, I didn’t know that,’ when the judge asked him about the legality of each unreasonable itemized charge.
Anyway, each violation pays double the total tow charge, and since there were three, that’s how I made $1,800 on a $300 investment.”
But What Happened to the Dog?
“My client was accused of brutally murdering a dog. Cop testified that there was no testing of the blood, no body ever found, and admitted it could have, in fact, run away. The eyewitness said she could see the killing down the hallway from the dining room. Cop testified there was no hallway and the dining room was on a different level of the house than the killing supposedly took place. Then the person who was leading the lynch mob against my client around town for the last year testified that she had been in the apartment between the two visits by the cop to evaluate the scene. No body, a compromised crime scene, witness who couldn’t see anything, and admission that there was no proof the dog was dead. Closing argument lasted 3 seconds: ‘Your honor, I’m asking for an acquittal.'”
She’s Lying, It’s My Fault!
“Not a lawyer, but we had no evidence that the woman who slammed into my stopped car going 85mph was beyond tipsy…until she indignantly admitted it on tape in her deposition.
She busted into my deposition and demanded she go first because I was a ‘lying witch’. She excitedly told my lawyer that the police report was wrong because it said she was coming from the movie theatre when she was actually coming from her friends bar.
‘Did you have anything to drink at your friends bar?’
‘How many drinks?’
‘I dunno, they just keep my glass full.’
‘Did you take any medicine that day?’
‘Methodone and low blood pressure medicine.’
The cops had refused to breathalyzer her at the scene because her husband was a firefighter that they knew personally. They told her to go home, sober up, and go to the hospital later. I heard the whole thing but had no proof until she handed it to me. They settled same day.”
This Will Crack You Up
“Not exactly a ‘knew you would win’ moment, but I got a hidden shout out from a federal judge in a ruling that I consider to be one of the high points of my career. Here’s what happened.
Before a hearing for an emergency injunction against USDA, I was watching the hearing before mine (a trademark infringement case). At the end of that hearing, the judge accidentally used a pun, and could not stop laughing. She was literally crying. I decided at that moment I was going to intentionally use a pun in my hearing. I did—I accused USDA of engaging in a ‘shell game’ by illegally diverting some federal funds to an egg industry trade group. The judge called me on it, but laughed heartily. My client won (the judge threatened to put the Secretary of Agriculture in jail). A major newspaper reporting on the case said the judge ‘winced’ at my puns but agreed with my arguments. False! When the written ruling was issued, the last sentence said that an injunction was issued against USDA’s use of the funds for ‘any plans they may be hatching.’ Undeniable shout out.”
But It’s Got Nutrients
“Not mine but my Mom’s story. She was fighting for custody on behalf of the father, trying to prove that the kids were living in subpar conditions with their addict mother in spite of the ample child support provided. It was a tough case because courts are so hesitant to pull kids away from their moms. Then the mom burst out that she had been feeding the kids cat food as proof that she wouldn’t let them starve. Needless to say, the judge didn’t take that as a good reason for the kids to stay with their Mom.”
Burn it Down
“Tried to sell my home myself and the buyers wanted a term period for land contract before getting their own mortgage. I agreed to one year, had a simple contract drawn up and after we both signed it everything seemed fine. Within thirty days the present me with their own legally drawn up land contract that was pages long to ‘protect their investment.’ About page three it very clearly stated that, ‘If for any reason the home burns down, purchaser will receive all insurance proceeds.’ First, I still had a mortgage and the proceeds would legally go to pay that off. Second, that’s a pretty targeted thing to say. Not lawyers terms of the house being destroyed, and it’s surrounded by woods and waterways, just if it burnt down. Page four stated that this would remain a land contract until my mortgage was paid in full, so they’d never buy outright. I returned it to them with a letter stating those two things were never happening and I wasn’t signing.
They stopped paying so I began eviction. Six months later the lawyer I hired was an idiot, and I’m sitting down with their lawyer myself. He brings out the contract they’d tried giving me and began talking about their iron clad case due to the agreement. I asked him to show me my signature…. the look on his face when he realized it wasn’t there. After we talked it turned out he knew them and wrote the contract without the burn the house down stipulation (seems they added it) and under the belief it was a long term land contract.
Not only did I ‘win,’ I’m pretty sure they lost a lawyer friend.”
“I was a volunteer family advocate. I worked with families who were falsely accused of child abuse. Part of that was going to court with them. I was contacted by a family whose children were in foster care because of parental substance use. The family claimed that they didn’t do illicit substances and that no one would believe them. They had a court appointed attorney who did nothing but tell them to stop using the illicit substances.
I honestly didn’t believe them. I was pretty jaded. I told them to request their case file for me to review. I was surprised when they called me back and had the case file. I met with them and went through everything. I noticed claims of substance use, court findings of substance use, but no test results in their paperwork. I told them to ask for the results. Long story short the caseworker wouldn’t give them the actual results, and the lab wouldn’t either.
So, I tested them myself at a different lab. They tested clean. Color me shocked. There were 4 months to go until the next court date. Every time cps tested them, they went right after to the other lab and did a second test. All clean. I told them to tell the lawyer beforehand that if cps claimed any dirty tests, to ask in court for the test results. He didn’t want to. I was starting to get mad.
So, the day of court I had a stack of clean test results in my bag. The lawyer wouldn’t even look at them, and he was openly hostile to my presence and involvement. Court starts. (I had been in this judge’s courtroom before with other families.) The cps supervisor stands up and says that the parents have had 12 dirty screens in the past 6 months. The lawyer actually did ask her for the results. She said she didn’t have them with her. I got the results out of my bag and handed them to the mom who was next to the lawyer. She tried to get him to take them, but he ignored her.
I got so agitated that the judge said, ‘You look like you’re about to have a stroke. What’s going on?’
I stood up and explained that we had clean tests taken immediately after the mandated ones that cps claimed were dirty. I briefly explained that the parents had tried getting copies of their results and had been refused. I said that the parents had consistently denied ever using illicit substances and had clean tests to prove it.
The judge ordered cps to provide copies of all the test results at a hearing in a week.
At that hearing, the case was closed and the children were released from foster care. The family never got an apology from anyone, but they were too traumatized to pursue it. They packed up and moved away within a month.”
A Powerful Argument
“Very abbreviated- I was prosecuting a convenience store owner for luring a young girl, who regularly came into the store, back to a part of the store to grope/fondle and kiss her (child enticement). It was the only section of the store without surveillance camera coverage. They were in the back room for about two minutes and seventeen seconds, per the timestamp on the videos.
Of the many arguments the defense put on, one was there was no way there was enough time for anything to happen. In my rebuttal on closing, I asked the jury to imagine what could happen in the room in that amount of time, and I asked them to all close their eyes while I timed out 2 minutes and 17 seconds on my watch, in silence. After about 60 seconds two of the jurors started crying. Knew it was going to be guilty right then.”
Caught in a Lie
“My client was riding his motorcycle on a relatively calm street when this guy exited his garage, without looking, and run over him. In deposition, the guy brought a witness that was with him on the passenger seat. The whole time, the witness maintained that my client was driving too fast and that there was no time to brake the car. I asked him the same question a few times in different ways, making him tell the story again. In the fourth telling, he, already a bit frustrated, let it slip: ‘Look, I’ve already told you. We were exiting the garage and, as soon as I lifted up from getting my cellphone on the car’s carpet-‘
‘- Wait. So you didn’t even see the crash?’
There was no coming back from that.”
When Your Opponent Panics, It’s a Good Sign
“I knew the cops beat up my client and framed him. They described a knife in his possession that ’caused them to fear for their safety.’ Oddly, they never seized it. We won the criminal case and filed a civil rights case. While deposing one, he described the knife in detail. No more than three minutes later, he slipped up and claimed his partner told him my guy had a knife, but he never saw it himself.
I told him, ‘That’s not what you just said,’ and saw him panic. His lawyer panicked too and asked to see me outside. When we got in the hallway, I withdrew my settlement demand, and the case settled for a substantially larger amount within 45 minutes.”
A Technicality Turns the Day
“We were in a five week jury-trial on a civil case. Big business dispute. About 15 witnesses later, the plaintiffs call their last witness, their damages expert. The guy talks about his damage analysis, which was about the lost profits my clients allegedly caused this company. All the whole time, the guy has a PowerPoint slide up which shows his damages figures. But as lawyers know, it’s just an aid for the jury and not actually evidence.
Examination comes and goes and the plaintiff passes the witness to us. I look at my boss. He looks at me. The witness literally never read his damages number into the record. There was no admissible evidence because even though he showed the number on the screen, he never said the number, nor admitted it into evidence.
We didn’t ask the damage expert a single question. Plaintiff rests. We move for a directed verdict (asking the court to rule as a matter of law when there is no evidence) that they had submitted no evidence of any monetary damages. We won. It was more than $10 million. Simply because he didn’t read the number.”