Monday, January 26, 2015

Courthouse evacuation #2

A relatively small courthouse in Y County, four floors, was evacuated a while back.  When the emergency buzzer sounded, those of us who've been evacuated from way too many courthouses in our lives, hung back to see if it was a drill and the bailiff would let us loiter.

No such luck.

Bailiff:  "This is not a drill.  One of our emergency sensors was triggered.  We need everyone to exit the building.  Sorry for the inconvenience."

My hearing was in the courtroom on the first floor at the far end of the courthouse, so we all dutifully exited the building by way of an emergency exit located right outside the courtroom door. We then milled around in the parking lot for about 30 minutes until we were allowed back inside, unfortunately having to trek to the main entrance for re-entry, along with everyone else.

My life continued as usual, and I'd almost forgotten about this incident until the next time I found myself at that courthouse.

Me, to bailiff:  "Remember that evacuation a few weeks ago?"

Bailiff, smile on his face:  "Oh, yeah."

Me:  "What triggered the sensor?"

Bailiff, pulling me aside, lowering his voice:  "We have a new judge here.  He had a little, um, stomach trouble.  After using his private bathroom, and to avoid tell-tale aroma, he sprayed some air freshener when he was finished."  Big smile.

Me:  "I don't get it.  What set off the alarm?"

Bailiff:  "He sprayed the air freshener a little too close to the smoke sensor."

So we evacuated an entire four-floor courthouse because a judge needed air freshener in his bathroom, which a sensor interpreted as smoke. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of the next judge's meeting.  Poor guy.  I wonder if the other judges take him seriously yet.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sometimes the marginally coherent brief still wins

[Most of this week's post was originally a comment I wrote on Janet Reid's awesome blog.  I'm reproducing it here because I want to preserve it for posterity :) ]

I once wrote a brief on a hotly contested issue [with only murky case law from the Court of Appeal] while I had the flu. By the date of oral argument, I was feeling much better.

Judge: “Mr. X [defense counsel], your brief is very eloquent and well-argued.”

Defense counsel: “Thank you, Your Honor.”

Judge, glaring at me: “I wish I could say the same thing about Plaintiff's brief.”

Me, mentally: Hey now! I wrote that brief when I had the flu. Gimme a break.

Me, audibly: “Yes, Your Honor.”

Judge: “Defendant's brief makes a surprisingly good argument about X [the issue we were contesting].”

Defense counsel: Gloats

Judge: “Does the defense wish to add anything today?”

Defense counsel, with sideways smirk at me: “No, Your Honor. Defendant's brief states all of Defendant's arguments, which I am aware Your Honor has already read and understood.”

Judge nods, turns to me: “I don't recommend using your brief as a writing sample, if you're ever looking for employment.”

Me, smarting from the benchslap: “Yes, Your Honor.”

Judge: “However, I did find one reasonably coherent argument in Plaintiff's brief, on page 12, lines 8-21.”

Me: “Thank you, Your Honor.”

Judge: “Does Plaintiff wish to add anything today?”

Me, flipping to page 12 [which thankfully was the main thrust of the argument]: “Thank you, Your Honor. Plaintiff would just like to draw the court's attention to Plaintiff's reasonably coherent argument on page 12, lines 8-21, which although not as eloquent as Defendant's brief, is a concise and accurate statement of the law [more accurate than the Court of Appeal, although I didn't say that], and is Plaintiff's position.”

Judge: “Submitted?”

Both of us: “Submitted.”

Judge: “Well, as much as Defendant makes a very eloquent and creative argument on this issue that I've never considered before, Plaintiff's argument, although definitely not the best-written argument I've ever read [raises eyebrow at me], does accurately state the interpretation of this issue as I understand it from the Court of Appeal. I'm ruling in favor of Plaintiff.”

Moral:  sometimes the marginally-coherent brief still wins.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sometimes the penalty of perjury isn't so bad

My client, the Plaintiff, was evicting the Defendant, a family member, who lived in a room in my client's house.  My client was fluent English/Spanish.  Defendant spoke Spanish, very little English.  The court did not provide interpreters and the Defendant didn't bring a friend to help.

This was a non-payment case - Defendant hadn't paid the rent.  My client testified [under penalty of perjury] that Defendant agreed to pay $500 per month in rent, and then failed to pay.  Defendant then took the stand and testified that he'd never agreed to pay any rent at all.

Okay, this is a "he said, she said" case.  I've had these before.  I whispered to my client to give me his receipt book or whatever he had in writing, that evidenced payment of rent.

Plaintiff, in a whisper:  "There isn't any evidence."

Me, whispering:  "You didn't bring any evidence?"

Plaintiff, whispering:  "There isn't any.  He's right.  He's never paid any rent."

Me, still clueless as to the meaning of this:  "Ever?  Was he *supposed* to pay rent and didn't?"

Plaintiff:  "No."

Me, light beginning to dawn:  "He never agreed to pay rent?"

Plaintiff:  "No, he's a freeloader."

Me, finally figuring it out:  "Then why did you serve a non-payment notice?"

Plaintiff:   "Because it's the quickest."

*mental facepalm"

Learning this information IN THE MIDDLE OF TRIAL is not fun, especially after perjured testimony.  Do all clients lie to their attorneys?  Especially when the fact will obviously be brought out in testimony?  And the fact will completely destroy the case?

So Defendant continued his testimony - in seriously broken English - all the reasons why he shouldn't have to move out [because, of course, he'd never been REQUIRED to pay any rent, thank you very much], and admitting - proudly - to all the things he did that drove Plaintiff nuts [and they would have driven ANYONE nuts, including the judge].  The judge glanced in my direction with a look that said "why did you take this case to trial?"  I did all I could do.  I shrugged.

Fortunately for me, this judge was a "realist" who tried to get things done.  He correctly interpreted this entire case as a huge family rift, with the Defendant as the problem child, and decided to be unconventional.

Judge:  "Counsel, do you mind if we conduct the balance of this trial in Spanish?"

Me, knowing I have a loser case, and knowing the JUDGE knows I have a loser case but wants to  help, and hoping my high school Spanish isn't as rusty as I think it is:  "No, Your Honor, if we go slowly."

Judge:  "You speak enough Spanish?"

Me:  "Maybe, but my client can interpret for me if I get lost."

So in violation of state law, the California Rules of Court, and probably a bunch of other laws that I didn't care to know about, we conducted the balance of the trial in Spanish.  I've NEVER had to concentrate that much in a trial, either before or since.  It surprised me that I only needed my client to interpret one word for me, "key".  The judge, a gringo like me who, unlike me, obviously kept up on his Spanish, convinced the Defendant to move out in 30 days and he wouldn't have to pay any money.

 Judge:  "Counsel, will Plaintiff accept that resolution?"

My client stared at me.

Me, in probaby-too-loud stage whisper:  "Take it or we'll lose the case."

Plaintiff:  "Are you sure?"

Me:  "Yes!"

Plaintiff:  "What if I don't want to?"

Me:  "You perjured yourself."

Plaintiff:  "What does that mean?"

Me:  "You lied from the witness stand."

Plaintiff:  "Is that bad?"

Me, in a whispered hiss that probably sounded like air leaving a thousand tires, possibly also accompanied by a mist of saliva:  "Yesssssssssss."

So Plaintiff accepted the deal.

This was the first trial, but definitely not the last trial, where I've walked out of court wanting a bed and a pillow and no one bothering me for 24 hours.  Being required to be 100% focused on a trial, mentally translating a language I haven't had to use since high school [which was more years ago that I wanted to admit], was exhausting.

But in the end, my client was awarded possession of the property AND did not face perjury charges.  It was all worth it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lockouts don't always go as expected

Assuming the landlord wins the eviction case in court, the Sheriff executes the Writ of Possession, physically evicting the tenants/occupants of the house/apartment and placing the landlord in possession.  Usually the tenants/occupants have already moved out, grudgingly leave, or cry and need to be led out.  The Sheriff does allow them 10 minutes or so to grab any required items, like wallets and medications.  The law is structured so the Sheriff does this, sidearm in plain view, to avoid physical altercations or worse.  The landlord thereafter instructs his locksmith to change the locks.  This entire process is called the Lockout.

A colleague of mine told me this story.  She went to the Sheriff's office of Y county, to drop off some paperwork.  The deputy at the counter, upon seeing her enter, looked at his wristwatch and said "ten...twenty...thirty...forty..."

My colleague interrupted.  "What are you doing?"

Deputy:  "Telling you how much money your lockout is costing our department."

Colleague:  "We pay the fee for the lockout."

Deputy:  "Not enough for this one."

So as it turns out, the tenant was also wanted on a federal DEA warrant.  When the local Sheriff came to execute the writ and evict the tenant, the tenant thought it was the DEA coming to haul him to jail.  So he opened fire.  Obviously the Sheriff sent LOTS of reinforcements.

Fortunately (I suppose), the DEA actually did show up shortly after the Sheriff, and took control of the stand-off.  I remember my colleague telling me this lockout required 3-4 hours to complete.