Life isn't as dramatic as legal dramas on TV make it seem. Sometimes all someone has to do is the bare minimum, which shockingly works out. The legal system gets weird fast, which can make for hysterically easy cases and very entertaining days in court. Content has been edited for clarity.
Easiest Work Day In History
“Well, I had a client walk in my office with a quarter-pounder box from McDonald’s. He told me that the day before, he ordered a sandwich with no pickles, and he mentioned it to the cashier and the shift manager how he was deathly allergic to something in the juice. He was assured that there would be no pickles on the sandwich When his sandwich came up, he was given the sandwich and shown on the paper taped to the box that the sandwich had no pickle. 45 minutes later after having his stomach pumped, he discovered that he had ingested three pickle slices. The emergency room report indicated that the stomach pump had removed the contents of his stomach, which included the 3 pickle slices.
As a response, the manager had offered the kid $100 for the box and a few coupons. I called and spoke to the restaurant owner’s attorney and offered to settle out of court for $15,000 dollars, as the client needed over $10,000 for medical costs. I told him that the claim I’m proposing would be worth far more in front of a jury. We had three witnesses that heard the kid very clearly mention he was allergic and could die if he ate a pickle.
Long story short, I had a $15,000 McDonald’s check delivered to my office by a courier by the close of business three days after the incident. I took my customary 33 percent. All for a couple of phone calls and a letter, I got paid $5,000.”
Simultaneously Flying The Plane And Driving The Car
“I once represented a guy who was charged with illegally passing a school bus. The school bus drivers were given the duty of watching for cars that passed them while they were loading or unloading (instead of watching, you know, the kids). What the drivers would do was make as good of a description of the car as possible and get as much of the driver’s license as possible, and then turn that information in to the police. The police would then run that information through the drivers’ license/registration database and would then charge the owner of the car. The prosecutor’s office had a special grant from the state to enforce these tickets and was pressured to get a certain number of convictions, so there was NOTHING you could tell them ahead of time to get them to drop a charge.
So we are at trial. My client is a tall, clean-cut guy in his mid 50s. The school bus driver testifies that a car of a certain make/model and with a particular license plate number passed her bus at a certain place and time while she was unloading kids. She didn’t get a good look at the driver, but she did believe the driver to be a young female who had a ponytail. On cross-examination, I had her confirm that my client did not resemble a young girl. I moved for judgment of acquittal at the close of the state’s case because the only evidence it presented linking my client to the incident was the fact that he owned a car of that make/model and with a license plate close to the one cited by the bus driver. No go. Our judges were elected by popular vote, and he wasn’t going to toss this case.
I put my client on the stand. He has a HUGE binder with him. He testifies that he has been a commercial airline pilot for 30 odd years and that his binder contains his flight logs for the last number of months. He explains that these flight logs are required by the FAA. I ask him if he had flown on the day of the incident. He said he had. I asked him how many hours he flew. I think he said 10. I asked him if his flight logs indicated where he was at the time the school bus driver saw this car pass her bus. He noted that he was at around 30,000 feet in the air, about 230 miles northeast of Guam.
‘Any chance you were driving that car?’
He laughed. ‘I don’t think that would have been possible.’
The prosecutor was going to cross-examine him but literally couldn’t think of anything to ask. The judge seemed inclined to ask him some questions but also couldn’t think of any (these tickets were a BIG deal at the time because there had been a couple of fatalities). The judge reluctantly found him not guilty. I tried maybe five or six of those tickets that summer, winning all of them, until the grant money ran out and the prosecutor stopped caring about them.
Tiniest Odds Imaginable
“I was a rural prosecutor. My trial involved a driver under the influence. It seemed pretty cut and dry: there was nothing wrong with the BAC test, and the peoples’ evidence was sufficient in every way. The Defendant was represented by the Public Defender. When I finished my half of the trail, the Public Defender stood and said he only had one witness: the Defendant. This man was sworn in, and the Public Defender said, ‘Why don’t you tell the jury your side of the story?’ then sat down. The jury didn’t know what exactly that meant, but the judge and I had a clue. The Defendant must have been insistent on testifying despite his lawyer’s advice. The Public Defender wasn’t going to assist this man with verbally hanging himself.
All this Defendant guy had to say was, ‘I wasn’t wasted when the cop stopped me. I can drink a lot and not get wasted.’
That was it. Time to cross-examine. I was sort of taken aback. Our medical expert witness had already testified that there was absolutely no way a person with a BAC over 0.08 could safely operate a motor vehicle. I considered skipping my cross-examination. But no, the jury would be curious. Instead, I abandoned my cross-examination technique and turned into Mr. Nice Guy. I queried him on where he had been earlier that night. He was in Moab, Colorado. Any drinking there? Absolutely! Apparently he and his buddies had piled into the car and headed for Naturita, Colorado, maybe a two-hour drive away. I asked him if there was any drinking in the car. Oh yeah, plenty. The Defendant was driving, so he held back, which meant only drinking 3 or 4 drinks and a similar number of shots. I decided that there was no reason not to let him explain himself after all of that. I asked him, ‘How is it that you weren’t wasted?’
The Defendant explained to the jury that he had heard all the expert testimony, but even with a BAC of 0.20, he was sober and could safely operate a motor vehicle. That was just the way he was. That was why he was driving. Everyone else in the car was wasted. Okay, I think I’m done. I thanked him for his testimony, congratulated him on his honestly, and sat down. I mentioned that the case was NOT about what the Defendant honestly thinks about his abilities. It was a test of evidence. On one side, you have BAC and medical expert testimony on BAC as it related to the Defendant’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. You can believe that the Defendant was an honest man, but you don’t have to believe his conclusions about how wasted he was.
It took the jury about ten minutes to convict him. The Public Defender just left in disgust. I talked to the Defendant and told him how I actually did appreciate his honesty. He said that he knew how he was likely to be convicted, but he wanted to tell his side of it, regardless of the outcome. He inconvenienced the jury and the court, but you know, he had a right to do that. I don’t want to live in a nation whose legal code obliges you please guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence. I think a citizen ought to be able to have their say before the state lays hands upon them.”
Knocking Down Evidence Left And Right
“I once had a case where my client was accused of breaking into the evidence locker of a police station, where he supposedly stole 50 weapons, ammunition, and $10,000 in cash completely by himself! To top it off, he allegedly gained access to the evidence locker through a ventilation hole/pipe that led to the backside car park of the police station. Nonetheless, the police charged him with breaking and entering, theft, and illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. At trial, I requested the state to provide us with evidence of him breaking and entering into the police station in terms of video camera evidence identifying him, fingerprints on burglar bars, or the vents, etc. Lo-and-behold, the state had none.
The vent that was used to gain entry to the evidence locker was broken during the time of the burglary and as such, a maintenance crew fixed it prior to the trial starting, so that evidence was destroyed. Furthermore, the video cameras covering that side of the police station were broken. There goes breaking and entering out of the window.
The weapons that he allegedly stole were recovered at a farm, but no witnesses were brought before the court to prove that he had taken the weapons to the farm, let alone explain how they got there. Furthermore, the one weapon that they found on him was illegally seized from him, so we challenged the admissibility of that evidence and won. That was illegal possession dealt with.
With regard to theft, I argued that if the state could not prove that he had broken into the evidence locker to steal the weapons, ammo, and money, then obviously it cannot be proven that he had committed theft because it would have to be proven that he did, in fact, break into the station to have illegally acquired the paraphernalia in the first place. So yeah, the state lost and I got him acquitted on all charges. Easy as pie. The police, at least where I am from, usually always mess up their investigations, so it’s just a matter of being observant and catching them out when they commit them.”
Painfully Difficult Not To Giggle
“Many years ago, I worked on some plaintiff’s asbestos case. The depositions were basically an exercise in not having a defendant’s product named by the plaintiff, for without a product ID, a defendant could say its product could not have injured the claimant. So if you got through the deposition without your client being mentioned, you were pretty much golden.
So this defense lawyer, at the end of one of my clients’ depositions, I guess to cement the issue, asks my client whether he had ever remembered seeing (Company X’s) product at the plant. When the guy said, ‘Yes!’, the lawyer said, ‘How is it sir, after 8 hours of testimony where you never mentioned my client’s name, you suddenly remember seeing its product at the plant?’
My client responded, ‘Because you just brought it up. Otherwise, I would have never remembered.’
At this point, me and the court reporter are desperately trying not to crack up, I’m actually digging my nails into my skin, drawing blood, in an effort to maintain my composure.
This grave digging goes on for another 30–40 minutes, until this poor lawyer’s client is the prominent supplier of asbestos-containing materials to the plant. Finally, exasperated, the lawyer asks, ‘Did you ever stop seeing Company X’s product at the plant?’
My client responded, ‘Yeah… when I retired!’
Needless to say, that defendant paid out a large settlement. And I wonder to this day if the lawyer ever tried to cut those pages out of the transcript.
A Beyond Aggravating Encounter
“This case was the easiest legally but the hardest in terms of time and personal toll. I was representing a woman in a case under the Fair Housing Act. The FHA case was about lawyers targeting people based on race for sub-standard mortgage foreclosure ‘defense’ services. In this Federal case, we alleged, among other things, the lawyer took money every month from my client but did nothing to save the home. In fact, we alleged his incompetence might have hastened the loss of the home.
To stop me from being able to help my client sue him, the defendant went to state court and got an order that barred me from talking about foreclosure to my client, the community, or even my co-counsel. I could not talk to my client or investigate her case. The state court order was utterly improper from the get-go; we had removed the frivolous case against me to Federal court. Under these circumstances, the state court is not allowed to take any action (This is first-day-of-law-school knowledge.). It took nearly 16 months to get the Order vacated. My client eventually won a money judgment against the defendant and, in addition, the defendant was ordered to pay sanctions to me in the state court case.
The case was very easy legally. It should have been done and over within a week, but the courts really seem to bend over backwards when one side in a case is clearly too stupid and ill-equipped to even remotely have been a proper candidate for bar admission. The scammer was given three chances to amend his lawsuit against me, and each attempt was more laughable than the last—all the same, there was an emotional toll on me, my expenses defending the case, and the fact my client’s fair housing case could not move forward.”
Do I Even Bother To Show Up?
“When I was in college, we had a voluntary work group where students could take small claims from people who didn’t have any money to hire an attorney, and run the lawsuits under supervision of more experienced lawyers. In one case, a man who was getting evicted came in, and I took his case. He had fallen behind three months of payment and had gone to his landlord to work a payment plan out. His landlord agreed with a certain plan, they had it in writing and signed a document, and everything was in perfect order. A few days after the man went back to his house with the agreement, an eviction notice came through the mail. He came into our organization desperate, crying that he had fallen on some difficult times but didn’t want to be seen as a con-man or liar, that he wanted to pay what they had agreed upon.
Well, I took the document to the judge, and he instantly dismissed the case saying that, since they had an extrajudicial agreement in writing, there was no basis for an eviction lawsuit. All I had to do was to show the court that both parties had already reached an agreement before the lawsuit had been filed.”
Just Another Day Amongst Stupid People
“First, I spent half of my career representing catastrophically injured people against manufacturers of defective products. That was challenging and rewarding work. But I never won a case easily. During other parts of my career, I’ve done a wide range of work. What follows came from my time doing primarily defense work for businesses and licensed professionals accused of malpractice.
I once defended a small business against a consumer fraud claim. The consumers, a married couple, claimed that a salesman lied to them about the value of the two items they purchased (one for each). When I took the deposition of the couple, each one said that they were told that one item they were purchasing was worth $30k and the other was worth $10k. When I asked them if they had the items appraised or otherwise valued, they said yes. Then they said that they found out that item one was worth about $25k and item two was worth $15k. Right before trial, I moved for summary judgment, claiming that even if there was an intentional misrepresentation (which I vehemently contested), the consumers were not harmed. They had no damages. They (allegedly) were told they were getting $40k worth of goods and they – by their own admission – received $40k worth of goods. Their attorney was clueless. The judge asked him at the hearing several times what his theory was for damages – let alone what evidence he was relying on. Out of frustration, she very nearly just gave him a possible, though not plausible, theory. Finally, she gave up and granted summary judgment for my client.
Another one was representing a small company against a former employee who had embezzled a fairly large amount of money (nearly $10k). The company tried to recoup the amount by suing in justice of the peace court. In JP court where I practiced, JPs did not have to be lawyers and even corporations (like my client) could represent themselves. No lawyer needed. Although the company had the former employee dead to rights, the JP entered judgment in favor of the employee. The company came to me asking if I could help. The company had the right to a trial de novo – a trial before a county-level trial court rather than an appeal to an appellate court. I took the case, set it on the docket for the earliest possible trial date and tried it one day. I put two witnesses on the stand. The first was the corporate representative who explained the employee’s scheme. I next called the former employee. His defense? He claimed he was not paid enough so he took the money, so that it was fair. We got a signed judgment that day. Did we collect? That’s another story.”
A Hidden Skeleton And A Huge Case
“There was one case where the other side in a piece of litigation very early in my practice told a lie about a major point, in writing, and I was lucky enough to be able to prove the lie. The man was represented by a known master in my field. It was my first time to go up against him, and the guy was well off and ‘connected’ in ways I didn’t even know to look for at the time. I had just opened my own practice less than a year before, and at first was very flattered to be hired by the two law firms that usually represented the client. I realized later that the fact that we were going up against a man suspected of being a crime boss (the client, not the master), who was believed to have had people killed on occasion. I was so green that I didn’t even know any of this, just that it was a high-profile, big fee case for little old me.
The master’s strategy was so good that I later put it in my book on tactics and strategy, with attribution of course. The issue was whether the opposing person was ‘generally paying’ his debts as they matured. I had filed the case requesting he be forced into bankruptcy, and the master filed a motion seeking what is called a summary judgment on that issue. That meant that the master was saying there was no need for a trial because the evidence he had was, he believed, irrefutable and clearly showed that the man was paying all his debts, except the one to my client. My client had built a strip center for the man as the general contractor, and had not been paid several hundred thousand dollars, including money owed to a bunch of subs. My guy had a small business and couldn’t afford such a hit. It turned out the guy had a regular practice of hiring young contractors with limited financial resources, then stiffing them on the final payment so their business collapsed and he got the benefit of their work without having to pay them. He’d left a line of crushed small businesses in his wake, but I didn’t know any of that.
Anyway, there was the summary judgment motion, and I only had 10 days to respond and defeat it. If we lost, the judge could award monetary sanctions against my client and myself for bringing the suit. I was so scared that I broke out in hives on my chest and inside my arms. I had to wear high-necked, long-sleeved blouses in a Houston summer to hide the rash, and I was living on little Pepto-Bismal tablets. So the client and I had a war conference, during which I grilled him for everything he knew about the way this guy did business. The client mentioned that he’d heard the opponent had a fictitious name that he used sometimes. Those had to be filed with the county clerk’s office since they were sometimes used in scams. And guess what? The opponent was doing exactly that.
The summary judgment motion included an affidavit by the defendant saying these are all my debts and they are all current. That isn’t proof, just an opinion, but the affidavit was backed up by affidavits from every creditor on the list saying that he was current with them. All of which directly disproved any evidence I had, since the debts I had he had been disputing before I had brought my suit. So in desperation, I researched that fictitious name and voilà! I found a tax debt, two money judgments, and a number of other things. He’d been using the DBA where he had these bad debts, but keeping his actual name clean. So I gathered documentary proof, and filed an answer. Now, I not only had a viable suit, but had caught him in direct perjury to a federal court.
But I give him credit, he stuck it out for a while. The day of the trial, among other things, I asked a friend who was an Assistant US Attorney to come sit for a while in the audience, believing that the other side would interpret that as meaning I had reported the perjury and the US Attorney was just gathering additional evidence if he kept to his lies. I called him as my first witness, which they didn’t expect either. Then for two hours I kept walking up to the perjury and backing off, then doing it again, just torturing him with it without directly mentioning it. At the break, his attorneys asked for a break until after lunch to discuss settlement. The judge was fine with that, as was I because my client was desperate for the money to save his business and pay the subs. So the client and his actual lawyers huddled with the other side, while I went to the ladies and threw up with the stress. Of course, no one knew that. They settled because the guy wrote him a check right there for the full amount, plus fees and expenses. Complete capitulation. The bad guy had told me after I took his deposition (during which he also lied) that, ‘Nobody ‘s ever gotten to me, and you, little girl, won’t be the first.’ Goes to show, never tempt fate.
I am covered with glory, having cracked such a tough nut and gotten the client his money and paid his lawyers too. I am the girl of the moment, that’s for sure. The master called me a ‘cold-hearted witch’ for some reason – I guess because I was torturing the guy with the lie rather than just reporting him and letting him try to beat a perjury rap. But to me the whole point was to get what the client wanted and needed. Right there, the client wrote me a check for the estimated fees, which was, at the time, the biggest fee I’d ever gotten. And I’d beaten the master!
I take the rest of the day off, thinking I’ve earned it. The next day, I deposited his check. In those days, it took 2–3 days for such things to clear, and I’d thought to take a little vacation with the kids with the money. But the check bounced! I started trying to reach the client, and no answer at all. I went by his house and business and nobody’d seen him since the day of the trial. So I’m out the last part of the fee since he seems to have disappeared. The subs all had the same experience. None of us had any idea where he was. The case helped me enormously, since it gave me some serious credibility. It turned out the guy was well known for financial fraud like that. But everyone knew, or believed, I’d made him pay up. So now I was the clever and tough newcomer on the scene, and maybe worth sending some more difficult cases to see what I could do. I got a lot of business from having won that case, much to the disgust of the master who didn’t like competition. But there was only one of me, so for some time I wasn’t much of a threat really. Several years later, a skeleton later identified as my client was found in the concrete foundation of another strip mall under construction. He was identified by a ring left on his hand. Nothing ever came of the rather half-hearted investigation that followed, and nothing showed any connection between the bad guy and the remains. Of course, it was possible that the bad guy got hold of him, demanded all the money back, then killed him and put what was left in that foundation.
But that was my first big case. It was an easy case in the sense that there was only the one issue, and it was easy to prove/disprove it. I could have tried it differently, just referring to the lie in his affidavit, and my evidence showing it was a lie. I think that’s the route the other side thought I would take. But if we won that way, he could appeal and avoid paying anything for years. In the meantime, my client’s little business would collapse. So I aimed at getting him the money now by using the threat, not so much of winning – by then he probably had some sort of explanation ready and I didn’t know what it might be – but of having him prosecuted for perjury. By focusing on a single, simple issue like that, I was able to bring direct pressure to bear, and still had the actual issue to go through if I wanted. I counted on him doing what he did – caving in the face of the threat.”
“Depleted and Bathed In Sweat”
“I was appearing before a Zoning Board regarding my client’s application for approval of a significant expansion of a private high school. This was a very large project on which my client had already spent a considerable amount of time and money on planning and engineering. My client had dotted all the ‘i’s’ and crossed all the ‘t’s’. This was an allowed project but the analysis to get there was long and complex. I had done it myself countless times and had confirmed it with other experts to make sure we had not overlooked anything. Our analysis was tight. My presentation to the Board began uneventfully as I described the origin and purpose of the school expansion, the benefits to be enjoyed, and the reasons the project fully complied with the law. As I was speaking, all of a sudden a voice boomed out clear as a bell from the back of the auditorium, ‘I wrote the land use plan for this area and this project is not allowed under that plan.’
The room erupted! The audience went crazy (half of them were opposing my client’s project), and there was pandemonium! Recognizing that even if I could be heard above the din, no one would be listening. I asked the Board chairman for a brief recess, which he granted. I knew the voice was incorrect. The plan had been amended years ago to allow my client’s project. Unfortunately, I seemed to be the only one in the room who knew this. I huddled with my client – a diminutive Irish nun straight out of central casting and a woman who was honest as the day is long, but also as tough as nails. I explained what was happening (not that it really needed any explanation) and asked Sister X if she would speak before the Board about the project when we went back on the record. She agreed and I signaled to the clerk of the Board we were ready to go back on the record.
The room was still chaotic and people could be heard debating all sides of the question. The Board introduced Sister X and she rose and all 4 feet 2 inches of her walked to the microphone and began to speak. As she continued in her soft voice to patiently explain the importance of the project to the educational program of ‘our girls’, the audience became still, listening with rapt attention to her every word. She went on with natural ease about the project, how grateful the school was to the parents and others who had sacrificed to make the project possible financially, and the benefits of the project to the educational program at the school. The audience sat in rapt attention as she spoke. There was no further word from the land use heckler.
Completely unsolicited, a few of the Board members spontaneously commented that they were certain the heckler was incorrect, that the project was legally permissible, and they were voting for it. I thanked the Sister for her presentation and we wrapped up our project proponent’s presentation. Opposition was minimal. The project was approved by the near unanimous vote of the Board. The heckler never re-appeared. Depleted and bathed in sweat, I left the hearing chamber convinced of two things: always be prepared for a voice in the back of the room to create pandemonium in the middle of your presentation, and always bring a 4’2” Irish nun with you to every hearing for help in case you can’t figure out what else to do!”