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.

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.

Evidence : As Seen on TV

There are no rules of evidence on television but that is where most folks learn to practice law.

On television lawyers can do anything, present anything and say anything and the judge always follows the script. The problem of evidence in real courtrooms is that this is not television and what may be admissible in fiction may not be admissible in a real court.

If you think about it Rules of Evidence are important so the fate of people and their property are not just a question of emotion or prejudice or the right scriptwriter, and instead their fate is based on what is reliable, or authentic, or can withstand a good questioning.

People come to me with their opinions and declare it to be evidence. Bits of paper that may support their position become facts set in stone when handled by them, but go up like so much smoke when marked by the clerk, offered as evidence then objected to on any number of basis; hearsay, authentication, the best evidence rule, the list goes on.

Then they get mad. Well fine, be mad, but what you see on TV is not evidence.

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.

Courtroom Attire – The Wife Beater

The Court Commissioners hearing family law matters in my county have a name for the shirt men sometimes wear to court. It is called “The Wife Beater”.

This was a shirt with sleeves at one point, but those have been rather carelessly torn off exposing the upper arms of the man. Normally these arms bear tattoos, not that there is anything wrong with that, apparently.

Also normally seen on the domestic violence calendar are T-shirts bearing various messages about the wearer and how he is to be understood. “Eat My Dirt” with an image of a monster truck is a common message the respondent gives to the bench. Not the brightest.

Women are by no means necessarily presenting well either. Often the statement made by what is worn is “I am a prostitute” or “I am cheap, difficult, and manipulative”.

Large signs are posted outside of family court: “No Chewing Gum, No Food, No Drinks, No Firearms or Weapons, No Cellphones.” Translation: This is not the movies, the 2nd Amendment is suspended in Court, and we consider a cell phone ring as offensive as the clothes you are wearing.

Will Contests

My Daddy ( a lawyer ) used to say Judges are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

But there is one thing I know you will get when you contest a will most of the time: Defeated.

Most of these cases are brought on three basis; 1 )Testamentary Capacity: for example the Dad’s mind was gone when he signed this will or 2) Undue Influence: someone taking an unusually large or unnatural gift had a position of trust with Dad or 3) Fraudulent Misrepresentation in the execution of the document: Dad signed a will when he was told it was a contract to buy a new Ford.

This is a complex area of shifting presumptions of law which start out favoring the will as written, and is peppered with problems of proof to over come that presumption ranging from excluded testimony due to the Dead Man’s Statute to just how good your medical expert is who saw Dad before he signed this will.

This trouble is compounded by the standard of proof. The contestant has to prove these things that would invalidate the will by clear cogent and convincing evidence. That is the civil equivalent of putting a man in jail, well beyond a preponderance.

Often the question is would Dad have any reason to do what the will says. If so, it is doubtful the there is much of a contest. Better off spending the attorney fees on a real box of chocolates.

Another Myth: The Right Lawyer can Win

Nope. not true. The lawyer cannot change the facts. Nor can he or she change the law. At best they can persuade. Here is something Aristotle taught me about persuasiveness (Yes, I am old enough to have known him personally):

What you want to persuade the court to do must be logos or logical.

What you want to persuade the court to do must be ethos or ethical.

What you want to persuade the court to do must be pathos or likable.

WHAT? The court has to like what they do? That’s right ladies and gentlemen we have to count the Judge’s emotions, reactions, take aways or whatever you want to call that have a dramatic impact on your case. I recall one chambers conference where my father was discussing possible outcomes in the case when the judge said to him “I wouldn’t do that even if I liked your client”. I am not making this up.

So, the right lawyer cannot change the outcome of the case. But the wrong lawyer can certainly lose it. Is the lawyer you might hire logical, ethical and likeable? Do they seem to be on a mission or really interested in your case?

And candidly ask yourself, do you think your case is logical? Is it ethical? Do you think it is likable?

Pathos. Think about it.