Even the most experienced lawyers are oft to make a mistake from time to time. Call it hubris, call it a lapse in judgement, or call it just an example of a well-educated professional digging themselves into a hole. Whatever the case may be, lawyers can make mistakes just like everyone else.
The people in the following stories have been on both sides of situations where the "other side" lost the case for themselves. All of the following posts have been selected and edited for the sake of readability and clarity.
“Get Back In Here”
“My brother’s EMT instructor had had his license suspended for numerous traffic charges, including evading police. But he forgot about his arraignment date until about an hour prior. So the guy hops on motorcycle and drives himself to the court. Remember this for later.
The dude in the court right before him is a Hispanic guy. The judge reads off everything he’s charged with and then the conversation goes like this:
Judge: ‘Mr. Gonzalez, how do you plead?’
Gonzalez: ‘No hablo ingles.’
Judge: ‘Mr. Gonzalez, do you understand a word I’m saying?’
Gonzalez: ‘No hablo ingles.’
Judge: ‘Mr. Gonzalez, am I to understand that, this whole time, no one has bothered to get a translator for you?’
Gonzalez: ‘No hablo ingles.’
Judge: ‘Well… I guess, if you can’t understand what you’re charged with, we’ll have to drop all the charges.’
Gonzalez: ‘Gracias, señor.’ starts walking out
Judge: ‘Get back in here!’
After him, the instructor goes up, judge reads his charges, and then asks him how he got to the court that day.
Instructor: ‘Oh, my brother gave me a ride.’
Judge: ‘Is that right?’
Instructor: ‘Yes, your honor.’
Judge: Looking at the Bailiff ‘Do you have that footage from parking deck 3?’
He then proceeds to play CCTV footage of him showing up on the exact same bike that he was using for all when he ran from the cops. His license remained suspended and the judge told him he couldn’t go anywhere near the bike during that time.
There was even a cop standing next to it when he left.”
The Cop Wasn’t Ready For This
“I saw the cops blow it once. A high school friend got a speeding ticket and he ended up in court questioning the cop. Asked where the cop was situated when he clocked him (sitting under an underpass), would you say it was dangerous to speed in that situation (yes, traffic was heavy), do you remember me saying at the stop there was another vehicle same make, model, and close in color as mine (yes), how can you be sure you pulled over the right one (between clocking the vehicle and pulling it over I never took my eyes off of it).
At this point my friend says, ‘After the stop, if I had pulled quickly onto the highway from the shoulder without looking at traffic in the rightmost lane I was entering, would you say that was dangerous and something you might pull me over for again?’
The cop is like, ‘Uh, yea, if I saw you do that it would be unsafe and I’d pull you over again and give you another ticket. Are you admitting that’s what you did?’
My friend: ‘Are you testifying that you would never pull out onto traffic without checking the rightmost lane you were merging into?’
Cop: ‘Yes, I wouldn’t do that.’
Friend: ‘So it’s safe to say that when you pulled out to chase me, you definitely did so safely? You already said the traffic was dense, so are you sure you didn’t just fly out into traffic and possibly almost hit someone?’
Cop, smugly: ‘Uh, no. I’m quite sure I didn’t almost hit someone or pull out in a dangerous fashion. What does this have to do with anything?’
Friend: ‘Well, you said earlier that you never took your eyes off the vehicle you clocked. Now you’re saying that you entered the roadway safely because you checked the lane you were merging into. Can you please explain how it is that you managed to keep your eyes on a speeding vehicle in dense traffic retreating from you at a high rate of speed and looked in your side mirror & rear view, or over your shoulder, and merged safely?’
Cop: ‘I, uhh, I mean, it’s possible…’
He just kind of looked pleadingly at the DA at this point. Judge had had enough, reamed my friend but dismissed the ticket.”
Two Heads Aren’t Better Than One
“So this wasn’t the defendant but a plaintiff.
I was on a jury for a civil trial. There were two co-plaintiffs suing one defendant.
Fundamentally, it was a three-person business deal that was terribly conceived and run. The defendant saw the writing on the wall and just walked away. Co-plaintiff #2 saw it the same way but had to go along for the ride. Co-plaintiff #1 was trying to extract a settlement but the defendant was never going to settle.
The first co-plaintiff was being represented by his father who was an older guy and didn’t seem to have much experience in court. For the first week of the trial, seemingly every other question was being objected to, usually because his ‘questions’ weren’t questions or he was trying to elicit testimony that was hearsay. He basically ticked everyone off and presented a terrible case.
The second co-plaintiff then gets on the stand and it was clear that he was there very reluctantly. It gets to the defendant’s lawyer turn (cross examination) and the co-plaintiff blurts out that the only reason why he’s there is because of a fiduciary duty to the other plaintiff. Then he gets asked if he feels the defendant owes him any money, and he just says ‘no.’
By the third day of trial, it was pretty obvious that plaintiff’s #1 had no case. As I mention his lawyer was just terrible and meandering. He kept referring to an agreement that was never signed by anyone. By the time plaintiff #2 was done, there was no reason for us to be there. His lawyer was actually pretty good but it felt like he knew he had a loser. However, the defendant had to present his case and his lawyer was very thorough. He brought in some expert witnesses, other witnesses from out of town and read through parts of deposition transcripts. He even read an email that confirmed what we all expected – that plaintiff #1 was never going to drop the case because he could have his dad just keep going.
Ironically, plaintiff #1’s lawyer gave the best closing, it just didn’t matter any more. So much for watching all those Jack McCoy monologues.
The defendant (who had a counter-suit because I think he had to), broke down crying after the verdict was read. He wanted full exoneration and we gave it to him. It was really just plaintiff #1 who wouldn’t let go and you are right we gave closure.
As an aside, it was a jury of eight. There were about 20 ‘questions’ we had to make a decision on. All but two of them were unanimous and they were very minor parts of the decision. We did have one juror who couldn’t understand the concept of what we were trying to do. We just had to make a decision on each question and she would bring in her personal feelings like ‘the defendant is rich so he shouldn’t get this’. I have a problem with laypeople making decisions precisely because of this. It wasn’t especially complicated but when you have someone who just doesn’t ‘get it’ it makes me wary when the stakes are higher.
It was six weeks of this stupid trial (it wasn’t every day and there was no trial during the week of Thanksgiving, but it was excruciating) and we, the jury ended up awarding no money to anyone. What a colossal waste of time.”
“Fifteen or so years ago, my dad was the manager of a small hotel. One of the semi-regular customers was this big Samoan dude, who booked in for a day at a time, always had a few visitors, and always paid in cash, in a one-to-one conversion with American dollars – highly unusual in Australia.
My dad always said he was a great customer, very friendly with the staff, never gave anyone any problems, and always had a bit of a chat when he checked in.
One day, a couple of detectives rocked up, and asked to speak to my dad. They showed him a photo of the aforementioned customer, and asked if he was currently staying in the hotel. My dad confirmed that he was, and in a matter of minutes a small contingent of cops arrived, stormed the room and took the guy away in handcuffs. Turns out the guy was a pretty major dealer and was wanted in a couple of states.
Cut to the court date quite some time later. My dad was in the witness stand, and (for whatever reason) the defense was trying to make out like my dad didn’t know the defendant, and had never seen him before. Obviously, my dad insisted that he did in fact know the defendant, but that line persisted from the defense.
As my dad left the witness box, he walked past the defendant and said, ‘Hi Barry,’ to which Barry enthusiastically replied, ‘Hi Jason, how are you?’ While I’m sure this wasn’t the only thing that counted against him in the case, it certainly couldn’t have helped.
He ended up getting quite a few years in jail.”
The Reason They Don’t Practice Family Law
“I was still in law school working for a solo practitioner part time. We had this divorce where the dude got caught cheating and his wife cleaned out the bank account, which was the only marital asset, to pay for her attorney’s fees. There was absolutely no reason for her to pay that much for an attorney and, due to that, the attorney on the other side was inflaming her client to fight on every little issue to earn that retainer.
Now, our dude was also stupid, he didn’t pay the court ordered temporary child support and due to that, he had to pay some of her attorney’s fees. But, after all that was dealt with, we had a date to hear arguments on anything not agreed to. Our biggest point is, he’ll pay the support order but she owes him half the bank account amount. We get in front of the judge and she tried to argue that she used the money to pay for a new place and moving fees. We had the financial statement where the wife stated she paid pretty much the whole amount as a retainer. Judge turns around, looks at the attorney in the face, and tells her that her signature is on the financial statement, meaning that either she lied on the statement or she is lying right now. Judge tells her to think very carefully about her next statement and that, in her opinion, the wife needed to pay half the money back. The other attorney goes quiet, asks for a recess, and completely changes her resolution position.
We basically had her by the balls because she knew if we wanted to, this could amount to a bar complaint, as she made a false statement to the tribunal. We got him back all his money and he got to claim his child for the next five years on his taxes. Honestly felt bad for the wife, she had no clue how badly her attorney was taking advantage of her.
This, among other things, is why I refuse to practice family law.”
I’d Hate To Be That Guy
“I’m not a lawyer but I was observing court once and saw a prosecutor proceed on a trial against a self represented individual for a breach of a condition in their probation order. The self representative won. The prosecutor brought in a probation officer and proceeded to question them as their witness. Then, the self-representative cross-examined them poorly. That was the only evidence the prosecutor had.
Neither the prosecutor, nor the probation officer, could establish that the individual breached their probation order. The prosecutor was arguing that the accused never completed any counseling before their probation ended. The wording in the probation order said they needed to complete counseling AS DIRECTED. So, the probation officer never directed them to attend counseling and then breached them for failing to do something they never directed them to do…
Needless to say, the judge got angry and talked down on the prosecutor.
The moral of the story, prosecutors don’t have time (in some jurisdictions) to even read their low complexity files before the day of a trial. As a result, this dude may have missed work to attend a bogus trial.
If he had been a wealthy individual, who could have hired a lawyer who properly reviewed disclosure received from the prosecution office, he never even would have had to go to trial.”
Did He Actually Win?
“My ex did not want to pay child support so he did not show up to the court house (don’t think just because you don’t go to court you can avoid the reason you are supposed to be there) and got nailed with the maximum amount of money.
After three years of not paying (and only coming to see our son six times), he owes something like $10,000. He finally decided to go back to get it lowered and asked if I would forgive the past due. I told him yes I would if he would start coming to see our son at least one day each week for a few hours.
A few months go by, then the court date rolls around. He has failed to visit more than twice and I have a mound of evidence (Facebook post, text, and MySpace) of him not only having a job but buying illegal substances, expensive clothes, and car accessories. He also lived with his mom so no bills, even his food was paid for by mommy. He makes his case about how he doesn’t have a job and just can’t afford child support, blah blah blah. Then it’s my turn and he thinks I am there just to say hey judge forget about that $10,000 and don’t make him owe so much each month. He was not prepared for the folder I handed the judge that had all his information from the past few months printed and highlighted. He SCREAMED at me, at the judge, and at the room, ‘That’s personal! That has nothing to do with this! I was given that stuff!’ It took everything in me not to laugh.
The judge waits for him to be quite and calmly says, ‘If I could keep it at what it is, I would. Actually, if I could raise it, I would! Sadly, even with all this evidence, I will have to set it at about half.’
My ex was NOT happy about that but there was nothing he could do. After I told my ex that the offer still stands if he ever wants to be a dad, I will forgive the past child support. As of now, our son is 11 and has only seen his dad once a year since. He has not paid any child support other than $100 at each court appearance since he found out as long as the judge sees some money going in, they will not arrest him.”
Probably Don’t Want To Seduce The Judge
“I am not a law professional but my stepsister drove herself to her court date for her third ticket for drinking and driving. Her driver’s license was not only suspended but had also expired. She was wasted and high on a certain white powder and still had residue under her nose. Being highly attractive and well endowed, she wore her trashiest outfit that left very little of Victoria’s Secrets not showing because she was trying to ‘turn on’ the judge. The female (and very straight judge) was not impressed. The judge asked her how she got to the court house.
My stepsister told the truth, she drove herself. The judge then asked my stepsister if the deputies can search her car. She agreed. The deputies returned a half hour later with body camera footage of the search along with the newly found evidence. My stepsister had a half bottle in her car, a half ounce of coke, a smack pipe, and a 32 oz McDonald’s cup with a few sips of a mixed drink left in it.
All were found by the deputies in plain sight. She also parked her car in a spot marked for county police only. She’s still serving out her three-year jail sentence in county lock up.”
At Least She Was Honest?
“I am not a legal professional however I found it necessary to represent myself on a custody matter of my daughter who was being physically abused by her mother. My daughter came to live with me and the day she arrived, she had a bruise on the side of her face. She told me her mother had sucker slapped her and bounced her face off the refrigerator door handle. I reported it to the police and CPS with no results.
Skip ahead to almost two years of making myself knowledgeable on court procedures and self representation and I knew that regardless of the issues my ex could never resist the need to correct me. I appeared in front of the Superior Court Justice with my ex and her lawyer. The Justice asked what was this about my ex slapping my daughter. I informed him of the bruise on her face and my daughter told me her mom slapped her. My ex went into a rage, yelling that she would never hit her daughter and that I was making this up to paint her out to be a bad mother.
I looked at my ex and said our daughter told me that you slapped her and bounced her face off of the cabinet. Without missing a beat, my ex said it wasn’t the cabinet it was the refrigerator. Her lawyer did a face palm and the Court Justice winked at me as he put it over for a final hearing to award me custody.
MySpace Came Back To Haunt Her
“My brother was on a jury back in the days of MySpace. A woman had been hit by a big rig during foggy weather. She was suing for a back injury. The last day of the trial they ask her if she has a MySpace account and brought up her site for the jury to see (I think all profiles were open then). There’s a picture of her dancing on the hood of a car and right next to it is a text exchange of her saying that she shouldn’t go out too much because her lawyer says that she has to look injured.
Needless to say, she lost that case.”
He Honestly Thought That’d Get Him Off The Hook
“My father is an attorney and he always had a story for us when we’d ask him this question. He tells it way better than I do, but I’ll give it a shot.
Some dude was allegedly smashing a wall with a sledgehammer with others in order to break into a private property. The cops rolled up, and he’s the only one to get caught.
Fast forward a few months, and this guys in court. Apparently a cop says something about how ‘the defendant was the only one caught, but there were two other men who fled on foot and couldn’t be apprehended.’
My father’s client’s face lights up in an ‘AHA!’ Moment and immediately tells the judge, ‘Not true, there were four of us!’ I guess he thought if he could disprove someone that he said, he’d be let go. Safe to say he was found guilty of vandalism. My father says the judge just kind of sighed and told my father it would be a good idea to keep his client quiet.”
Not A Great Idea To Tick Off The Judge
“The lawyer was verbally running through the evidence against the guy he was defending, trying to claim there wasn’t enough to even call a trial.
All totally fine, except he said, ‘I believe a more seasoned judge wouldn’t have let this trial move forward,’ not knowing that the judge he’s speaking to gave the okay to move the trial to this court. He was immediately given a hard ‘motion denied.'”
Don’t Be Too Confident
“I work as a litigation consultant who goes to trial with trial teams. One case I worked on was an antitrust challenge to a major merger. I was working on the seller’s side of the defense and was therefore kind of playing a backup role to the buy side (who was basically bankrolling and taking on a lead role for the defendants). The buyer’s lawyer got up after the plaintiffs (DOJ, FEC, etc.) rested and said something along the lines of, ‘Your honor, the government has failed to meet their burden of proof and we don’t feel we need to put on a defense to win this case, so we rest.’
I was pretty floored at the sheer ballsiness of the mic drop move in court, but didn’t think it was so cool when it completely backfired. I’m not sure of all the reasons why the judge blocked the merger, but he couldn’t have been too happy to not really have been given an opportunity to hear both sides and make a decision.
Almost every trial I have seen has the defense council make a motion for summary judgement after the plaintiffs case is chief is closed. It essentially is saying the same thing, they haven’t proven their case by a preponderance of the evidence (in civil) and they just rested, so you should find in our favor at this point. It never gets granted, so then the defense presents their evidence.
I’m not sure what the logic was behind the move, and in the end it seemed to have failed, but was very interesting to say the least.”
Make Sure To Take Off Your Watch
“I’m a bankruptcy paralegal. I used to work for a Chapter 13 Trustee who told me this story.
A debtor who had filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy was going through the normal questions at his 341 meeting. This meeting is a hearing without a judge, where the trustee asks debtors simple questions regarding their situation and the paperwork they’ve filed. Creditors may also question the debtor, but other than the IRS, none ever show up. And when I was there, the IRS representative always fell asleep, and I’d have to wake her when one of the cases she was there for was called.
For the most part, it takes no more than five minutes per case. The hearing basically exists for the debtor to affirm under oath that to the best of their knowledge, their paperwork is complete and accurate, and for the trustee to address any issues he has with the case before the case is confirmed and allowed to take its natural course. With few exceptions, an attorney has done all their paperwork for them, and is with them, representing them at this hearing. It’s all very straightforward and a non-event for the most part.
One document that the debtors have to provide lists all their personal property. Another document they provide is used to protect their property, as in bankruptcy, you’re still allowed to keep your stuff, your car, and your house, provided the value of these things is within certain limits or meets various criteria. Most people don’t have to give up any property at all.
However, in a Chapter 7, a Trustee can seize any of your property that is not protected. This would be property that is worth more than the values that are allowed, or that is not protected by other factors, such as being exempt from seizure for various reasons provided by the law. The Trustee can also seize property if it could be protected, but the debtor has failed to fill out the correct paperwork to create that protection. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the gist of it. But again, very few people lose anything at all.
Anyway, in his paperwork, the debtor in this story failed to disclose one item in particular, and had also failed to include it in the paperwork that would have protected it. And that is why he was forced to remove the Rolex from his wrist, and hand it over to the Trustee, right then and there.”