Monday, July 18, 2016

When courts misplace a case file

This weeks' story comes from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. A case of investors suing mutual fund firms over the fees they charged was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which reviewed the decision and sent the case back to the Seventh Circuit, asking that court to apply a different standard to the facts.

“The justices instructed the lower-court judges to apply a different standard for judging if fees are excessive.”

The attorneys in the case waited for FIVE YEARS, occasionally calling to check on whether a ruling based on the different standard had been made. Each time they called, the court clerk informed them it was still under consideration. Apparently at least once, the attorney inquired whether the case had “slipped through the cracks” and was assured that no, it hadn't.

But – yes it had. FIVE YEARS LATER [so long, in fact, that one of the original justices had passed away], the Seventh Circuit made a ruling, along with this statement:

“[P]apers were placed in the wrong stack and forgotten,” the opinion said. “The court’s internal system for tracking cases under advisement does not include remands from the Supreme Court, so the normal process of alerts and ticklers failed. We will see to it that this is fixed. That may be small comfort to these litigants and their lawyers, but at least some good will come from the delay."

Many years ago, my husband showed up in court on his appointed day for arraignment on a speeding ticket.

This was NOT in Los Angeles County, but yes, the court had no record of his file. My husband, clueless honest citizen that he is, provided a copy of his citation [traffic ticket] to the court to assist in the search for the file. His arraignment was re-set for a date 30 days away.

On the new date, the court STILL had not found record of his citation. So the judge made the only fair ruling.  He dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice.”

This makes sense when you're the defendant who is actually showing up in court and trying to do the right thing. But my firm is a Plaintiff landlord firm, and we NEED those court files if we want to evict the defendants and/or collect the money that is owed to our clients.

In my practice, the courts have “lost” several case files. This is unfortunately relatively common in Los Angeles County, which has not yet moved to electronic filing. Each case has a physical file, which is tracked by manual out-cards and a computer tracking system. Approximately 3-4 times each year, the court will misplace a file. Usually the file is found by some unfortunate clerk who apparently had the least seniority and was assigned to find it. After about a week of searching, a supervisor will call our office and take credit for locating the file.

But TWICE in the past four years, the physical file had apparently evaporated into the space/time continuum. My firm gave the court a copy of our own file, which the court clerks used to re-create the court's file.

Hopefully Los Angeles County will have electronic case files in the near future.


  1. I never enjoy filing anything in Los Angeles. At one time I think you had to have bluebacks for civil filings.

    1. Nope, filing in LA isn't fun. But fortunately no bluebacks, except in bankruptcy court.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. There is an old Italian film where a lady is supposed to be evicted. She pays someone to make the documents vanish. They sandwich a slice of cheese in her file. Mice chew it to shreds. I think Gina Lollobrigida is the actress.

    1. Sounds interesting and funny. If you think of the name of the film, let me know. Thanks!