Friday, September 30, 2011

Showing Up Is 90% of the Battle

One of the most common questions I get from clients is whether they have to appear in court for court appearances, and, if so, why do they have to appear?  Some courts and types of cases require the clients to appear for all appearances (family cases, criminal cases).  Other cases tend to only require the clients to show up for trials and settlement conferences to ensure that the client is truly engaged with what is going on.  But I've found that regardless of the type of case, it's always important for the client to appear at least one time to see what happens, to watch their attorney and the opposing attorney and the judge and what is going on.  Even a little time in court can go a long way to truly understanding what the case is about, what they are being billed for and how they can participate.

My friend had a very low level criminal case that he had to drive 3 hours to appear for today (he's not an attorney, he's actually a college student).  For the past week or so, he and I have been talking on the phone about what to expect, who to talk to and generally what he could expect to happen when he got to court.  Since it was such a minor offense, it didn't make economic sense for him to hire an attorney, but he was happy to keep me "in the wings" in case he needed someone to help out if things got out of hand.

Just as we had discussed, things went smoothly and he agreed to pay a fine even lower than what we had discussed as a reasonable way to resolve the case.  The reason?  He showed up to court, engaged with the court personnel, explaining to the court officer why he was there and who he wanted to speak to.  When he was directed to the prosecutor, they appeared to be surprised that a pro se ("self-represented") litigant approached them to discuss the case.  They discussed their proposed fine and fees and he was concerned it was too much.

The case was apparently called and the judge and prosecutor did their part and my friend indicated that he wanted to accept an offer, but could not pay the fine they were requesting as he was a college student.  The judge directed my friend and the prosecutor to step outside and discuss their offer.  They agreed to a lower fine and when they re-entered the courtroom, they called the case again and my friend was done and on his way, while most of the others in the courtroom looked on in wonder.  He was one of the first people to get his case finished for the morning.

Quite simply, my friend showed up, engaged the various actors in the courthouse, and was able to arrange for a suitable resolution to his case.  Just as in life in general, showing up is often the hardest, but most rewarding, part of any lawsuit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reasonableness and Your First Court Appearance

This week I had a court appearance with an attorney who was doing his first court appearance and seemed a bit over-confident all around.  Luckily for me, my client had most of the leverage going into the court appearance, and it was a matter of memorializing a quick settlement and everyone goes home.

Despite our first conversations, which seemed positive, the other attorney went and spoke to his client and immediately the mood changed with him.  On a first appearance, it is usually helpful (at least in this case) to be a little reasonable so that the parties can reach an actual settlement.  But once the other party began to get involved, he decided to push back and test my client's leverage.  In doing so, he was neglecting to share very pertinent information with his own attorney.  So when the attorney came back with a counter-offer that was offensively insulting (to put it mildly), I was forced to pull out my files and show him a few documents that blew up his client's claims.

It was surprising to watch an attorney be lied to repeatedly by his own client, and even when confronted with documents proving it to be false, the attorney just shrugged it off and kept saying that he believed his client and that maybe we should let the judge decide.  This position was ponderous to me as the other attorney had no documents and I wasn't sure how a judge could even decide in his client's favor.  But I digress.

When it finally appeared we had a settlement, it was already lunchtime and the court told us to come back in the afternoon.  Not shockingly, when we came back from lunch, the other client decided he was pulling back from some of the points of our agreement.  Normally I would have been more upset, but in doing so, the opposing client left the door wide open for himself to be sanctioned and have significant problems in the future.  It was an odd course to take, but it left me wondering whether this attorney, making his first court appearance, was a genius who put on a show to create a mountain of legal fees for his firm or if he really didn't know any better and was content to spend a day being blatantly lied to by his own client.

Either way, it made for an entertaining day in the courthouse.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Court Appearance or Wrestling Pay Per View?

It's been a crazy few weeks as things are starting to get busy here at the firm.  It's been nice to see an uptick in business after Labor Day, but with that also comes a bit of the absurd.

Exhibit A for the fall was last week's court appearance.  I appeared with my client in court and the opposing client showed up without their attorney, who was actually engaged in another matter apparently.  Despite being represented by counsel, the opposing client took it upon themselves to begin to verbally berate me and my client for showing up when their attorney would not be present.  The irony of this position being that if we had not appeared, the opposing client would have taken the opportunity to request a default against my client.

Even after I advised the opposing client that I would not speak to them because they were represented, they continued to harang me outside the courtroom, including claiming that they had called me the prior day to tell me not to show up (which they had not done).  When I offered to check my call log, the opposing client became even angrier and changed their claim that their attorney had called and I had been rude to them.  I guess I was rude in the sense that I was in a meeting when the other attorney called and the call went to voicemail.

After we were finally called by the court, the court simply adjourned the matter and put it on for a hearing in the future.  My client and I left and proceeded with our respective days.  The next morning, I received an email from the opposing client (the downside of having your email listed on your website I guess) claiming that I had hit them with a chair and that they would be filing a report against me.  Supposedly, in front of a judge, her clerk and a court officer, I summoned my inner Hulk Hogan and grabbed a chair and attacked the opposing client.  But for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, nobody did a thing about it and let me swing the chair around like I was at Wrestlemania.

I guess it's just part of the joys of dealing with an opposing client who has mental health issues that remain untreated.