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.