I Plead The Fifth: Lawyers Tell Their Worst “You’re Screwed” Stories
Getting a lawyer is normally a good idea. However, a lawyer can’t always save people from themselves, or from human stupidity in general. Whether it’s inside or outside the courtroom, some people just can’t help getting in trouble. Case in point, these stories from Reddit Lawyers who had to watch as their clients screwed themselves over.
#1 There’s Always a But
This guy wanted custody over his children after a divorce, but his wife was accusing him of physical harassment. He was asked if he had ever laid his hands on his wife, and he straight-up said: “Yes, but only when she annoyed me.” I was ready to leave the courtroom and laugh.
#2 The Devil Is in the Details
I was trying to get a restraining order for a woman in divorce court from her son’s father. She details a story where he grabbed her arm and slammed it on the tub, breaking her wrist. On cross examination, I asked the accused, her ex, if he ever broke my client’s wrist on purpose. Then the true, awful story came out.
His response: “Oh yeah I did!” I’m jubilant….for two seconds. Then he continues. “She was nine months pregnant and about to do crack. I tried to grab her arm to get the pipe and protect my unborn son.” She left that detail out in her conversations with me.
#3 Who Needs Probation Anyway?
The judge was giving a mass ruling for a group of people about their probation for driving under various influences. The judge asks the room, “Has anyone consumed or taken substances in the last 24 hours?” One single dude proudly raises his hand—”I did some dope last night…” That single dude did not get probation.
#4 Told You So
I was in court, and the case before ours was going on way longer than it should have. The defense lawyer calls for a motion to dismiss, claiming lack of evidence. The judge says he will entertain said motion after lunch, hits his gavel, and says court will reconvene at 1 pm, court dismissed. The defendant stands up and says real loudly, “Told you I could get away with stealing that stuff!” He thought his case had been dismissed.
#5 The Prescription Writing on the Wall
I was involved in a custody dispute. The dad alleged the mom was doing all sorts of things, and he should have the kid. The dad’s attorney grilled the mom about texts she had sent where she was trying to sell prescription pills. She wouldn’t admit it. It seemed like the dad’s attorney moved on…until he came up with a brilliant trap.
He eventually ended with, “One more question. Where did you get the pills you were selling.” Mom responds without thinking, “Oh, my doctor prescribed them.”
#6 The Others
I had a family client whose ex wasn’t letting him see his kid. So we were in court with him explaining how important parenting was to him, how much he loved being a father, etc. After 45 minutes of this, the mother says, “I don’t know why he’s saying this, he abandoned his other kids.” Cue me who has never heard him mention having other kids.
It turned out, yeah, he 100% abandoned them, has had no contact for years, and never made any efforts. Please give your lawyers important information, especially if another party involved knows your secrets.
#7 Feeling Bad for the Children
I’m an attorney and a foster parent, and my wife won’t sit next to me when we have to go to court for our kids because I usually have a running commentary on how inept the attorneys are. The judge for this type of case knows me and knows I’m an attorney, so he finds this entertaining. Last time we went in there was one attorney, who is my FAVORITE, in the case before us.
Myself, the judge, and every other attorney hate her because she oblivious, loud, and incompetent. So she stands up in this case and goes “Your honor, my client has only been found guilty of child endangerment in another county. I see no reason that this court should hold that against him when it comes to custody of his children.” The judge did not agree.
#8 But It’s My Favorite
This was literally the first thing I ever did as a law student intern. My client has a good defense on a possession case. Substances were found in a jacket, but my guy wasn’t wearing a jacket, so they were going to have a very difficult time proving that the jacket belonged to him. I had a long meeting with the client and explained everything. He was excited.
Day of the preliminary hearing, the guy shows up and sits down directly in front of the officer who took him in…while wearing the jacket in question. The exact same jacket we were going to say they couldn’t prove belonged to him.
#9 Ableism in Effect
I was the plaintiff in a tribunal suing for wrongful termination. My representative says, “So you terminated him because he was ill?” Employer responds, “Yes.” My representative continues, “And he was ill because he’s disabled?” Again, the employer says yes. “So you fired someone for being disabled?” Employer says, “Yes.”
#10 Learning to Fall
Years ago I worked in personal injury, and we had a woman come to us saying that she slipped and fell outside a nail salon because they hadn’t swept up the wet leaves outside the door. So we take the case, and almost immediately we get a call from opposing counsel saying he’s going to courier us something important. When we opened it, I almost burst out laughing.
We pop the disc in the computer, and right there is security camera footage of our client picking up the wet leaves, putting them on the sidewalk, and sitting down on them before calling for help. I have never facepalmed so hard. Needless to say, we dropped the case.
#11 Maybe She Just Forgot
Custody battle. The lawyer for the mom puts her on the stand for the sole purpose of credibility. It all unravels from there. Opposing lawyer starts questioning her about an allegation that she smoked substances with her kids when they were 12 years old. Mom says the children are lying and deflects to the dad’s “harassment”…which, by the way, doesn’t exist.
During the same cross-examination, the mom admits to “medicinal Mary.” When probed, she did not have a card and when asked where she got her medicinal stuff, she said “local drugstore down the street.” Liar, liar pants on fire. Remember…her lawyer put her on the stand in an effort to make HER the more credible parent. It went as badly as it could have.
#12 The Customer Is Always Right
This lady got into a minor fender bender with a truck in a casino parking lot. My guy said she parked and went inside the casino for a few hours. At her deposition, she testified that she was so hurt, she went right home and to a hospital. So I asked if she was a frequent visitor of the casino, and if she had a rewards card.
She was happy to tell me she did, and she had gold status, and showed me the card. This turned out to be her big mistake. I subpoenaed her rewards card’s records, and it showed she was playing slots for hours after the accident.
#13 When Your Addiction Comes in Handy
My father as a young lawyer was trying to get a case to take place in one state and not another because the insurance laws were more favorable in state A. The company he was in litigation with wanted it in state B for that reason, and claimed they only distributed in state A but had no locations in it and should not have to go to court in state A.
Well, this company was a soda company, and my dad has a major diet soda addiction. He goes through at least a 12-pack a day. So they were in a meeting with the soda company lawyers and took a break, and he went downstairs to get a diet soda. When it came out, he noticed on the can that it said “Distributed by the soda company of State A.”
So he got another diet soda and brought that one up the stairs to the meeting. The soda company decided to settle after that.
#14 Photo Finish
I was involved in a civil suit against an organization that attempted to cover up the battery and molestation of an at-risk population. During a deposition, the opposing counsel began asking an aggressive line of questions accusing the deposed of false reporting in the past, convictions for forgery, and identity theft.
After our client answered with a simple “no” to about a dozen of these questions, the opposing counsel became belligerent, and threatened to pull out mug shots at trial. He pulls out a photo and turns ghost white. It was a photo from his folder, which he put up right close to his face, then shoved it back and suddenly asked to conclude the deposition.
Turns out, he had pulled records on the wrong person. I later found out who this other person was, and while their names were the same, the ages were more than 15 years apart.
#15 Sabotaging Bail
This happened the summer after my first year of law school. I was making a court appearance as a student attorney. I was working with the public defender’s office and representing a client at a first appearance on a probation violation and bail hearing. On a probation violation, the judge is allowed to hold a defendant without bail.
The client says he has some money, but not much. He could get together about $500 for bail. Well, the prosecutor asks for $300 bail. Great, my work here is done. Whatever I say, the judge will order $300 or less and my guy is out. I say my piece…but I didn’t realize how stupid my client really was. In the next minute, he showed me.
My client interrupts the judge just before he’s going to set bail, saying some incoherent stuff about how he needs to get out, and he’s got this, that, and the other thing going on. He won’t let the judge speak. Welp, the judge held him without bail even though the prosecutor didn’t ask for it. All he had to do was shut up and he’d have gone home that afternoon.
#16 Not Reading the Room
My law professor was once defending a young woman on drug charges. In court, his strategy was to tell the truth: This woman’s life had turned dark due to trauma, but she was now in a steady loving relationship with another woman. For the first time, she had some peace and security, was genuinely working on overcoming her demons, and was unlikely to reoffend again.
It was a 50-50 proposition on how this would land with the judge…until the prosecutor stood up and started lambasting the two women, the accused and her lover. He claimed they were lying because “lesbian relationships aren’t real.” According to the professor, “Everyone in the courtroom except the prosecutor could see that the judge was a flaming fruit,” so this did NOT go down well.
The judge tore strips off the prosecutor, gave a furious lecture on gay rights, and ended up giving the woman a slap on the wrist and wishing her well with her partner.
#17 You Had One Job
We had a client who was on the board of directors for a company and was being sued for not telling the board something. I and few other attorneys spent an entire week—9 AM to 5 PM or later, Monday through Friday—prepping this client for his deposition by going over every document in the case with him and explaining why it was important.
On several occasions, we reiterated that no matter what else happened in the case, as long as we can show that he told the board about this thing, he was fine. The day of the deposition arrives, and disaster ensues. So, opposing counsel sits down and starts questioning our client, and we think we have this in the bag. He just has to say he told the board this one thing.
In the first 5-10 minutes of the deposition, the opposing counsel straight-up asks our client what he told the board. Client responds, “I told them about Y, I told them about Z, I told them about A, B, and C”—and says NOTHING about what he’s being sued for, literally the only issue in the case against him. In 20+ years of practice it was the closest I’ve ever come to rage-quitting.
#18 A Hole in the Logic
My firm had been chasing down this woman for years, trying to get her to pay out on a six-figure judgment. She kept nothing in her personal bank accounts and used the money for her business accounts for a rather lavish lifestyle. She kept claiming she was broke and that she didn’t use her company funds for her living expenses, including in court affidavits.
During the deposition, at the beginning, she stated she was current on her mortgage for her huge house. We went through all her finances and companies, and after a few hours, I brought up the mortgage again and then asked, “If you’re broke but current on your mortgage, how are you making mortgage payments?” Her face went pale.
Utter silence, then in a soft voice: “I use company funds.” Her attorney stopped the deposition and pulled her out of the conference room. My boss was observing and started laughing and told me it was a good question.
#19 Going a Little Too Far With the Story
I was sitting in court waiting for my case and there is a basic traffic stop case going on. The prosecutor has the officer walk through the incident. The officer recalls all these details about how he pulled the driver over for running a red light, then noticed a busted tail light. How he stayed cool, calm, and collected, even as the driver became irate.
The officer said the driver was cursing at him and saying he can “Shove the ticket where the sun don’t shine.” The officer then claimed that the driver ripped up the ticket, rolled up the bits, and threw it at him. The officer sells the story really well, and I noticed that most of the courtroom has become invested at this point.
The driver is not a lawyer, but chooses to represent himself and takes all of a minute to embarrass the officer and court. “Your honor, the officer testified, under oath, to the court that I acted belligerently, then aggressively tore up and threw away the ticket, which I find hard to believe.” He pauses for effect here, and then absolutely slam-dunks.
“Seeing as this here is the ticket, in one piece, without even a crease on it.” He pulls out the ticket from a folder he had in front of him. You could hear many in the court gasp, laugh, mumble. The judge stops the driver, looks over to the prosecutor, and addresses him, “Mr. Smith, thoughts?” Without hesitation, the prosecutor replies, “We would like to drop the case.”
All the other defendants pending their case applaud. The judge bangs his gavel, calls order in the courtroom, admonishes the room, and then admonishes the officer and prosecutor before closing it out.
#20 There’s Always a Lesson to Learn
I had a former client file for bankruptcy and, in connection with that case, he brought an action against his landlord for violating the automatic stay. In order to prove “damages,” he wanted to show he paid my firm for fees at the same time he was supposed to be paying rent. So this guy’s bankruptcy lawyer serves me a subpoena to show up at the hearing.
I get put on the stand, and I’m asked to verify an invoice. First, I object to the question as a precaution, since it may be a violation of attorney-client privilege to answer the question. As predicted, the judge overrules and orders me to answer. So I review the invoice in front of me and answer, “No, this is not my invoice.” The room goes silent.
His attorney asks a bit desperately, “I don’t understand, this is your firm’s logo and information right?” I responded, “Yes.” “…and you provided these services, right?” This time I responded, “No.” A very confused attorney slowly started to put together that this idiot client of ours had manufactured my invoice to prove his damages.
#21 Occupational Hazard Lights
I represented a guy whose car lost battery in the middle of the freeway at 4 am. He put his hazard lights on and called 9-1-1 for help. At the same time, an LAPD officer in an unmarked car was driving pretty fast. He doesn’t see our guy, strikes him, and causes a major six-car collision, including overturning an 18-wheeler truck.
The authorities arrive and take photos. The LAPD officer claimed our guy did not have his hazard lights on, and he was driving slower than we say. Basically, he was trying to put some of the fault on our guy. At the deposition, the attorney brought photos from the scene…One of the photos showed my guy’s hazard lights on. We were dismissed shortly after.
#22 But You Forgot to Ask About This
At a deposition, it’s the questioning lawyer’s responsibility to ask the right questions, and they have to be thorough and methodical. If they neglect to ask about something, that’s their problem. Those defending the witness always tell the witness not to volunteer information and to just respond to the questions. Again—don’t volunteer.
I had a witness come in, and we went through the whole preparation meeting where I gave her all the instructions and told her not to volunteer. Again—don’t volunteer. We go through the deposition and she does fine. The questioning lawyer is done, he’s packing up his stuff, the court reporter is packing up her stuff, and the lawyer is walking toward the door. That’s when the worst happened.
Suddenly, the witness says “Did you want to see this?” and pulls out a stack of books that no one had ever asked about, she hadn’t told me about, and which contained stuff that the other side was able to use.
#23 The Beauty of the Body
I represented a client who was put into custody for being under the influence while driving, and he swore up and down to me that he hadn’t been drinking. The case involved a newbie officer who had his field training officer with him in the car. The rookie pulls my client over for a tag violation and walks back to the car with his body camera still on. The recording went like this:
The training officer says, “Book him.” The rookie says “But he’s not intoxicated” to which the reply was “Do it anyway.” Then the body cam clicks off. Seven minutes later, it turns back on, and they’re doing field sobriety exercises on my client. My client sat in custody for three weeks until I finally got the tape from the prosecutor and presented it to the judge.
The “Uh-oh” looks from the prosecutor when the judge saw the tape…well, I’ll treasure them forever. The judge wrote the chief a letter saying the training officer was gone to him, and he’d deny every search warrant the guy tried to bring thereafter for being a liar. My client is hopefully still on track with his civil attorney in a lawsuit.
#24 The Not-so-Secret Trade Secret
I worked as an investigator on a trade secrets case involving the manufacture of dental wheels used to grind teeth. Company A was a small family-owned manufacturer, but made the best product on the market from a small factory in the middle of nowhere. They sold massive amounts of product because of their quality.
Its location was remote enough and the owner paid employees so well, the employees stayed there FOREVER. All of them had worked there for 30+ years. When the founder of Company A passed, it was sold to International Company B because the kids and grandkids had no interest. Company B then closed the old factory, fired everyone, and tried to use company A’s formula at their facilities. But they couldn’t make the formula work…
Now enter Company C…another international company who lost the bid on buying company A. When company C heard about the problems that Company B was having, they bought the old factory facilities and then rehired the old staff to restart production. All the employees of old Company A were delighted to have their good-paying jobs back and went straight to work.
They began producing the better quality items once again, and Company C’s product worked. Company B then sued for a trade secrets violation. When you buy a company, you buy their trade secrets. Company B managed to get a temporary restraining order against company C, so they had to stop manufacturing at the old plant they now owned. This is when I enter the picture.
Our firm represented Company C, and I was assigned to interview all the employees. I was in the living room of this delightful older lady in her late 50s who offered me snacks, asked me if I was married, and wanted to set me up with her granddaughter. Best and funniest interview I’ve ever done. Then she drops the most amazing piece of information.
I asked her how she knew how to make the product. All my previous interviews said so-and-so taught them. She said, “From the directions on the wall.” Total moment of silence. “Directions on the WALL?” I ask, flabbergasted. “Yes,” she said, “No one ever looks at ’em. But there is a board on the wall with the directions.” It was all so simple.
It also completely reversed the restraining order. I got the wall into evidence, and the judge was laughing when he heard the details of what I found. The factory reopened immediately. Company B and C settled by agreeing that they both got to use the trade secret, but couldn’t sell it to anyone else. Everyone was happy with it.
#25 The Importance of Paying Attention
I am not a lawyer but a videographer. This gentleman was claiming injuries and seeking damages against his employer after a fall at work. He claimed he couldn’t raise his right arm above his shoulder because of the fall. The first deposition comes along, and I’m hired by the defendant’s attorney to videotape deposition of the plaintiff.
Does anyone know THE FIRST THING a court reporter asks you to do in a deposition? “Please raise your right hand and repeat after me…” The plaintiff raises his right arm above his shoulder with ease and no sign of discomfort, and it does not occur to him what he has just done. Except both attorneys were looking down at their notes and neither of them caught it.
The plaintiff himself didn’t catch it, either. The court reporter looked at him and then looked at me, and her eyes went wide with realization at what just happened. Four hours of deposition proceed where the plaintiff is instructed to show his range of motion and proceeds to pretend like he can’t raise his arm above shoulder level, which he did at the very beginning of his deposition.
The deposition ends, the plaintiff’s counsel leaves, and I call the defense lawyer over and show him the first two minutes of the tape. The counsel excitedly whispers to me, “Case closed, you just saved us tens of thousands of dollars.” I got a $5,000 bonus and the plaintiff’s case was dismissed with prejudice.
This will always be my favorite. I was doing a boundary dispute, a squabble over what was essentially a few inches of land. The other side was a lawyer, and an absolute jerk. He was acting for himself—the whole “a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client” thing was bang on for him. He was a deeply unpleasant guy, a tormentor who thought he was the smartest guy in the room.
Part of his case hinged on wheelie bins and how prior to the boundary having been moved, there wasn’t space to store a full size bin beside the house. The fact that you now could means that clearly the boundary must have moved. That was the extent of his evidence. It really was thin stuff. But man, he had an idea and he was sticking to it.
During the actual trial, he pulled a fast one by suddenly producing an old aerial photo, ostensibly to show the boundary at the front of the property had also moved. Generally, you have to disclose stuff like that in advance. You can’t just sit on something relevant and then suddenly whip it out at trial with a flourish. But it backfired horribly.
While he was making his submissions, I looked more closely at it. I then realized that it very clearly showed a wheelie bin in exactly the spot his case said there couldn’t be one. I told the judge we were happy for the photo to be admitted after all, got the other side to confirm the date it was taken, then pointed out he’d just completely screwed his case. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving chap.
#27 Hold Your Temper
I was taking my ex to court over the custody of my kid. I had compiled a 150-page dossier complete with a report from child protective services, since there was harassment in the household. There were text messages and tons of records of this. The ex decided to represent herself because…hubris, I suppose. Or just plain stupidity.
Before the case started, she gave me an agreement in the hallway outside the courtroom. It was something she typed up that would grant me custody as well as some generous provisions for herself. I politely declined, since we were confident we would be getting a lot more that what she was offering in trail. The case was called up.
Our testimonies went in. She put on the most hilariously insane and embarrassing show for the court. In her closing testimony, she then attempted to hand the judge the agreement she tried to give us. Judge refused to take it. “You can’t just hand me things. That’s not how you submit things into evidence. I’m not reading that.”
She’s arguing with the judge, yelling at him, and losing her mind. In the insane nonsense she was spewing she said, “…and this agreement gives him custody, which is one of the things he’s after!” in what I assume was an attempt to show that she’s willing to compromise. My lawyer peppers in a quick statement, “Ok, so you agree for the father to have full custody?”
She snaps in heated anger, “Yes! That’s what I agreed to!” Our side falls completely silent and the judge, after much effort, ends her little outburst. Gave his final verdict, which started with granting me custody and putting her in court-mandated therapy. She literally gave away custody of her daughter in a heated argument with the judge.
#28 Chicken Run From Dad
I was representing a mom in a bitter custody fight. The dad wanted full custody and argued the mom was an unfit parent. Mom wanted full custody because the dad had a history of domestic battery towards her and the kids. Dad’s lawyer was doing a good job of painting her in a bad light during his cross-examination, and I was starting to get worried.
His lawyer then brought a close family friend as a character witness, who said the usual nice things about dad. Then he said something about them owning chickens. I thought that was odd, so I asked more questions. Suddenly, it let the cat out of the bag. I was able to get the friend to spill the beans that the dad owned chickens for cock fighting, and he’d take his minor children to these cock fights.
Apparently, when the children were acting up, he would punish them by forcing them to feed the chickens, during which they would get pecked and scratched by these angry, fighting chickens. And obviously, the children were terrified of those chickens. I could see the color draining from dad’s lawyer’s face. Mom got full custody.
#29 All He Had to Say Was Yes
I’m doing landlord-tenant stuff, and my client was facing eviction over non-payment. However, the client was withholding rent payments because of habitability issues in the apartment: No heat, high lead levels, vermin. I think this is going to be an easy win for me. I told my client continually to make sure they don’t spend the money, keep it but don’t spend it.
If you show the judge you still have the money, it looks really good for you in terms of making the judge believe that you’re withholding for good reasons. We get up in front of the judge, and the landlord doesn’t even have an attorney. I’m dancing inside, there’s no way I can lose. I make my arguments and the landlord makes his.
The judge asks my client if they still have the money. My client responds, “Nah, I blew all that at the casino last week.”
#30 Easy Peasy
My wife is a lawyer. When children reach the age of majority, if they don’t continue studying and start working, it’s not necessary to pay alimony. Well, my wife’s client found a new lover, which unleashed the wrath of the ex-wife, who started asking for more alimony for her children. To win the case, we needed to prove that the children were working, couldn’t get any proof.
There wasn’t much chance of winning, but we still went to court hoping that with the interrogations they could find information that would put them in evidence. On the day of the trial, the children did not go, only the mother and her lawyer were present. The judge says, “Tell me why your children couldn’t come.” The mother responds, “They couldn’t get permission at work.”
Silence all around. The judge, the lawyers, the mother….Another few seconds of silence goes on before the judge says, “Well, that was fast.”
#31 Never Fear, Grandma’s Here
This was in a custody dispute, in a jury trial. We represented the father of young twins, and the mother wanted child support. The issue was that, for the past three years, they had been sharing the kids EXACTLY 50-50, as in he got a weekend, she got a weekend, one of them got Monday and Tuesday, the other got Thursday and Friday, and they split Wednesday.
Well, she thought she could get more. The thing was, she did not have a case. She kept taking the kids to CPS and child psychologists before the trial to make a reason why she should have primary custody, but we managed to get all of that excluded. So on the day of the trial, her big argument is that these kids have…asthma.
Severe asthma, apparently. The kind of asthma that requires special equipment, and the father is ignoring these issues. He’s negligent. He’s endangering them. She should have custody. The trial is generally going our way. She’s not a great witness and she doesn’t have any medical records to back up these allegations. But the moment that sealed the deal came when the mother called her last witness.
The last witness to testify was the children’s grandmother, the mother’s mother. The jury already knew that she frequently babysat the two kids, and that her apartment was often a drop-off location for the kids. The mother swore that the grandmother never used substances in front of the kids, and that her apartment was not a dangerous environment for asthmatic children.
The grandmother was called last minute by the mother as a rebuttal witness. As she took the stand, the grandmother leaned over into the microphone and cleared her throat. “Ahecchhhmm.” It was a long expression of smoky phlegm. I don’t recall exactly what the grandmother said in her testimony, but I remember she sounded like decades of three-pack-a-day inhalation when she said it.
After a half-hour of deliberations, the jury awarded primary custody to the father. He immediately started crying, while the mother sat motionless. It was a good result.
#32 The Test
Picture it: Mother and father are in a custody dispute. Mother’s not making a lot of money, but she’s hustling as best as she can to take care of her kids. Father’s a loafer. He actually was supposed to have primary custody, but skipped out, so she’s been taking care of them for a couple years, and now she wants primary custody officially transferred.
He’s fighting it because he’s a narcissist. In many jurisdictions, in addition to the lawyer for each side, when there’s a child involved, the court appoints a guardian who also represents the child. The guardian interviews the parents, interviews the child, does some basic investigating, and reports to the judge about their assessment.
In this case, the guardian said outright that the mother was probably the better bet, but he thinks that both parents should take a drug test just in case. Well, the judge has no problem with any of that, and sends the parents off to be tested right then. That’s done, everybody comes back to the courtroom, where the judge reads the test. The results shocked even me.
Mother tested negative for everything. Father…tested positive for a powdery drug. But that’t not the shocking part. See, this drug doesn’t stay detectable for very long. So either the father used it very recently, or he was such a habitual user that it remained detectable for longer. Things really did not go well for him after that. Mother ended up with primary custody.
#33 Lying for the Cheating
When I worked for insurance defense, I handled a case where a man reported his Rolex as stolen. He was adamant that he was at a hotel when it was taken. However, he had no proof he was ever at a hotel during this time. We went through the whole process and finally reached depositions. He gets sworn in, and eventually lets out where he really was.
He wasn’t at a hotel, he was with his mistress, and he had accidentally left it at her house.His wife noticed he didn’t have it on, so he immediately claims it must’ve been stolen etc. Yep, this man decided to hire an attorney and go through this whole circus just so his wife wouldn’t find out about his affair. Needless to say, we denied the claim.
#34 Telling on Yourself
My parents have a jewelry store, and the landlord was trying to squeeze them into signing a lease for nearly double than what the appraiser said it was worth. Problem was, the lease they signed said when they renewed the lease, both parties were to get their own appraiser, then meet in the middle of the two prices.
Well, the landlord didn’t like what his appraiser said, so he refused to tell my parents what the appraisal was. For two year, he sent every lawyer in town to try to kick my parents out. They tried everything, but legally had no leg to stand on. Well, unfortunately during this time, the landlord developed Parkinson’s and his mind started to go.
We finally got him to do a deposition. That’s where everything went to trash for him. It was like he drank a truth serum. He just told all. My parents lawyer would ask things like: “Why did you not show the appraisal to my clients?” And he’d say: “It wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted them to pay more so I hired other appraisers, and paid them off to raise the price nearly double.”
Another one was, “Why did you want them to pay you in gold that you would then sell back to them?” Remember: jewelry store. He said, “Oh, I didn’t want to pay taxes.” It was sad, honestly. By the end, his lawyer just had his head in his hands. We had a new lease within a month for less than we originally even offered, and he had to pay back 75% of our fees.
#35 The Polygamist Without a Brain
I had a client who was trying to get away from a horrible ex and filed for a restraining order. The ex shows up to the final hearing and is making a big fuss about a truck that they bought during their marriage. He said it was just his, and she had no rights to it because their marriage was void. This pinged something big in my head.
I asked him on cross-examination what he meant by that, and he said that he had already been married in another state when he married my client. He said that my client had no idea, but that it means their marriage is invalid and the truck was all his. Not only is that not true, he didn’t even realize the enormous trouble he’d just landed himself in.
We promptly turned the transcript of the hearing over to the authorities, who were actively investigating him for bigamy. All for a truck. Which, by the way, my client kept.
#36 Judge’s Don’t Really Like the Thug Life
A young woman and a young man have a child. The young woman seeks divorce from the young man because he enjoys the “thug life.” He had recently been taken into custody and charged for possession. The young man doesn’t like her leaving him. He hires a local big-name top divorce attorney and gets a temporary divorce order entered saying she can’t have overnight guests of the opposite gender.
The young woman starts seeing someone new. The young man is very upset about this. He has his fancy lawyer ask for a hearing accusing her of violating the court order. He’s also seeking full custody, on top of attorney fees. It’s starting to turn into a mess, so the young woman, on advice from a mutual friend, hires me for this hearing.
I sit down with opposing counsel, and she basically tries to strong-arm me with her experience and lays out egregious terms. She says the mother must not only give up primary custody, but must have visitation with a supervisor and pay child support and attorney fees. She knows I’m a new baby attorney in town. She says she’ll see us in court.
I go into the hearing with a copy of the guy’s probation arrangement from his earlier charges. See, he’s an idiot and hasn’t told his attorney about this, and she is blissfully unaware. She calls him up, establishes how my client had her new boyfriend over on these different nights. The judge is VERY conservative and not pleased. But then I get a witness.
I ask him if he has a job. “No.” What do you do for money? “Things here and there.” Oh? Your lawyer is awfully expensive…Do you sell substances?” “…What?” “Have you ever sold substances to make ends meet?” “Uhhh no.” I then introduce a copy of his guilty plea and straight probation sentencing. Judge is now staring daggers at him.
I lean over to my client sitting next to me, and whisper, “If you took a drug test today, be honest, would you be completely clean?” She says “Yes.” I ask the young man, “When was the last time you used?” His attorney objects, but the judge overrules. Now I know I’ve got him, because I know this judge will test people on the spot and has done it many times before.
The disgruntled ex says, “It’s been years, I’m clean.” “So, if you were tested, you’d be clean?” “Yes.” Opposing counsel asks the same of my client, and we agree. Judge has them both tested. He tests positive. My client is clean. Judge denies his motion, and asks me to send in new temporary orders where the young man is required to maintain employment and start paying child support. But then came the best part.
The icing on the cake is that the opposing counsel actually called me and left me a voicemail congratulating me on, and I quote, “Handing her butt to her for the first time in a long time.”
#37 The Virtue of Honesty
I was involved in a pretty messy custody case. The other party was a mess and had kept the child from my client for weeks. He was playing lots of stupid games and kept requesting continuances. I requested a drug test, which the judge ordered. However, guy showed up, stood in front of the toilet for literally 2 hours, and claimed he couldn’t pee.
I was representing the plaintiff, so the burden was on me. I called multiple witnesses who testified to the defendant’s substance use. So, opposing counsel decides to call their client for direct examination and asks, “You don’t use crack or coke right?” That’s a very stupid question for many reasons. Especially considering what his client did during his test.
However, I fully expected the defendant to just lie and say he was clean. After the question, there was a really long pause and then the guy said, “Yes, I do both of those.” My head almost exploded. I didn’t ask any questions on cross-examination because I didn’t want to muddy the waters. I won, and the child is doing great.
#38 Don’t Be Rude
I was in court for a hearing. The judge was already in a bad mood and asked why we were here for such a seemingly pointless litigation—without giving details, he was right. The barrister starts to make our case, and I’m taking notes about areas we need to further explore when I hear, “EXCUSE ME, WHY WERE YOU SO RUUUUUUDE TO ME?”
The client, who had been told to NOT COME, had come to court that day and was evidently incensed by the judge questioning the merit of their case. They berated the judge for about three minutes, with me and my co-counsel first stunned and then trying to shut them up, before he adjourned the hearing. It was an amazing sight to see. The case did not go very well, to my client’s surprise and fury. Big sigh.
#39 Nobody Owns the Land
Where I live, a very, very environmentally conscious board controls municipal zoning rights. Their answer to anything that isn’t 100% in compliance with the most stringent environmental codes is almost always “No.” One day, this millionaire decides to move out to the area and buys an acreage. His plans for developing the land are absolutely ridiculous.
They include creating an artificial cave—so that he can host parties—by blasting one into a cliff using mining explosives. Not the most necessary of things. Needless to say, these actions were rather controversial amongst the community, and he had to have a public hearing in front of the zoning board to explain himself.
After a couple of pointed questions from the board, he loudly groused, “You know, where I come from, if we want to build a road and there’s a lake in the way, we move the lake.” That was about the point where I thought to myself, Yeah, you definitely just lost your case. Congratulations on passing into local legend, though.
#40 Numbers Are Hard
I was trying a case where my client was charged with being a serial offender in possession of a pistol. The prosecutor has to prove a) he had a pistol and b) he is a repeat offender. The first part wasn’t in dispute. The way to prove the second was to bring into evidence a certified conviction and sentencing order. This guy had been convicted several times in another state and once in my state.
The prosecutor was having some issues with getting a certified out-of-state order and just relied on the single in-state order, which he provided to me in discovery. My client pointed out to me that neither the DOB or SSN on the order was his. So at trial, when the prosecutor tried to introduce the conviction order, I objected.
The name was the same, but DOB and SSN were different than what was on the indictment. The judge agreed and refused to let it into evidence. Not guilty.
#41 No Prompt Needed
I had to cross-examine a custom-home builder who claimed he put more labor and materials into building the home than the contract provided for, and he was suing for these excess costs. I was asking him about an email with my client negotiating the price of the construction, and he says that he knew he couldn’t build it for that price. My head snaps up.
The supervising partner’s head also snaps up, and the opposing counsel goes pale. I go in for the hunt at this point. Me: You quoted this price? Builder: Yes. Me: You knew you couldn’t build it for that price? Builder: Yes. Me: You knew the homeowner was relying on that quote? Builder: Yes. Me: You knew the homeowner wouldn’t have signed the contract without that representation?
This is textbook fraudulent inducement and he had no idea. I couldn’t believe it. The builder got poured out in the arbitration, and he was slapped with sizeable punitive damages on top of it. Five minutes of testimony sunk his case because he volunteered information without being prompted. Some people truly amaze me.
#42 The Age of Consent
This was a case another prosecutor in my office had a few years back. A 30-year-old defendant was charged with the molestation of a child after he got his girlfriend’s 14-year-old sister pregnant. She actually kept the baby, so the authorities just waited and got a paternity test to get their evidence. No surprise, the defendant was the father.
The defendant wanted probation, but the prosecutor refused to offer it. He decided to plead guilty and have a jury trial on punishment. Here in Texas, you can choose to have the jury set punishment. Evidence mostly proceeded as expected. The victim testified to having consensual (aside from not being old enough to consent) acts with the defendant, getting pregnant, etc.
The paternity test was introduced. The defendant took the stand. His testimony made the room gag. His version of events was that he snuck into the victim’s room at night, covered her mouth, and held her down while he forced himself on her against her will. It seemed like his own lawyer had no idea that’s the story he settled on.
The jury deliberated about 15 minutes before returning a verdict of 17 years, almost the maximum. But there was a secret meaning behind this sentence. When interviewed by the attorneys afterwards, one of the jury members said they decided on 17 years so the defendant would never forget the age of consent in Texas again.
#43 Reaching a Career High
While doing disability hearings a few years ago, I represented a guy in a case that was back on appeal. Long story short, the original judge didn’t follow correct procedure and screwed him over. This new judge apparently thought he could intimidate me and my client into withdrawing the appeal by threatening to take away all the guy’s benefits. Little did he know, I’m not a moron.
I also hate people who work to torment others, and I had a fire in me to destroy this guy. The judge started the hearing by asking my client if he was aware that he could take all his benefits away. This was actually completely impossible, because six years had gone by since the original decision, and the judge could only reopen the decision within two years.
The guy was bullet proof on this issue. Also, the job he previously did, computer installer, was completely obsolete and physically impossible. His physical problems prevented him from lifting more than 20 pounds, and the computers he was installing during the 1980s were 50-150lbs. The judge didn’t think about that, and clearly didn’t read the case history.
So when the judge says to me, “Counsel, have you done your ethical duty and advised your client that he could lose all his benefits today?” I responded by looking at my client, and in a full voice saying, “The judge can’t do that.” Then, without missing a beat, I looked back at the judge and said, “Your honor, I have advised my client that you cannot take his benefits away.”
I told the judge we would waive all other procedural portions of the hearings and proceed to expert testimony. I then asked the expert two questions. First, “Would the prior job require lifting more than 20lbs?” And second, “Has the prior job existed as performed since 1999?” She quickly answered “Yes” then “No.” Then on her own, elaborated all the reasons why.
The total hearing was six minutes long. The judge had no choice but to grant the original application, and the guy got $158,000 in unpaid benefits. He broke down into tears and said he could finally keep the promise to his wife to return her ashes to the beach they got married on in Hawaii. A dream he had years ago decided would be impossible. Best day of my career, so far.
#44 When Hiding Behind the Bible Goes Wrong
I represent tenants in eviction proceedings. Landlords being landlords, I have lots of “gotcha” stories. The most recent one was last week, in a classic “he-said, she-said” case. That is, the entire case depended upon whom the jury believed. When the landlord was sworn in prior to testifying, she unnecessarily said “Yes, on the Bible,” when asked to tell the truth.
Her testimony, however, was evasive. She avoided answering almost every one of my questions. She even avoided answering some of her own lawyer’s questions. During a recess, but still in the middle of her testimony, she was seen outside the courtroom, in full view of the jury, whispering with her lawyer and a family member about, obviously, what she was supposed to say on the stand.
When she got back up, the first thing I did was ask her what she was talking about with her lawyer and her family member outside the courtroom. I demanded to know whether they were telling her how to answer my questions. Her lawyer objected. The judge overruled the objection and ordered the witness to answer. The witness responded: “My life is my life.”
During closing arguments, her lawyer tried to argue that she must have been telling the truth because she swore “on the Bible” even though she didn’t have to. That meant, according to him, that she took her oath more seriously than the average person who wouldn’t bother swearing on a Bible when not asked to do so. But I had the perfect response.
In my response, I agreed with the landlord’s counsel that his client must take her oath to tell the truth seriously. She must have taken it so seriously, in fact, that she refused to lie under oath when her truthful testimony would have sunk her case. So, instead, she just refused to answer almost every question put to her. The jury came back in 30 minutes with a unanimous verdict in the tenant’s favor.
#45 The Facepalm Hall of Fame
I work as a public servant in a judge’s office, and since I have a law degree, I get to be with the judge in some of the hearings. Last month, we had a huge substance trafficking case. I’m talking about 20 or more people involved, months of investigation, undercover agents, videos, audio, the whole ordeal. The hearing lasted three days.
It was time for one of the defendants to be on the stand so the prosecutor could read the charges he was being accused of. The prosecutor told him that “He was being accused of selling, trafficking and carrying x amount of x substances, with the base of his operation being his house, where he lived with his partner.” Oh man, his response.
He promptly said “Wait up, I was the one selling, she didn’t do anything.” His lawyer facepalmed so hard it’s actually recorded in the audio of the hearing. He still pleaded not guilty.
#46 Pro Bono Mishaps
Someone I knew had a pro bono case where she had to defend a person who had been charged with an offense—I don’t know what, it is confidential. Even though the authorities and District Attorney could pretty much pinpoint the offense to her client, there was no evidence to tie him to it. It was circumstantial at best.
She had instructed him to shut up and let her do the talking during the trial, as from experience the client sometimes did not know how to answer a question properly and had the tendency to sabotage himself. She pleads and can show that the court has nothing on her client, and she feels that for once, a pro bono case is going her way.
After her plea, the judge thanks her for her plea and turns to her client. He asks if the client had something to add to the plea. Client looks at her, back at the judge, tears well up in his eyes, and he blurts out: “I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again!” She threw her notes and everything else she had in her hands at the client. She basically got screwed by her own client, who screwed himself even worse.
#47 Ghosting the Judge
The guy and his lawyer missed court appearances with little or no warning and with suspect excuses. It started getting ridiculous, and we kept pointing out holes in his story. For example, the client said he left for another country without knowing about the appearance, but his lawyer stood in court and said he told him beforehand.
Or all of a sudden he was in a former Soviet Bloc country for fertility treatments and it would ruin everything if he came back now. Or when he was visiting elderly relatives on another continent. Or he was going to the airport when he had to rush to the hospital yet showed us an admitting form in another language.
He also tried firing his attorney and saying he needed more time to brief a new attorney—who at the next appearance would say he hasn’t been able to talk to his client, so he needs to adjourn. Or that he hasn’t been paid and his client is basically a jerk, and he needs to be relieved. We kept saying to the judge he was doing it to stall, but the judge kept giving him the benefit of the doubt.
We even showed the judge other cases where he skipped appearances. Then finally, he didn’t show up for an appearance where the judge had specifically told him, “I don’t care if you’re meeting with the Pope, I’m ordering you to be here.” Boom, his answer was stricken, default judgment in full was granted to our side.
#48 Making Boss Moves Inside the Courtroom
I was a very new lawyer, with no bankruptcy experience. A partner sent me to bankruptcy court to try to make a claim as a creditor related to a $50 million building that was being sold. The Court handled my client’s claim very quickly and easily…at first. The Court ruled we were not a creditor because our claim was against a tenant, which was correct.
So I could just sit back for the remainder of the hearing and watch the two premier bankruptcy attorneys go at it. One represented the debtor and the owner of the building; the other represented a secured creditor with a lien against the building. They absolutely hated each other on a personal level, and were arguing with great venom about the plan to sell the real estate.
There was a small break in the action while the judge took care of another matter. When we came back, the secured creditor attorney told the Court the following: His client (the creditor) had purchased controlling interest in the debtor (the owner of the building). He had been directed to fire the other attorney. He had been directed to withdraw the motion to sell the real estate.
He then did both things right there in the courtroom. I have practiced for almost three decades. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and was particularly noteworthy because the courtroom was packed with other attorneys watching, and those two attorneys absolutely hated each other.
#49 Consider the Source
My dad is a physician and is sometimes called as a professional witness in cases of malpractice. In one memorable case, a family was suing a doctor for something fairly frivolous, and my dad was a witness for the defense. The lawyer representing the family was cross-examining my dad, and brought up a chapter in a medical textbook and asked my dad to read a highlighted paragraph.
He does, and the lawyer says something to the effect of, “So, what you just read means <blah blah medical thing>.” My dad confidently replied, “No, it does not mean that.” The lawyer says, “No but if you read xyz, the author clearly states <blah blah medical thing>.” Again, my dad says, “No, really, that’s not what the author means.”
The lawyer didn’t know what he was getting himself into. “How do you know that’s not what the author meant?” Dad replies, “Well, because I wrote it.” The judge basically facepalmed while the lawyer mimicked a goldfish and stared at the author’s name on the chapter. Basically the best moment of my dad’s professional life. And yes, the ruling was in the defendant’s favor.
#50 Restraining Order Backfire
A wife filed for a restraining order because she wanted the house during her divorce. The husband has a good job, like $200k per year. The employer finds out about the restraining order and fires the husband. He was a very specialized employee, so the only job he can find close to the house and his daughter is $50k. Ooh boy, did this not go well.
The house gets foreclosed. Child support is set at less than $500 per month. The wife has to get a job as a waitress.