Do Not Write on the Evidence

How many times has a client come in with a great piece of evidence only to find it is ruined because they have indelibly added their testimony to the face of it in blue or black ink. It is as if the intense need to control events blots out any kind of judgment they might have had, or restraint to action until they can get some legal advice.

A letter might have proved their point, but who can say who is the author of all the rest of the commentary?document

I can hear the objection already, the document is not authentic because the author is undetermined.

Or in the case of a bank statement which was certainly produced by the bank, but who wrote “Uncle Charlie told me I was supposed to get this!!!” on the face of it?

 

 

I have vivid memories of a judge examining the offered exhibit then angrily declaring “Some one has written all over it!” knowing that someone was seated at counsel table next to me.

 

Objection Sustained.mean judge

It’s “Moot”, not “Mute”

People come to see me it seems, just to use this word. Then they botch it. Once in my office they try to work the conversation around so they can say “moot”.

Most of the time when they get to that crescendo moment where they get to use the legal term they invariably say “mute”, like the button in the lower right corner of the television remote control.

Example:

tv remote

If the other side gives up then the whole thing is mute, right?

After which I am tempted to merely mouth words but offer no sound to illustrate the errata. But I merely nod and move on.

Errata. Now there is legal term I wished more lay people recognized.

Family Law Tip: Do Not Bring the Subject Matter to Court

This may sound fairly obvious but if you are litigating over children, the judge does not need to see them. They have a pretty good idea of what children look like, some of them are even parents. They will not be swayed by who is holding the subject matter.

babes in arms

I am just back from the family law motions calendar and found as many babes in arms as there were lawyers and litigants.

One boy was a bit older, and was waiting out in the hall with his aunt presumably. He had a toy gun, which he aimed and fired at everyone.
boy with assault touy
We have security, how did he get that thing into the courthouse? security at the courthouse

All Things Being Equal

I saw this bumper sticker in Seattle yesterday.

equality

I am a student of how far that love goes. I mean, should we put weights on the flamenco dancer so I can keep up with her? flamenco guitar and dancer

Or take hiring a lawyer for example. Do you really want him to be an equal? I seriously doubt this, but I have to say, there are multiple occasions where I have been asked to buy into my clients emotional state as the place from which decisions are taken, rather than remaining the objective advocate I think the client wants.

Sometimes I have a guy come in and tell me he “has a great case” and goes on to demonstrate with remarkable detail why we are not equals and the law school education and 30 years of experience really does mean something.

Note I do not say lawyers are better than their clients, but they rarely think like a lawyer and if they could they probably wouldn’t be in my office.

If I could write down how to think like a lawyer I would but here is the best I can do:

What a lawyer has to do is sort out the wheat from the chaff.
wheat thresher
I am not sure that would fit on a bumper sticker, and our task cannot be diluted into a catchy, likable sound byte but here are the facts:

When the client arrives with the plan for what the lawyer, like a chess piece, is to do it is the job of the lawyer to decide what to do, and disregard the directions from the less experienced client, as all things are not equal, unfortunately.

There is no Substitute for Experienced Advocacy

1. We Are Created Equal. Among the Jeffersonian myths that have survived is the idea that all men are created equal. Perhaps that is true, but after birth their experience differs widely. They may not be that educated gentleman farmer Thomas Jefferson saw us as becoming these generations later. In fact, most are not. Thomas Jefferson

In the last several years the bench and bar have had a buzz word gone into policy called “Access to Justice”. I like to call it “Access to Firearms” but it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.

2. Access to Justice. The basic idea is that with some forms and instructions on where to file them and how to confirm a hearing anybody can achieve “access to justice” and state their case like Jefferson’s farmer. So the court system wrote some forms and gave instructions on where to file them.

Unfortunately, as it is often said, Thomas Jefferson was the last man who had a grasp of the entire body of knowledge as it existed at the time. What this means to the pro se litigant he cannot possibly grasp what he is getting himself into.

Well, yes, you can get yourself in front of a judge. You can get yourself behind the stick of an aircraft too after reading the instructions on the internet on how to fly, but it is not a good idea. airplane crash

3. The Results. Often this does work out. Some questions are fairly straight forward. Divorce might be simple, then it might not.

There are a lot of “what if’s”. A child support issue between two Boeing employees can be done pro se as well.They each get issued a W-2 every year from which one can calculate monthly income and feed that data into a child support software to produce a result. Done deal right?

What if one of them doesn’t work for Boeing? What if he is self employed? Things get complex. I can say for sure the pro se litigant will not be able to fashion the court order that will equitably divide the Boeing pension in a way the company will recognize and follow it.

4. Too Close to the Problem. The other thing a lawyer does for a litigant that he cannot do himself is achieve some degree of objectivity about his or her case. Is it really a good idea to rush into court guns blazing? Are you sure the judge is going see things the way you do? courtroom antics

Maybe you can have a lawyer look at what you’re doing and see if it is alright. But then what if you botch the hearing by saying something that erodes the presumption that everyone comes to court in good faith and a bona fide dispute that requires a consumption of that most precious of commodities, judicial time?

How often have I seen the pro se litigant in court with a ton of paper in front of him, obviously served on the other party and the bench earlier, with this idea that his pleadings represent some manifesto that will change the course of human events? courtroom drama

The reality is he comes off instead just as an unhappy man wasting everyone’s time and his relief is denied. There is no substitute for experienced advocacy. courtroom

5. The Outer Limits. I cannot write down here what I have learned from 30 years of practice. It is part of the secret knowledge of lawyers, but even if I had to “tell all” I couldn’t transpose into words for you Jeffersonian gentlemen farmers how to conduct your case. It is in part and art, and otherwise just the nature of experienced advocacy.

There is No Trap Door in Superior Court

There is no trap door in Superior Court. trap door

This is not vaudeville, “Laugh In” or some totalitarian state.
HitlerAccused 1944

When someone lies in court, the opponent has to be prepared to confront them with a prior inconsistent statement made under oath somewhere during cross examination. That is not the same as arguing with them.

argument
Don’t expect the Judge to somehow magically know when a person is lying. Clairvoyance is not a requirement to take on the robes.
clairvoyant

Every month it seems someone appears in my office with a document someone has signed under oath, or declaration swearing the contents to be the truth “on pain of perjury” and declaring they have lied!

Truth is hard to find. One mans black is another mans white.

Star trek black and white

My Dad used to say that the reason we lawyers have jobs is one guy cannot see the other guys point of view. And that is why there are no trap doors or sudden death in civil or criminal law.

Modern fact finding is an advanced, yet frustrating concept. It takes time, and eventually there is some result. Better this way than by popular sentiment, strong man leadership or mob rule. French sloganguitene

Juror Number 12 Never Returned, No She Never Returned

I read an article in my hometown newspaper today about juror misconduct leading to the guilty getting away with crime.

In one case the jury had deliberated for 2 hours and decided to take a break. Juror #12 never returned, the entire trial was over with no verdict, a mistrial. Now the state has to decide whether to spend the states resources to prosecute or cut the accused a deal. I am betting on the latter because that is what happened in another case of juror misconduct.

In the second case the accused was charged with a sex crime against his own daughter. The juror decided to conduct his own internet research on the nature of these cases at home during the trial. This effort to enhance what competent evidence was adduced at trial cost the state the verdict and meant the 6-year-old would have to testify all over again. After all the man has a right to face his accuser, twice it seems.

Instead the guilty plead to a lower charge and will spend about a third of the time in prison he would have otherwise spent.

 We doctors of the law spend a lot of time with the Rules of Evidence. We are careful about making sure the evidence is trustworthy, and candidly, we don’t really need any help. Some of the least trustworthy evidence I have seen is what someone decides to post on the internet, free from the vigor of cross-examination.

Like the Rules of Evidence, our system of laws has been developed over generations to be as fair and competent as possible. We need 12 good citizens to believe in that system and make a decision based on what they hear.

But good citizens seem to be in short supply. We are apparently so full of our rights we need not care about our civic duties.

Meanwhile I hope Juror #12 had a good afternoon because no one else did, she never returned and her fate is yet unlearned. It is good I am not deciding what to do about Juror #12.

Law is a Lot Like Grandma’s Cooking

People want certainty in the law. A black, A white. Often when a client is upset with the other side in a case they declare their opponent has broken “THE LAW!” as if a trap door will open under the transgressor.

It is often not so clear. Instead the law, in particular the practice of law is a lot like my grandmothers cooking.

How much do I put in grandma? Some. How much is that? A pinch. A smidge. How much evidence do I put on? Enough. You have to have done this to know what fits and leaves a good taste in the judges mouth, rather than something sour.

Much like the law she left a room to wiggle, a room for judgment, which like grandma’s cooking, is what Judges do.

Grandma used a tea-cup for a cup measure. There were no numbers on the side. And you know, it turned out well. Judges exercise a spice known as “discretion“, and that makes all the difference.

 

The Courthouse Blues

There are two kinds of people to be found in the courthouse: Those on their way to hearings, and those emerging from hearings. It is not unlike a hospital.

Entering either building the litigant or patient is apprehensive or they are overconfident. Some presume the death penalty. Some do not appreciate the peril they are in. All are hopelessly at the mercy of the lawyers or doctors.

Leaving the buildings there is either relief, increased anxiety or profound sorrow.

But the courthouse alone can in one day change the balance of power between litigants. Often the litigant arrives with a smugness, a sense of entitlement or self-righteousness that never plays well. Humility, expressed in pleadings, appearance or speech can go a long way. Unfortunately this is considered unduly meek by some, and they do not even consider they might be wrong.

Emerging from the hearings we hear the long wail of those who have lost. Think of the painting The Scream by Munch.  Or there is the rush outside, the cigarette poked in the mouth and hurriedly lit, family and friends trailing behind.

Like a soldier that has seen too much, I am no longer moved when a woman loses custody of her children. Normally this is because either the father is just a better parent, but more often because the mother has presumed she is “free” and can do just about anything and still retain her children.

It is no longer so. Our state adopted an equal rights amendment to our state constitution when it was fashionable to do so, 1972. The amendment also declares the sexes have equal responsibility.

You have come a long way baby. You have an equal right to the courthouse blues.

Collect Child Support From the Dead

Like the 2nd Amendment slogan, we can only take child support from some men when we pry it from their cold dead hands. Prior to that we sometimes we pry it from hands that are bound together.

It is not uncommon to be in the hallways of the courthouse and notice the men on the chain gang. Sometimes these are ordinary felons. More often they are men who have been arrested for non-support. I often break into song:

That’s the sound of the men, working on the chain, ga-a-ang – all day long they are working….. under the table….

They get someone from somewhere to pay something and they get out of jail, and the process starts all over again.

But what if they die? Support in our state vests as a judgment each month it is not paid and survives death. The statute of limitations for collection of child support judgments only begins to run when the youngest child of the abandoned family turns 18. Then it runs for 10 years. If still not paid, a motion can be filed to extend it another 10 years, until the youngest child is 38 years old. The interest rate is 12%.

I have noticed men begin to drop dead in their 50’s, particularly if they are living the hard life underground or off the grid. (Lawyers begin to drop dead about that time too, but that is another topic). So it is conceivable we will have child support claims in probate.

Normally these will be advanced by the ex-wives of the dead men, but what if the mother dies? What if the children inherit the claim from thier mother? Hey kids, lets sue Dad for our impoverished childhood!

Kind of reminds me of Disney’s Lion King, Elton John singing about the “Circle of Life”. The whole prospect gives me a sort of warm feeling.