Monday, February 9, 2015

Sometimes, everyone knows the judge got it wrong

For eviction trials, it is rare to have a court reporter present in most of the courts where I practice.  If a party needs a written transcript of a hearing, that party must bring [and pay for] his own court reporter.  So we bring reporters only for major hearings and trials when we expect to need a record on appeal.

One afternoon, during Law & Motion calendar in X County central court, I noticed a court reporter setting up at the end of counsel table.  We were all curious which hearing would be transcribed.

The court called a case, both counsel approached counsel table, and defense counsel nodded to the court reporter.  The motion under consideration was Defendant's objection to Plaintiff dismissing him from an eviction case.  For most types of cases, defendants are happy to be dismissed, because that means they will not be held liable for a money judgment.  But in eviction cases, being dismissed while the rest of the case continued forward was not a good thing, because the tenant could be evicted without having his day in court.

Both counsel presented their arguments for and against the dismissal.  Defense argued as above, that if a tenant resided in the premises and filed an Answer to preserve his rights, he should not be dismissed without his permission, unless the entire case was dismissed, otherwise he risked being evicted without having his day in court.  Plaintiff argued that it was HIS case, after all, and he should be allowed to dismiss whomever he wanted.

The court reporter typed feverishly.

Every attorney sitting in the courtroom knew the required ruling.  Defendant should not be dismissed unless the entire case was dismissed.

After heated argument, especially by defense counsel, the judge mused that Plaintiff was entitled to dismiss Defendant from his case.

After that tentative ruling, defense counsel picked up his copy of the California Code of Civil Procedure, waved it in front of the judge's face [too bad that part wasn't included in the reporter's transcript] and very theatrically demanded "Which one of these codes forms the basis for that ridiculous ruling?"

It's fun to watch an attorney with a backbone, stand up to a judge like that, because it makes for entertaining viewing without the danger of a personal benchslap.

Defense counsel lost the final ruling.  Later in the month, I thought to ask Plaintiff's counsel what had happened with that case, because the ruling would definitely have been appealed, and Defendant would have won.  Plaintiff's counsel told me they evicted all the other occupants of the property, then paid that specific tenant to leave voluntarily.

I guess that's a good resolution, but I'd really like to have had that judge slapped down by the appellate division.  Would have been one of the better benchslaps.


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