Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

It's the time of year to make New Year resolutions.  My list is short, because I want to preserve the possibility I can actually accomplish them.

1.  Query my first book, Not a Mother -- I hope to accomplish this goal by February or March.

2.  Seems like a must-have on all resolution lists -- lose weight.  I want to get back to my weight in 2012 when I got laid off.  I'm a stress eater and I ate a lot and gained back a lot of the weight I'd lost in 2011.

What about you?  Did you make any resolutions?  Or are you playing it safe and not making any this year?  And how often do you actually accomplish them?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I'm wishing all my blog readers a very Merry Christmas!

I support our troops, for many reasons, not the least of which is my oldest son serves in the Navy.

This season, I want to remind my readers that NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve.  If you'd like to join the fun, go here -


Happy tracking and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Judges are not easily fooled

There was a time, seems so long ago now, when Y County calendared eviction cases in the same courtrooms as criminal misdemeanor cases.  And since criminal cases have priority over civil cases [and eviction cases have priority over all other civil cases but NOT over criminal cases], sometimes we had to wait around all morning before our eviction cases were heard.

One morning, criminal arraignment calendar was in full swing.  One defendant had apparently violated the terms of her OR release ["own recognizance", she was released without bail], so she appeared in court to request her OR reinstated.  She brought her toddler daughter, carrying a bottle of juice, with her to counsel table when her name was called.

Judge:  "You brought your baby with you?"

Defendant:  "Sorry, I couldn't find a babysitter this morning."

We all knew it was because she thought the judge wouldn't revoke her OR and send her to jail if she was holding a baby.

Unfortunately for her, the judge ALSO knew her reasoning.  He nodded toward the bailiff, who steered the Defendant to the jury box and sat her there.

Judge, addressing Public Defender while nodding toward the jury box:  "Please take care of this for me.  I hate taking kids into protective custody."

The Public Defender whispered to the Defendant, wrote something on a paper, and left the courtroom.  Then he returned.

Public Defender:  "All taken care of.  It'll be about 30 minutes."

The judge continued with arraignment calendar.  About a half-hour later, a woman in her 50s entered the courtroom.  The Public Defender retrieved the child from the Defendant and placed her in the woman's arms.  The little girl smiled and hugged the woman, obviously her grandma.

And the Defendant was ordered into custody.

Monday, December 8, 2014

No cell phones in the courtroom part 2

Back in the days when small claims cases and eviction cases were heard in the same courtroom, I had the pleasure of watching a small claims trial in front of my favorite judge.  This wasn't actually a trial, because the defendant didn't show up.  All plaintiff had to do was prove his case.  Sounds easy, right?

Well, approximately five minutes into plaintiff's presentation, just when he had almost finished and we all knew what his case was about, and despite the bailiff's previous warning about turning off your cell phone, the plaintiff's phone chimed.

Now if it was me [and trust me I've had my phone chime while I've been at counsel table and I immediately found it and shut it off faster than a greyhound leaves the starting gate], I would have whacked the 'off' button and apologized profusely to the judge and the bailiff and everyone else in the courtroom [which I've also done].

Not this plaintiff.

Plaintiff, checking his caller ID:  "Excuse me, judge, I really have to take this call."

Judge:  *silence*

The plaintiff spoke on the phone for about two minutes.  Right in the middle of his trial!  Everyone, including the judge, just sat and waited quietly.

Plaintiff, after ending the conversation:  "Sorry, but that was a really important call from my best client."

Judge:  "I could tell that call was very important to you.  Important enough to interrupt your trial.  So I'm about to find out just HOW important it was."  He nodded to the bailiff, who went and stood right next to the plaintiff.  "That call interrupted not only YOUR trial, but the trials of everyone else in the courtroom."  He nodded toward the gallery.  Plaintiff turned around to see how many people were there.  "Now normally when a cell phone makes noise while court is in session, the bailiff takes the phone and doesn't give it back until later in the afternoon.  Do you remember that part of the bailiff's speech this morning?"

Plaintiff:  "Yes, and I want to thank you, and him, for allowing me to take that call."

Judge:  "You're welcome.  But now I'm giving you a choice of which is more important to you -- your cell phone, or this trial.  If the trial is more important to you, then hand your phone to the bailiff so we can conclude it.  You can return to retrieve your phone after four o'clock this afternoon."  The plaintiff squirmed a bit and his hand closed firmly around his phone.  "But if the phone is more important to you, and it appears that it is, then you may keep your phone and I will render judgment in favor of the defendant."

Plaintiff:  "But the defendant isn't here."

Judge:  "Yes, but you are, and those are your two options.  Complete the trial and come back for your phone after four pm, or judgment in favor of the defendant."

Plaintiff squirmed quite a bit, hemmed and hawed, and eventually kept his phone.  Judgment in favor of the defendant.

Monday, December 1, 2014

No cell phones in the courtroom

At the start of every court session, the bailiff always gives a lecture about the rule of no cellphone use in the courtroom, among other rules, and asks everyone to check their phones and turn them off.  The spiel usually ends with "if I hear a cellphone go off while the judge is on the bench, I'll confiscate the phone and the owner can come back at 4:30 to pick it up."

Some courts allow attorneys to use their phone QUIETLY for texting and reading emails, and others don't.

Despite this speech, there is almost always a phone that goes off, usually with the ring tone VERY LOUD.  Sometimes the ring tone is also funny, especially if it includes a country-western song.  If the bailiff is in a good mood, he will usually tell the owner to take the phone out into the hall and not come back until the phone is off.  However, after the first warning and/or if the bailiff is not in a good mood that day, some poor unfortunate soul has to hand over his phone and can't have it back until later in the afternoon.

One morning, in the middle of a small claims trial, a VERY LOUD ringtone that sounded like an old-fashioned telephone ringing, was heard all throughout the courtroom.  The judge's face turned bright red, he reached under his robe, extracted his phone, and turned it off.

Judge, to bailiff:  "I guess you'll be wanting this now."

Bailiff:  "No exceptions to my rule."  He took the phone and placed it in his desk drawer.

Everyone else in the courtroom immediately re-checked their phones.

Now I'm sure the judge didn't have to wait until 4:30 to retrieve his phone, but I was in the courtroom all morning and he didn't get his phone back while I was there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving

I'm deviating from my usual posting subject to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.

I have much to be thankful for.  My father's cancer treatment went well and he's currently cancer-free.  My parents are reasonably healthy and doing well for being in their 70s.  They have just decided not to move from the house they've lived in for the past 35 years, at least for another year or so.

My brother's son was valedictorian at his high school and obtained a full scholarship to the university of his choice, and his daughter is in high school and driving her parents nuts [in a good way].

My oldest son has been in the Navy for almost two years and he just "made rank", promoted to the next pay grade.  He's now a Petty Officer Third Class.  I'm so excited for him.  But I have informed him I will NOT salute him or call him sir.

Thank you to all my blog readers, who take time from your busy day to come visit this piece of the internet.

God is good.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Drinking and litigating don't go well together

Several weeks after the hearing I described last week, I had a trial with three-martini-lunch [TML] representing the Defendants.  Trial was set for 1:30pm, but TML had called the courtroom to inform the clerk she had been involved in a "minor fender-bender" and would be about an hour late.


She finally arrived at 2:30, still reeking.  I was insanely curious about the cause of the minor fender-bender, but thought it would be poor form to ask her about it.

Our trial began about two minutes after she arrived in the courtroom.  TML was rather scatter-brained throughout the trial, and tottered a little unsteadily on her feet the few times she stood up.  There were several arguments she could have made that would have made my life somewhat difficult, but she didn't make those arguments.

Trial ended at 4:50pm.  Judgment was entered in my favor.

I then filed a Motion for Attorney Fees, requesting reimbursement of approximately $6000 in attorney fees [this case had been active for over a year].  I had an email conversation with TML over the course of the next few weeks, and it appeared we had reached settlement for $2000 for the fees.  I drafted the settlement agreement and emailed it to TML.

I heard nothing back.  No reply emails, no return phone calls, nothing.  TML apparently fell off the face of the earth, presumably with a martini glass in her hand.

A few days before the Motion hearing date, Defendant called me herself, informed me she had fired her attorney, and asked the status of the case.  She had NOT been informed about our Motion and she had NOT participated in any settlement discussions, despite TML telling me otherwise.


Fortunately, with Defendant no longer represented by TML, I did reach a real settlement and my client was paid all the money Defendant owed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Three martini lunch

Back on the drunk theme from a few weeks ago, I once attended an afternoon hearing with defense counsel reeking of a three-martini [at least] lunch.  Her aroma followed her to the clerk's desk where she checked in, and then to where she sat in the gallery.  I was three rows in front of her, and a little to the side, and I could still smell her.  I noticed no one sat in any of the seats in her immediate vicinity.

And because the commissioner in this courtroom was incompetent, to put it euphemistically, I did not stipulate, and we had to wait for assignment to a judge.

And wait, and wait, and wait.

Eventually I felt the bailiff shaking me gently by the shoulder.

"Wake up, counsel."


I went out into the hallway to walk around, get some fresher, unscented air, and try to stay awake.

It took almost TWO HOURS for assignment to a judge.

Fortunately I was able to remain awake the rest of the afternoon.  And opposing counsel still reeked.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Small claims cases are not always snoozers

While waiting for my eviction case to be called (back in the days when evictions and small claims cases were heard in the same courtroom), I had the "privilege" to observe another small claims case presided over by my favorite judge.  Defendant was accused of crashing into a parked car.

Plaintiff testified that she was leaving a building and saw Defendant's car hit her parked car.

Defendant:  "It wasn't my fault."

Judge:  "What?  Did her car develop a mind of its own, and intentionally open its door for the sole purpose of smacking your car?"

Defendant:  "Well, no."

Judge:  "What about her car jumped out in front of your car?"

Defendant:  *squirms*  "Well, um...."

Judge:  "So why isn't it your fault?"

Defendant:  *silence*

I give this Defendant a lot of credit for choosing to show up at the trial.  Most Defendants in this situation probably wouldn't.  But he should have thought of at least one semi-intelligent thing to say in his defense.

Monday, October 27, 2014

You don't get to choose your trial witness

One day I appeared in court at 8:30am, the time trial was scheduled, only to find my witness subscribed to the philosophy of "you won't develop a hangover if you stay drunk."  He REEKED.  All the stereotypical attributes--bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, swayed when he tried to stand, then held the walls.

At 8:30 in the morning!

The defendant didn't show up, so this "trial" would be easy, I just had to do a simple prove-up of my case and get a judgment.  So I tried to ready the witness in the hallway, leading him through my standard prove-up questions and learning what his answers would be.

Me:  "The first question I'll ask is, Please state your name for the record."

Witness:  "Please.... say.... name.... record."

Me:  "Yes, that will be the first thing I ask you."

Witness:  "Please?"

Me:  "Can you tell me your name?"

Witness:  "Name?"

Oh boy.  There was no way I could get through a standard prove up.  The only thing I could do, is ask the judge for a continuance of the trial.  So when my case was called --

Me:  "Your Honor, Plaintiff requests a one-week trial continuance."

Judge:  "Why?  This appears to be a prove-up."

Me:  "My witness is ill."

Judge:  "He's here, isn't he?  Can't he get through a two minute prove-up?"

Me:  "No, Your Honor."

My witness then attempted to join me at counsel table, and held onto the table so it wouldn't escape from the courtroom.

Judge:  "Please join me at sidebar, counsel."

I told my witness to stay there, and I went to sidebar.

Judge:  "He doesn't look ill to me, but he does look something else."

Me:  "He's too ill to answer any questions.  I know.  I tried out in the hallway."

Judge:  "Okay, I understand."

I went back to counsel table and the judged granted my one-week continuance.  Then I went out into the hallway with my witness and called his assistant to give him a ride back to the office.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Respect the lady in the wheelchair

One small claims trial I watched [presided over by my favorite judge, who is now, unfortunately for me but not for him, retired].  A lady in an electric wheelchair, with a cute 4-5 pound companion dog that sat in her lap in court, had sued a man because his dog, much larger, had attacked her dog while she had been out walking him.  She wanted compensation for her veterinarian bills, plus some money for pain and suffering.

The judge would obviously award her the compensation.  Defendant was arguing he shouldn't have to pay for pain and suffering, because, he said, her dog wasn't really that hurt.

Judge:  "What about this lady?  Having to watch her dog attacked by your huge monster?  How much did you say he weighed?"

Defendant:  "Ninety-five pounds.  But her dog wasn't hurt that bad."

Judge:  "You didn't listen to me.  What about HER?"

Defendant:  "Her dog just jumped into her lap and I had my dog under control by then, so she wasn't gonna get hurt."

Judge:  "You don't think she wasn't scared anyway?  At least for her dog, if not for herself until she saw you had control of your dog?  It's not like she could fight back, or grab her dog and run away."

Defendant:  "She wasn't in any danger."

Judge:  "Let me put it this way.  What if this lady was your MOTHER?  Or your GIRLFRIEND?  How much money would you want me to award in that case?"

Defendant:  *squirmed a bit, very muffled voice, looking at floor* "I don't know."

Judge:  "Do you think a thousand dollars would be sufficient?"

Defendant [obviously not wanting to have to pay that much]: "I don't know, but that seems kinda high."

Judge granted all of the compensatory damages plus one thousand dollars for pain and suffering.  Moral of this story:  Respect the lady in the wheelchair.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Small Claims trials can be head shakers

One of the dubious benefits of having been a licensed attorney for more years than I can count on both hands is I can sign up to be appointed a temporary judge.  This means that for payment of "resume fodder" [no monetary compensation but I can indicate on my resume that I acted as temporary judge in X county], I would be assigned to preside over traffic and small claims hearings.  [Because I am a plaintiff's eviction attorney, I am disqualified from hearing eviction cases.]

One day I was hearing small claims cases.  Plaintiffs were homeowners who had contracted with defendants to construct a concrete patio in their backyard.  I don't remember why, but for some reason defendants could not complete the job on the day they had scheduled.  However, they had already set up delivery of the cement with a sub-contractor, who appeared at the residence with one of those mixing trucks.  Defendants, not able to do the job that day, and obviously not wanting to pay a rescheduling fee, told their sub-contractor to "just leave the cement in a pile off to the side here."

So that's what the sub-contractor did.

Needless to say, plaintiffs/homeowners terminated their contract with defendants, and hired another contractor to remove the huge pile of hardened concrete from their front yard, probably with jackhammers, before completing the patio in the backyard.

Plaintiffs provided me with a photograph of the pile of concrete in the front yard -- it was nearly as large as a small car.  I showed the photo to defendants.

Me:  "Is it supposed to look like this?"

Defendants:  "Um, no."

That was one of the easiest trials I ever decided.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No Photography in Court

I was waiting for the judge to call my case, when the bailiff suddenly jumped up, flew through the courtroom, grabbed the defendant for my case, and forcibly escorted him out into the hallway.

After a few minutes, the bailiff returned, carrying two cameras.

Me:  "What's up with that?  That's my defendant."

Bailiff:  "Caught him taking photos in the courtroom."

Me:  "Of what?"

Bailiff:  "Legs of female attorneys, some of the judge, one of his crotch...."

Me:  "His crotch?  Eeeeewwwwww."

Bailiff:  *smiles*  "Yep, said he was taking pictures to prove to his wife that he was in court today."

Me:  "Pictures of female legs AND HIS CROTCH are gonna prove he was in court?"

Bailiff:  "Hey, I'm just reporting what he said, NOT that I believed it."

The bailiff deleted all of the pictures and held the cameras until 4:30 before he gave them back to the defendant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Eviction from Haunted House

Several months ago, I had the dubious honor of evicting a tenant from a haunted dwelling.  Or at least, that's what the tenant said in his Answer to the Complaint, explaining why he hadn't paid the rent.

Now obviously the landlord is supposed to maintain the apartment in a habitable condition, but "haunted" or "ghosts" or other such terms are NOT included in the California Civil Code as examples of conditions permitting the withholding of rent.  I know.  I checked.

In the hallway before trial, I asked my client whether the tenant had informed him of the haunted nature of the apartment.  My client's eyebrow went up, then he said "and I'm supposed to correct that how?"

If the repair cost is less than one month's rent, the tenant is permitted, after notifying the landlord of the problem and the landlord not correcting it within 30 days, to pay for the repair himself and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent.  When I asked the tenant if he had considered a "repair and deduct" [because after all, why would he want to live in a haunted apartment?], he told me no, because he didn't know any exorcists.

I convinced the tenant [surprisingly, this took more convincing than I initially thought it would] that he wanted to move out of the apartment, and my client [after recovering his composure from hysterical laughter], agreed to waive all the back rent.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My new platform and marketing plan

In last Monday's post, I mentioned Dave Barry and included a link to his book I had just re-read.  Up until then, my blog, which I admittedly haven't advertised much yet, got maybe 5 hits per day.  Last week my hit counter reached 50 in one day.

So I think I'll start mentioning Dave Barry in every blog post.  Maybe multiple times.  And with a link to his newest book [yes, I've read that one too].

Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry Dave Barry

Dave Barry: You can date boys when you're forty

Okay that might be a bit much.  But so far it's been a good marketing strategy.

All the writing blogs I've read, say a writer needs to establish platform.  Because I've been an attorney for over 20 years, and my current WIP is a book about a brand new attorney trying to break in to the biz, I figured my "brand" would be something related to the law.

Maybe I should change my brand to Dave Barry.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Courthouse Toilets

So I just finished re-reading Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down [I love Dave Barry books].  On the cover is Dave sitting on a toilet.

Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down

Which got me thinking about the newfangled toilets that seem to be all the rage in new [and some older] courthouse construction.  They're the new environmentally friendly or water-saving toilets, which "automatically flush the appropriate amount of water, based on the time you spent in the stall."  They also have buttons you can press, with one or three water drops, depending on how much water you want to flush.

Here's how a typical visit to these toilets goes for me:
1.  Enter stall, close and lock door.
2.  Pull out one seat protector, place it on the seat.
3.  Turn around and unzip pants.
4.  Hear toilet flush [presumably the one-water-drop flush].
5.  Check to see whether the seat protector is still there [it usually is]
6.  Sit
7.  Stand up, refasten pants.
8.  Hear toilet flush.
9.  Check to see whether everything flushed.
10.  Re-flush using manual buttons because the seat protector is still in the toilet.

Someone needs to explain to me how THREE flushes, even if they are all one-water-drop flushes, is better than the old style toilets.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Grandparents' Day

Yesterday was Grandparents' Day, one of those minor holidays that doesn't even show up on most calendars.  But my #3 son always knows when it's Grandparents' Day, even though I didn't because it isn't on my calendar, and insists we go to his grandparents' house to swim and visit.

And of course the grandparents don't mind this at all :)

Regular post next Monday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

No blog post this week.  Had a wonderful weekend in the mountains and my Navy son is coming home today for a one-week leave.

Hope you all have a happy day!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sometimes the law does prevail

Most eviction judges don't follow the letter of the law [saying it is "too harsh for these facts"], they will find a way to let the tenant make up any missed rent payments if possible.

I've watched a judge render a habitability judgment [assigning a discounted rental rate when the apartment needs repairs and the landlord hasn't made them timely, and giving the tenant five days to pay the reduced rent], and the ONLY trial evidence that even remotely resembled a habitability issue was a thumbprint seen on an interior doorjamb.  The judge didn't reduce the rent by even one dollar, he just gave the tenant five days to get caught up.

I once evicted a tenant who hadn't paid her $5 per month rent.  She was a Section 8 Housing tenant, which meant most of her rent was paid by the government.  Her portion was $5 per month.  And one month, she didn't pay.

I honestly didn't believe the judge would evict her over a $5 missed payment, even though my case was airtight and the tenant presented no defenses.  But I was wrong.

Judge:  "My tax dollars pay 99% of your rent, and you can't come up with a measly $5?"

Sometimes the law does prevail.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bench officers who shouldn't be

One day before trial in Y County, I spent over an hour working out a settlement.  Finally, I got my client [the Plaintiff] and the Defendant to reach an agreement that was acceptable to both parties.  Each party gave up something, and gained something.  I thought it was a win/win.

I gave the agreement to the court clerk, and she put the file up on the bench for the Commissioner.  Here's what happened when the case was called:

Commissioner:  "It appears the parties have reached a settlement."

Me:  "Yes, Your Honor."

I stood at counsel table with both parties, waiting for the agreement to be blessed.

Commissioner [reading the agreement]:  "I think you can come up with something better than this."

What?!  Is this a commissioner?  Or a wanna-be mediator?  She gave the agreement to the bailiff who returned it to me.  I brought the parties back out into the hallway and asked both of them if this is what they really wanted.  They both responded "Yes."

I asked the clerk to put the file back up on the bench.

Commissioner:  "Is this the best you can do?"

Me:  "The parties both agree this is how they want to resolve the case."

She acted seriously disappointed in everyone, but at least she blessed the agreement.

This commissioner was recently on the ballot for judge.  I was soooooo glad she wasn't elected.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sometimes it's easier to just go to trial

Warning:  Rant ahead.

ALL courts in the Southern California area want eviction cases to settle.  All require a settlement conference prior to trial.  Some even require a settlement conference a few days before trial, and some even make the parties sit and watch a video also.

Ninety percent of eviction cases do settle, and ninety percent of those settlements do occur on the day of trial.  Most courts supply forms in the courtroom to use in writing the settlement agreement.  User-friendly courts supply a three-part form, so you write the agreement once, and it separates into three copies--one for the court, one for the Plaintiff, and one for the Defendant.  Other courts use the California judicial council form, which is only one part, but the clerks will make two copies for you after the judge signs it.

Then there are those courts which are NOT user-friendly, by any stretch of the imagination.

Me:  "We've reached a settlement.  Do you have any forms we can use?"

Clerk:  "You'll have to go upstairs and buy one from the clerk's office."

Me:  "Can I use this form I use in X County?"  [I always keep blank forms in my folder.]

Clerk:  "No, you have to use our forms."

Me:  "Okay.  Can I write it once and have copies made?"

Clerk:  "Yes, you can come back in two days, when the file is back in the clerk's office.  They'll make the copies for you."

Me:  "The parties each want a copy before they leave the court today."

Clerk:  "Then you'll have to write three copies."

So I go upstairs and pay $1 [50 cents per page], write the settlement, then pay $2 more for the clerk's office to make two copies.  This is if I'm lucky.

And sometimes, when I'm not lucky because "we don't have a public copier," I pay $3 to get three copies of the two-page form.  I write the settlement THREE times, shaking life back into my hand approximately every two minutes. My pen, thankfully, does not run out of ink, altho I always have two pens with me, just in case.  The third copy is barely legible, because my hand is barely functional by that point.
And sometimes, on top of all this aggravation, the clerks are downright nasty.  How hard can it be, to be professional and even *gasp* NICE?  I know it can be done, because there are clerks out there who are nice and friendly, even when they are giving the bad news of the court's unfriendly policies, AND even when the attorneys are behaving unprofessional toward the clerks.  Those clerks are worth every penny they are paid, and even more.

On the positive side, at least I can walk out of court with a copy of the agreement.

How does an extra hour of the parties' [and attorneys'] time, and payment of $3 per case, gonna help the courts with their budget shortfalls?  How about just increasing the filing fee by $3?

Oh, I forgot, the filing fees increased but the services the parties receive for that increase actually decreased.

Your [and my] tax dollars NOT at work.
 Some attorneys take a photo of the agreement with their phones, which is technically not permitted but usually the bailiffs don't mind, so long as you do it in the hallway and NOT in the courtroom.

But sometimes, it's just easier to go to trial.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Retired judges should stay retired

So at one point in time, Y County had quite a few retired judges helping out for the courtrooms/calendars that apparently the regular judges did not want.  The undesirable calendars tended to be small claims, traffic, and of course, evictions.

One day I had a trial before a retired judge.  The tenant hadn't paid rent.  I completed my main case.

Tenant:  "I already gave the keys back to the landlord."

I turned to my client, who shook his head.

Judge to Tenant:  "Who did you give the keys to?"

Tenant:  "Baby."

My client had no idea who "Baby" was.  The Judge asked the Tenant to call Baby and ask her to come to court.  Tenant went into the hallway and came back a few minutes later.  "Baby can't come today, but she can call if you want."  Clerk gave Tenant a phone number to call.  Tenant went back into the hallway and presumably passed that number along to Baby.  Court clerk then took a call.  "It's Baby."

Judge:  "Court will be in recess while I take this call in chambers."

The bailiff asked everyone to clear the courtroom.  I protested.  "I have the right to cross-examine this witness."

Judge:  "Your objection is noted and overruled."

The bailiff made me go out in the hallway with everyone else.  I called the office and vented.

My lead attorney:  "You noted our objection for the record.  Just do your best and remember our ultimate goal, which is that Plaintiff gains possession of the premises."

Judge came back out and called this case again.

Judge:  "Based on the information I was provided by Baby, I find that Plaintiff already has possession of the premises."


Deep breaths.

Me:  "Does that mean that if my client goes to the property right now and re-keys it, he is not trespassing and not in violation of any laws?"

Judge:  "Yes, counsel, that's what it means."

Me:  "May I wait for a Minute Order with that ruling?"

Judge:  "Yes."

I gave my client a copy of the Minute Order and advised him to go re-key the property immediately.

Eviction calendar is an odd animal.  Judges don't always, or even usually, follow the law, but sometimes it does work in my client's favor.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another reason why knowing your judge is required

So at one point, a judge in Y county, before she was thankfully rotated off the eviction calendar, decided she couldn't be bothered with Plaintiff proving its side of the case.  So she would ask the Plaintiff, "Have you read the Complaint?" and the Plaintiff would presumably say "yes."  Then she would ask, "is everything it says true?" and the Plaintiff would presumably again say "yes."  Then she would turn to Defendant and ask Defendant to prove his/her case.

If you were Plaintiff's counsel and you did not properly prepare your client for this type of "trial" [term used loosely], the results could be quite unexpected.  This happened to a fellow Plaintiff's counsel, who obviously had never "tried" a case before this particular judge.

Judge:  "So, Mr. Smith, have you had a chance to read the Complaint?"

Plaintiff:  "Yes."

Judge:  "And is everything it says true?"

Plaintiff:  "No!  It's a pack of lies!"

My esteemed colleague almost passed out.  But he recovered sufficiently to explain to his client that the Complaint was HIS document.  The Answer was the Defendant's document.

Plaintiff:  "Sorry, Judge.  My Complaint is true.  Defendant's paper is a pack of lies."

Judge:  "You should probably apologize to your attorney.  I think you gave him a heart attack."

Plaintiff, turning to his attorney:  "Sorry."

Counsel, hand on heart:  "No problem."

Moral of this story:  Know your judge.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Definitions, Part 1

Today we digress to define some legal terms used in the world of eviction law:

The legal document [pleading] filed by a property owner/landlord, used to start a case.  For evictions, which in California is called Unlawful Detainer [UD] or Forcible Detainer [FD], the Complaint usually makes one or more of the following allegations:
     1.  Tenant is undesirable [failure to move out after lawful demand to terminate tenancy]
     2.  Tenant is a deadbeat [failure to pay rent]
     3.  Tenant is a low-life [failure to perform conditions/covenants of the rental agreement]

The legal document [pleading] filed by a tenant in response to the Complaint.  For evictions, the Answer usually makes one or more of the following allegations:
     1.  Landlord is a slumlord [property has habitability problems]
     2.  Landlord is a scumbag [retaliation or discrimination]
     3.  Landlord is a jerk [generalized allegation applying to all landlords]

An agreement signed by both the landlord and the tenant, which usually states that neither party agrees with the allegations of the other party, but they have reached this agreement to avoid going to trial and airing their dirty laundry.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Courthouse lock-down

Several years ago, I made the mistake of agreeing to appear for a colleague at a dependency hearing.  My client was the mother, mid-twenties, a bit unstable, some drugs, who was at risk of losing both of her children [different fathers, neither of which lived with her], especially since she had missed a few court-mandated counseling sessions.

My client brought her two children with her, along with her mother.  I felt bad for her mother, she was a grandma faced, through no fault of her own, with the prospect of losing her grandchildren.

The commissioner's name was familiar to me, and after about ten minutes of staring at her, I finally realized she was the adjunct professor who had taught my criminal law class many years prior.  She had been a STRONG proponent of the Socratic method, which meant she wasn't very popular with her students.

In the middle of the hearing just before mine, the alarm sounded.  WOP WOP WOP.  Loud and obnoxious.  Accompanied by flashing lights

We all gathered our files and turned to leave, but a Sheriff deputy positioned himself at the exit door and told us to remain in the courtroom.  So we all sat down again, curious why the alarm still sounded but we were specifically NOT allowed to leave.


About ten minutes later, we were informed that a man in the parking lot was threatening to shoot and/or blow up a car or two.


So, knowing we were stuck in court for the immediate future, the commissioner decided to continue with her calendar.

I shouted my entire hearing with WOP WOP WOP in the background.  I did succeed in obtaining an additional 30 days for my client to show efforts to keep custody of her children by completing her counseling sessions.  So something good came of this.

We were stuck in that courtroom for 45 minutes.  I heard WOP WOP WOP all day long and in my dreams for the next three days.

I've never again agreed to help a colleague in Dependency court.  It's the saddest courthouse I've ever been in.  I have a new appreciation for those judges, attorneys, and court staff who work there every day.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How NOT to evacuate a courthouse

So Roybal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles was evacuated a few months ago.  I was on the 13th floor, which means I had to walk down 12 flights of stairs, in a stairwell [one of three, so I'm told] that apparently hadn't seen use since the building was erected.  Concrete dust coated the walls and steps, which was to be expected, but also the handrails.  My suit pants and jacket [of course I wore black that day], and my hands, and my nostrils, were caked in concrete dust by the time I was able to exit the building.  I smelled that stairwell for days afterward.

I walked down the stairs with another attorney and two court employees.  They decided to talk about "what it must have been like in the stairwells in NYC on 9/11".

Around the eighth or ninth floor, my eyes experienced what must have been similar to a white-out condition.  The walls, steps, landings, handrails, people... basically EVERYTHING in that stairwell was exactly the same color.  I had no depth perception.  And walking downhill in circles, with everything the same shade of off-white, including the edge of each step, is not conducive to speedy travel.

And oddly, this stairwell lets you out on the second floor.  Now if this had been a real emergency, which I knew it wasn't because the fire alarm blasted our eardrums at precisely ten o'clock, I would have been entirely lost on the second floor if there hadn't been court employees with me to tell me where to go next.

We traveled across the second floor to an exit door, which let us outside to a balcony-like area and absolutely did not look like an exit.  Then we traversed the balcony, along the side of the building, to an outside stairway that led to the ground floor.

I definitely believe there should be signs posted along this route, letting people know exactly how to exit.

And I learned that my legs are REALLY out of shape.  The next morning when my alarm woke me up, I sat up, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and promptly collapsed on the floor when my legs wouldn't hold me up.  I walked in pain for nearly a week.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Red County or Blue County, part 2

So back to X County and Y County from last week, and another of California's laws.

Code of Civil Procedure 1161.2(a)(6):

In the case of a complaint involving residential property based on Section 1161a as indicated in the caption of the complaint [a post-foreclosure eviction], ...  [the court clerk may allow access to the court's file only as follows] to any other person [the public], if 60 days have elapsed since the complaint was filed with the court, and, as of that date, judgment against all defendants has been entered for the plaintiff, after a trial. If judgment is not entered under the conditions described in this paragraph, the clerk shall not allow access to any court records in the action, except as provided in paragraphs (1) to (4), inclusive.

 Interpretations as follows:

X County -- If the case was resolved by conducting a trial [not settled by agreement], and judgment was entered for Plaintiff against all Defendants, and the trial and judgment occurred within 60 days of the date the Complaint was filed, then the court's file is available for viewing by the public.  Otherwise, the court's file is NOT available for viewing by the public.

Y County -- The court's file is always available for viewing by the public, unless a Motion and very good cause is shown, see my post from last week.  If the parties reach an agreement on the day of trial [which is how most eviction cases are resolved], the court's file is still public, because the agreement was reached AT TRIAL.

For post-foreclosure evictions, most Defendants will file frivolous demurrers and other motions, causing trial to be held after the 60th day, in hopes that (1) they get more time in the property, usually under the mistaken belief they won't have to pay for the additional time, and (2) the court case won't show up on their credit report as an eviction.  This strategy works in some counties but not in others.  It also annoys new property owners because they have to pay additional legal fees to oppose these groundless demurrers and other motions, and many courts won't penalize Defendants for doing so.

Thankfully for new owners, most courts understand this stall tactic and/or are not happy with the wasting of court time and resources.  Therefore, most courts are ruling on the frivolous demurrers and other motions within a few days of filing, without waiting for the hearing date, and/or the courts are allowing new owners to file ex parte applications to advance the hearing date to the date of the ex parte.  Some courts even set an OSC re Sanctions, requiring these Defendants to explain the filing of the frivolous demurrers and/or motions, and imposing a penalty [usually $250-$500] for wasting the court's and the Plaintiff's time.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Red County or Blue County

Legalese.  Not even judges understand it or agree what it means.  Take, for example, the basic rule that court files are open for inspection by the public [the court is, after all, a branch of the government], and what is required to seal [make non-public] the court's file.

California Rule of Court 2.550 --
The court may order that a record be filed under seal only if it expressly finds facts that establish:
(1)There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record;
(2)The overriding interest supports sealing the record;
(3)A substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed;
(4)The proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and
(5)No less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest. 

Therefore, court records are available to the public unless the court specifically finds the factors above.

X County -- if both parties, landlord and tenant, reach a stipulation/agreement in an eviction case [usually written in court on the day of trial], the parties can agree to seal the court's file [make the entire file, including its existence, non-public].  The court will un-seal the record [making it public again] only if the tenants don't perform.  This is good for tenants, obviously, because future landlords, when screening these tenants' rental applications, will not find the previous eviction on their record.  It is good for the "current" landlord, because tenants are more likely to agree to move out, and are more likely to actually move out on the date specified.  It is not good for future landlords, because the eviction won't be listed in the public records, denying the future landlord the ability to make an informed decision on whether to rent to these tenants.

Y County -- for eviction cases, this county won't make the court's file non-public without a motion and a hearing, and a really good reason.  Therefore, tenants are less likely to want a stipulation/agreement unless it does not include a judgment.  Most landlords want a judgment.  Therefore, despite most eviction judges wanting the parties to settle, cases are more likely to go to trial.

This is one of many reasons why it's important to know what the courts are allowing in each county, before opening settlement negotiations in a case.

Monday, June 16, 2014

My very first hearing in Family Court

Setting:  Family Law Court, County of ABC

My client:  Father

Case:  County of ABC vs Father, for repayment of welfare benefits paid to ex-wife

Hearing:  Father's Motion to Change Venue [request to transfer case to a different county]

Court Reporter present and recording the proceedings.

Me:  Your honor, Father requests this case be transferred to County of XYZ.

Judge:  What is the basis for your request?

Me:  This court cannot be unbiased and impartial in this matter.

Judge:  Why not?

Me:  County of ABC court has incentive to rule against Father, because in ruling against Father, County of ABC would collect money from Father, which would improve its financial position in this difficult economy.

Judge:  Counsel, I can assure you I'm a very neutered person.

Court Reporter stops reporting, hands dangling in mid-air.  Courtroom becomes deathly quiet, with a few barely-audible snickers.  I lift my file folder in front of my face to shield my grin from view.  Opposing counsel stares at his shoes.

Judge:  What?!  What'd I say?

Crickets chirp.

Judge: Madam Court Reporter, please read back the previous exchange.

Court Reporter:  I stopped typing in the middle.

Judge:  Read what you typed, and then tell me what you didn't type.

Court Reporter does as asked.  Judge's face becomes vivid shade of red.

Judge:  I meant neutral, counsel.  Neutral.  I assure you I am a very neutral person.

Court Reporter resumes typing.

I lost the Motion and the trial remained with this judge in County of ABC.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Introducing Dena Stumbles Through the Courtroom

Take a look at my bio--go ahead, I'll wait--and you'll notice I'm an attorney.  Most of my workday is spent in the trenches of the various courtrooms across Southern California.

My current work-in-progress, which I hope is published some day, is very loosely based on my initial attempts at pretending, with the blessings of the great and glorious State of California, to practice law.  [Heavy emphasis on the term "practice".]

So beginning June 16, I'll post either a humorous anecdote or a vent of frustration every Monday from my experiences [or others] stumbling through the courtrooms of Southern California.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Learned more about self-editing this past weekend

I've been having the hardest time understanding just what it means to "make every word count."  I would read thru my WIP and it sounded fine.  But my friend the freelance editor would have all of these suggested changes.  What gives?

Well, I finally learned what it meant!  It only took my friend/editor

And these two great writer sites

And this great self-editing tool

But now I have a clue as to what to do!

So, many thanks to all of you who maintain sites for newbies like me.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Just submitted my manuscript to Orange Rose contest.

My paranormal romance Angel Among Us.  This is my second manuscript but the first one that is close to being publishable.  I'm so excited!  Here's my query letter:

            The night 18-year-old Carter Felton tries to end his pointless life, he meets his soul mate.  He loves gazing into her huge, beautiful, brown eyes.  He loves it when she strokes his cheeks with her warm, soft, webbed hands.  She has no name, so he calls her Ellie.  And now he has a reason for living.  He'll help her stay hidden from the rest of earth society, learn more about her, and show her how much he loves her.

            Showing her how much he loves her is the easy part.

            Learning more about her, not so much.  He didn't bargain for the requirement to let down his protective emotional wall or the requirement to accept the love of his adoptive parents as part of the process.

            Helping her stay hidden from the rest of earth society, downright difficult.  She has this annoying habit of rescuing people.

            And then one evening, on the five o'clock news, most of society learns exactly what Ellie can do.  When Carter subconsciously pulls away from her, he is devastated to realize his rejection may have caused her to go back home.  Ending his life seems like the easiest and best option.  Because living for her would require him to revisit the pain and rejection of his past, and hers as well, to prove to them both that love is real, and life is worth living.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's time for me to enter the 21st century and have a blog

Just checking out what this looks like.  Please bear with me as I try to figure out how this works.  :)