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.

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