Lawyers Share Their Most Epic Victories And Crushing Defeats In Court
Being a lawyer is a double-edged sword. You live for the epic victories, but also live in constant fear of being crushed in defeat. It is one of the most stressful jobs you can work—nothing you learned in school can prepare you for the absolute craziness of the cases you’ll encounter in court.
Several lawyers took to the internet to share their most intriguing cases. Some of these ended in glory, while others shook them to deep to their cores. In the courtroom, anything can happen. Results can change in split seconds. Here are some insanely satisfying moments when justice was served, as well as some pretty jaw-dropping fails that were out of anyone’s control.
Don’t forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 You’re A Grand Old Flag
I met with the client, in person, roughly five times and had some phone calls leading up to the bench trial (the client wanted to fast track to final disposition as much as possible). The client seemed perfectly reasonable, spoke coherently and intelligently throughout, and was on board with our defense theory.
Less than a minute into the state’s opening statement, the client stands up and, in a level voice, matter-of-factly begins objecting to the court’s jurisdiction because the flag had fringe and he refused to be subject to admiralty law…
Things did not get better after that.
#2 Caught Red-Booted
Wasn’t my case but in criminal docket court one morning the accused wore a pair of unique custom made red cowboy boots… stolen from the house he was accused of robbing. Wore them. To court. To plead not guilty. The prosecutor was laughing.
#3 Shutting Everyone Out
My first (and last) trial as a young lawyer was on a legal aid certificate. I took on the case a week before trial, representing the wife in a divorce matter. The judge had ruled that there were to be no more adjournments or postponements. The only issue at trial was the quantum and duration of spousal support payable to the wife by the husband. Four days before trial, I received an offer to settle from the husband’s lawyer, on the low side of reasonable. The wife rejected it outright. In my jurisdiction, if you reject an offer to settle before trial and do worse than the offer, the judge can order the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees for the wasted time at trial.
Three days before trial, I concluded that she was incapable of properly instructing me. Two days before trial, I learned that I was the 10th lawyer on the case. She had either fired the others or they had quit. One day before trial, I decided that I had no idea what I was doing and that I was better suited to be a real estate or corporate lawyer. On the day of trial, my client showed up tipsy. I called her to the stand to testify and she was sworn in. Halfway through my first question, she interrupted me turned and looked at the judge. “Your Majesty,” she said, “I would like to make a speech.”
The judge looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. The husband’s lawyer slipped me a piece of paper… “Notice of Withdrawal of Offer to Settle.” The wife made her speech.
After her speech, the judge looked over at me. “I have nothing more to offer, my Lord,” I said sheepishly.
In the end, the judge ignored the husband’s evidence and his lawyer’s arguments. He ignored the wife’s speech about the husband’s infidelities. And he ignored my inability to offer anything useful to bolster my client’s position. He did the right thing. He ordered support for the wife. The amount included living expenses, the cost of therapy, and the cost of skills development and training that would eventually permit her to obtain employment and support herself.
I switched over to transactional law.
#4 Just To Play It Safe…
I was in an accident a few years ago (other guy’s fault). He got a ticket for an unsafe left turn, and I got a ticket because I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt.
In the section on the ticket, the cop inadvertently wrote: “Did wear a seatbelt while operating the motor vehicle.”
When I got to court, The Judge asked how I wanted to plead. I asked the Judge if I could ask a question first, and he said, “sure.” I stated, “The ticket says I did wear my seatbelt while operating a motor vehicle, and if that’s the case, I want to plead Guilty.”
The Judge looks down at the ticket, and looks back at me and says, “Case dismissed! Have a good day”.
#5 Too Many Changes
As a young attorney, I took the second chair on a civil trial where we ended up with an appointed judge. We moved locations during the trial twice. The last “courtroom” was a fairly big town hall auditorium meeting room that had some HVAC issues.
One day, the temperature was well into the 80s. After a witness was questioned, we all looked to the judge for a ruling. The judge, an older gentleman, did not respond. Everyone in the room—lawyers, jury, support staff, witness—thought he had died. The plaintiff’s lawyer asked if we may approach, but there was no response, so we all walked up—a decent distance as this was in no way a regular courtroom. When we got there, the judge suddenly snapped awake. He quickly adjourned for the day, although it was still morning.
It ended up being my biggest loss ever. Our expert was terrible on the stand though nationally acknowledged and great in his deposition. The plaintiff’s expert was of a similar caliber but was very good on the stand. We ended up settling while dealing with post-trial motions. A couple of years later, I ran into the judge who said he was glad we settled as he was going to rule we were entitled to a new trial.
#6 In Court, We Wear Suits
When I was in law school, I clerked for a criminal defense legal clinic. We had an assault and battery case where there was only one witness to the crime, which was the victim. I was sitting at the defense table with the actual attorney, another law student that worked on the case with me, and the defendant. We were all in similar looking suits as a matter of unplanned coincidence. The victim was asked to identify the person who committed the assault in court, and she pointed to me and not the defendant. Our attorney asked several times if she was pointing to me and if she was sure, and she said yes. The prosecutor was visibly upset, and the trial pretty much ended there as this was a bench trial and not with a jury. It was never discussed or admitted to, but I suspect our attorney purposefully had me there at the trial because I did have a passing resemblance of the defendant.
#7 Don’t Stop Me Now
During my first time appearing in court, I was prosecuting a stop sign violation as a student attorney. Once the defendant was sworn in, she said, “Before you ask any questions, I just want to say that I did run the stop sign, but it was just too icy, and I couldn’t stop because I was going too fast.” Once I lifted my jaw off the floor, I looked over at the judge, and he gave this approving nod-smile combo like, “Yep, I’m thinking what you’re thinking.” I said way too proudly, “The prosecution rests its case, Your Honor.”
And just like that, I was 1-0 without asking a single question, much less saying any meaningful words.
#8 Is This An Episode Of Maury?
I used to work in “baby daddy” court as a caseworker. This guy kept telling me, the mother of the child, and anyone who would listen that the baby wasn’t his.
When they went before the judge, the judge confirmed through DNA testing that he wasn’t the dad.
Dude turned around and took off his jacket. His shirt said: “NOT THE FATHER!”
#9 Spying On You
I had a nasty custody battle, so much so, that the ex-mother-in-law retained a private investigator to watch my client and see if her boyfriend came over when the kids were present. (A previous court order barred the boyfriend and kids from having contact).
The father moved for a contempt hearing, stating that she had violated the no-contact order. In my office, she swore she didn’t. On the day of the hearing, the private investigator was full of huff and buff and was called to the stand by the father’s counsel. He proceeded to read off a litany of dates where he had videotaped the boyfriend entering the house. I grabbed a calendar and noticed that all the dates he read off were dates the father had custody of the kids, and thus, kids were not present in the house when the boyfriend was there.
Cross-examination time: I made sure of every date. Then, I showed the calendar to the private investigator and asked him to read off the days of the week corresponding to the dates. He did so. I then handed him a copy of the visitation order and asked him to read off the sentence which detailed what days of the week the father had custody. He began to see his error. I asked him,
“By the way, to be clear, none of your videos contain any of the kids do they?”
“How much were you paid to do surveillance?”
My last parting shot across the bow: “Are you going to be giving Mrs. X a refund?”…Objection… Sustained…
I won. The other attorney and I still laugh about this, and it has been a good ten years.
#10 Here’s A Tip: Try A Bank Next Time
Was on a jury.
Defendant attempted to rob a tip jar from a barista, and the barista fought back. He ran, and she tossed the empty jar towards him.
Defendant claims that he was hit on the head and injured by the metal tip jar.
Even though we’d already watched the video, and I already caught this detail, the prosecutor asked to play the video of the robbery again. And then she says, “How could the barista have hit him in the front of the head, when she was throwing it from behind? And he’s wearing a HAT.”
She was so annoyed, I almost laughed.
#11 Club Can’t Handle Me
I was representing a plaintiff on a hit-and-run case. The plaintiff was testifying and was, despite our preparations, a terrible witness for her case. Like, she couldn’t even identify the street she was crossing when she was hit by the car. (It was a major highway, and we had gone through the sequence of events countless times the day before the hearing.)
The “gotcha” moment came during cross-examination. The defense counsel pulled out a picture of my client dressed up and ready to hit the club, which was posted to Facebook the day after the alleged accident. I, thinking quickly, objected because the timestamp referred to when it was posted, not when it was taken. The defense counsel showed the picture to my client and asked her when the picture was taken. Sure enough, she said it was taken the day after the accident when she was supposedly in unbearable pain.
#12 I Partied With The Law And The Law Won
Not so much a “rest my case” moment, but a memorable one: there was a deposition of a witness and a room full of attorneys. The witness is asked if he knows or has spoken with any of the attorneys in the room before the deposition. Witness responds he knows Attorney X because sometimes they go to the same parties and do narcotics together. Attorney X had an immediate meltdown. A good transcript to keep.
#13 No Mistakes Needed
I was a baby lawyer in my first year representing the 19-year-old child of some rich people in San Mateo County, California. My client had gone on a bit of a shoplifting spree, and we were cleaning all her cases up with a global plea (meaning we handled them all at once).
Being new, I filled out the plea form wrong, swapping the counts she was charged with for the counts she was pleading to. It’s an easy mistake to make. Every court has its own unique form, and I was unfamiliar with San Mateo’s.
The judge calls my line, starts reading off the plea form, notices the mistake and then starts screaming at the top of his lungs, “COUNSEL! WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS?! IS THIS YOUR FIRST DAY ON THE JOB? THIS IS A COURT OF LAW, AND WE DO NOT ACCEPT MISTAKES! FILL THIS PLEA FORM OUT CORRECTLY, OR I WILL HAVE YOU TAKEN INTO CUSTODY FOR CONTEMPT!”
I did not expect a reaction like that. My client, who was wearing an all-pink velvet tracksuit, was looking at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world.
I corrected the plea form. The judge made me wait until the very end of the calendar to take my plea. Afterward, he called me up to the bench. In private he told me, “Sorry to ream you like that. Everyone messes the plea form up so I always pick the youngest lawyer to yell at. The older guys will grumble and complain, but if you noticed they all fixed their forms and we didn’t have any more problems. Keeps the calendar running smooth. Where did you go to law school?” After that, he invited me to his office for coffee and gave me some really good work advice. It turns out, he likes talking to new lawyers.
#14 Every Second Counts
A friend told me this story. He’s not a lawyer but was job shadowing or something and was in court for the day. Anyway, one of the cases was a girl contesting a stop-sign violation. The prosecutor asked how long she was stopped at the stop sign and the girl responds 40-50 seconds. The prosecutor asks her to look at the clock in the courtroom and proceeds to stay silent for the next 30 seconds, which is a long time. Once the 30 seconds is up, the prosecutor looks back at her and says were you stopped 40-50 seconds, and the girl was silent. I’m pretty sure she was found guilty.
#15 Sticks And Stones
The person I was representing was on trial for assault in the third degree and a DUI. In my state, A3 means you’ve assaulted an aid worker or police officer, and that is a felony. The allegations were that he was very verbally abusive to the officers and, at one point, kicked one in the face.
We’re sitting at the defendant’s table, and the officer is testifying about the statements my guy made to him. It included some pretty horrific name calling. Out of nowhere, my client screams, “You’re a liar! Screw you!”
We lost that trial.
Another time, the judge asked a client whether anyone had coerced him into pleading guilty, and he said, “Yeah, my attorney.” I just about went #2 in my pants, but he laughed and said, “I’m joking. No.”
#16 From Rags To Riches
Fraud trial. Prosecution gets right to the point pretty much third question in to defendant: “So you earn £45,000 a year, have no properties, no other source of income, no inheritance and as far as I’m aware have not won the lottery yet you have [foreign] bank accounts with £X million and a Ferrari. It must simply be a coincidence that [defrauded entity] has an accounting black hole pretty much equal to those riches.”
The defendant pretty much gave up at that point.
#17 Raking In The Cash
I was at a hearing arguing that my client was wrongfully terminated because the employer failed to abide by the proper procedures. During the hearing, a witness for the employer tried to offer documents that were fraudulently altered to make it look like the proper procedure was followed. I noticed the alteration. The opposing counsel quickly got that witness out of the room, and after a quick adjournment, my client got a large settlement.
#18 If It’s Not On Facebook, Did It Really Happen?
My mom was a personal injury solicitor, and she was basically trying to prove that the car that hit her client and caused life-changing injuries (brain damage) belonged to X.
X at first pretends not to live where he does; then the car is found abandoned all wiped down. The trail seems to end. Then, my mom has a hunch and checks X’s facebook.
He had a public profile, and his profile picture was him standing next to the car in question. She screenshots them and sends them to the opposing counsel with a slightly more politely worded “your client’s dumb”.
She’s retired now but she considers it to be one of the most satisfying moments of her career.
She won the case and her client got a million-pound settlement and is now living in Spain. All for a simple privacy setting and a touch of common sense.
#19 Hi, Pot. Meet Kettle.
The opposing counsel was a nightmare. Everything was turned in late and his work itself was extremely subpar. He accused me of lying multiple times when he had dropped the ball.
During a hearing in which he pulled yet another dumb move, the judge said, “I’m glad you are the last case on the call, and all of the other attorneys have left the room, so they aren’t here to hear me say that you are a terrible attorney.”
#20 *Slams Staples’s “Easy” Button*
I assisted my brother in traffic court on a speeding ticket because he was a minor.
We walked up; the judge asked “Was he speeding?”, and I said, “No, your honor.”
“Alright, sounds good. Case dismissed, have a great day.”
Took everything not to do a “what?” in the middle of the courtroom.
#21 Behind Everyone’s Back
Medical malpractice defense lawyer here representing hospitals and doctors. For context, usually at trial, both the plaintiff and defendant will have an expert physician testify as to their opinion on whether the doctor or hospital performed everything correctly.
I thoroughly researched the plaintiff’s expert, who was an OB-GYN. I found out he had been suspended some times for his own botched deliveries and for giving incorrect medical testimony to help plaintiff’s cases.
During the actual day of trial, turns out he was not licensed to practice medicine independently without supervision from another physician and he was one year into his three-year suspension. The plaintiff’s lawyers had no idea about their own expert’s background and they just sat there with a blank look on their face. Needless to say, during cross-examination, we destroyed his credibility and won at trial.
#22 No Objection To A Confession
My dad was an attorney with a general civil practice. He did a lot of wills, trusts, divorces, and such.
He is representing the wife in a divorce. The husband is on the stand. On direct, the husband’s attorney draws out that husband has a history of violence. Passes the witness.
Dad gets the guy on cross-examination and says, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
Opposing counsel: Sputter OBJECTION, YOUR HONOR!-sputter-sputter.
As it turns out, opposing counsel had “opened the door” to a history of violence on direct examination, and you can lead on cross-examination. So it was a totally admissible question.
Husband’s answer: “Oh, about six months ago.”
Dad told me that that was the highlight of forty years of practicing law!
#23 No Backyard Party Tonight
The best moments are when your opposing counsel says or does something that wins the case for you. True, in civil cases, you usually know what will happen ahead of time, but in my state, discovery in smaller civil cases is more limited, and clients don’t always want to spend $30K when we can get the same result for $10K.
In an adverse possession case, the witness only needed to say “I used that area as my backyard,” and I fully expected him to say this. It would harm my case, but I knew I could get around it. When asked about his use of the area, he said, “No, I never really went back there. I didn’t use it at all.” He lost the case for the other side, and I could barely keep a straight face. It was opposite of what the witness had told the opposing counsel off the record. Apparently the fear of being “under penalty of perjury” made him change his story.
#24 Guilty Of Running In The Family
I hired a lawyer to take on my landlord of an apartment building in New Jersey. A hole in my ceiling right by the window was a continuous problem and the landlord half-fixed it every time we asked. Winter came; it was a mess.
Day of court, the landlord shows up, but his lawyer is running late. He finally shows up and turns out the landlord’s son is his lawyer. The judge ended up having the landlord pay us three months and a half rent plus security deposit plus court fees.
It was a little over $4K we got back after all of it. I think it had to do something with the lawyer showing up super late, and the judge discovered that the landlord was his dad.
#25 Back Again, Huh?
I represented a pro bono client that had just turned 18 and was charged with serious property damage. I walked into his bail hearing and the judge looked at him and said, “I knew you’d be back as an adult.” The judge then turned to me and said, “Counselor, you may want to learn about your client’s history.” No bail.
#26 The Most Satisfying Sports Tour To Ever Not Happen
Earlier, defense counsel says that the defendant’s alibi was going to be that he was at an Australia/Pakistan cricket match on the day in question.
Defense counsel (in the absence of the jury): “We are going to need an adjournment, your honor.”
Judge: “And why is that?”
Defense: “Well, there is a problem with the alibi that the defendant has given and are going to need to take some instructions about that.”
Judge: “And what is the problem, was there no Pakistan/Australia cricket match that day?”
Defense: “Well. Uhhh. There was no tour by the Pakistan team that year, actually.”
#27 The Greatest Show On Earth
I had a domestics hearing over some issue (final divorce hearing, custody, something like that).
The mother’s attorney was a prolific idiot in the community. He put on a big dog and pony show because clients like to pay for the billboard — pretty bad reputation in our legal community.
The father’s attorney stood up and attempted to examine his witness. The mom’s attorney stood up and objected to literally every sentence the father’s attorney said. The judge, just kind of just, sat there, hoping it would all calm down. He eventually told the mom’s attorney to sit down, but he kept going. Just before the judge found him in contempt, the father’s attorney turned and said, “You may think because you’re older than me, you can treat me with disrespect. You can hoop and holler all you want but you won’t do it at my expense. If you want to put on a show, go join the circus.”
#28 Almost A Speedy Trial
Just today I had a client from out of town in court for a suspended drivers license. He was late and blurted out, “Judge, I drove here as fast as I could!” Judge was about to take him in but fortunately, his wife was there and claimed she was the one driving.
#29 Counting Your Blessings
Lawyer here. I had a pre-trial conference at 9 a.m. at a court about two hours away. So, I wake my butt up super early to drive in terrible weather to the conference. I get there and we’re waiting for the other attorney. All the while, I’m grumbling to myself about how I’m from out of town and I can still make it on time. Finally, the court calls the other attorney’s office and gets a receptionist who tells us through tears that the other attorney passed away the night before. Needless to say, I was just happy to be still alive and we rescheduled for a few months later.
#30 Is It Possible Not To Look Smug After That?
One time, I was representing a major bank who was suing a sovereign citizen. He filed a motion-to-dismiss based on the fact that because a corporation can’t breathe and isn’t flesh and blood, it didn’t have the capacity to sue. He further said he had renounced his citizenship and became a federal corporation and wasn’t subject to the laws of Illinois, and attached a countersuit to his motion to dismiss. At the hearing date, I started with “this defendant who self-identifies as a foreign corporation has a motion to dismiss based on the premise that corporations cannot sue. The second part of this gentleman’s paperwork that is the subject of today’s hearing is this gentleman’s—who identifies as a federal corporation— countersuit.” I got a chuckle out of a pretty stoic judge.
#31 Heavy Duty Entrance
We were just sitting around because of a delay of some sort. Throughout about five minutes, eight heavily armored sheriff deputies quietly shuffled into the room and everyone was told they needed to sit really still until told otherwise. Another three big boys lead in the defendant. He was a small Italian-American gentleman in shackles. He was up on a few pretty boring fraud charges. I’m guessing he had friends on the outside who wanted to speak to him.
Also, there was the guy who called the male judge ma’am. He was funny.
#32 The Dad Of The Year Award Goes To… Not This Guy
Dad tried to sue his son for the cost of raising him to the age of 18. The judge called him petty and ungrateful, and if he didn’t like how his son turned out after nearly 20 years in his care, that’s his problem, not his kids.
Also recommended a psych evaluation.
#33 No Laughing Matter
It was time for the closing argument in an assault case. I’ve learned to grow comfortable with my speaking style, and part of that is to cut loose a bit when it is appropriate. So, I shed a light of some of the state’s allegations given the testimony by the prosecuting witness. There was one guy on the jury panel who thought I was just hilarious. I had to wait for him to stop laughing.
The “gotcha” moment? When the jurors came back to return a verdict, and the same guy was elected foreman by the other jurors.
The verdict was not guilty.
#34 “This Is The State. We’ll Take It From Here.”
My grandpa was a lawyer for a big oil company. One day he realized that a bunch of taxes that they were paying didn’t actually apply to them, so he told the company to stop paying them. It ends up going to federal court. The first thing he does in court is a motion to dismiss since they don’t have jurisdiction. Is the judge pretty surprised “I don’t have jurisdiction? I’m a federal judge; I’m one of the highest courts in the country! “
My grandpa counters by saying that the oil is drilled in Texas, refined into gasoline in Texas, and sold in Texas gas stations. It never crosses a state line, so there is no interstate commerce, so the federal government has no jurisdiction over it. Case dismissed.
#35 Trampled Under Foot
I was the defendant, representing a nonprofit that I volunteered for. The plaintiff was a 60-something grandma who was looking for a retirement settlement after falling out of her jacked up pickup truck in our parking lot. The premise of her case was that our parking lot was in bad shape and that she fell into a pothole, breaking her leg. Such accident resulted in her having to take Coumadin and diminished her enjoyment of salads at the Friday night fish fry (no, really).
It was going along fine, until my lawyer put up a photo of the pothole, taken on the day of the incident, filled to the brim with water, after a recent rain. He asked the lady if she had gotten her foot wet, to which she replied that she couldn’t recall.
He talked a little more about how perhaps if her foot wasn’t wet, it might have been because she fell out of the truck and didn’t fall into the pothole. He asked again if her foot was wet, and she affirmed that yes, her foot was wet.
The “gotcha” moment came when he went back to his desk, flipped through her deposition and read the part where she was extremely adamant that her foot wasn’t wet. Then, he did some fancy legal stuff. The case was thrown out, and I went back to work.
#36 He’s Not Your Boyfriend? Your Phone Says Otherwise
My client was accused of not leaving a woman alone when she explicitly told him she wanted no contact with him. He swore that they were dating and that she simply had a tendency to call the police whenever she got mad, as a sort of overreaction. She had a photo on her phone of him sitting on her porch to prove that he’d often come around without her consent.
I asked permission from the judge to look through the other pictures on her phone for more context. She had hundreds of photos of him. Eating dinner with her, sitting on her couch, wearing her undergarments… It was glorious.
#37 No Time To Lose
I handled a step-parent adoption in law school. I appeared before the court on a motion—I literally just had to submit a written brief and sum up my argument so the judge could think about it in his chambers for a few weeks. The judge stopped me halfway through my explanation of the motion, said, “I’m ready to sign the final order,” and executed it right there on the bench. The client happened to come along for this one and broke down crying before we left the courtroom. I felt 10 feet tall.
#38 Fair Trial?
A friend is a paralegal in the UK and he told me of this time he went to court over a very niche housing claim.
Now this area of law was so niched that there were no case law or precedents set on it. Both sides had big dog lawyers who look up relevant legal works and theory to find what the proposed theory is.
The first day in court and the opposing side lawyer slams this big book down to the judge and goes, “this is the most prominent writing on this area of law. But I may be somewhat biased considering I wrote it.”
Then just walks away into the sunset.
#39 Peter Cottontail Isn’t Happy
I was a youth defense attorney in teen court. The youth defendant was on “trial” for assault. I asked him what happened and he said, “My friends told me I wouldn’t beat up the Easter Bunny at the mall so I did.” It was the only time I truly could not control my laughter in court.
#40 A Massive Loss Of Cash
Injury lawyer here. We turned down a settlement offer of $75,000 because we thought a jury would award more. The guy was in a car crash and ended up having surgery which really messed his life up. His wife was pregnant and he was a hard-working guy who had a lot of trouble working after the crash because of his injury. We paid a surgeon $12,000 to testify for the day. We felt great about presenting the case and the client testified very well. He also brought in his wife, mother-in-law, and friend to testify about the impact on his life. The jury verdict came back at $32,500. Live by the jury, die by the jury.
#41 Well, That Was Fast
#42 A Quick-Switch And A Little Self-Incrimination
I was on a jury: the defendant was spotted driving with an expired license by the cop who had busted him for drunk driving a month or so earlier. Defendant drove off, evading police, and when police caught up, defendant’s buddy was magically driving. Defendant represented himself in the case and brought the buddy into court to corroborate his story that he hadn’t been driving at all. At one point, he asked his buddy, “What did we do that afternoon just before the officer pulled us over?” Buddy asked, “You mean before or after we switched drivers?” After that, the prosecution simply rested their case and we held our laughter until we were firmly in the jury room! Yeah, he was guilty.
#43 I See You
The opposing party (tenant) accused my client (landlord) of putting cameras on the roof of the driveway to spy on the tenant’s family. The tenant specifically said she saw my client putting up the cameras, except the roof is pretty high and my client is 5’0”. I got the opposing party to admit she lied under oath. The judge wasn’t too happy and scolded her.
The tenant, who is about 5’5”, said she stepped on a chair on her tiptoes to remove the cameras. If that was the case, it was simply physically impossible for my client to mount any cameras according to the tenant’s testimony.
On cross-examination, the tenant testified that the landlord did not use a ladder or chair to mount the cameras, and then later also testified that she removed the cameras when I asked if she brought any pictures of the cameras. It was complete rubbish, so no, there were never any cameras.
#44 The Bravest of Hearts
Not a lawyer but my dad is. Early in his career (he started his own firm) he took a case from a guy that got charged with drunk and disorderly and another crime for mooning a police officer— I forget exactly what the crime is called. Anyways, my dad went to court and all he did was show a scene from Braveheart where the Scots are mooning the English and my dad argued that this guy mooning the cops was an act of free speech, voicing his dissatisfaction with the enforcement of the law. All charges were dropped and the guy got off scot-free.
#45 I Hope She Answers
I was doing a probate case for a family friend. My client was testifying when all of a sudden, she began a tirade about one of her step-daughters. She demeaned her step-daughter, in detail, who did have several issues but was not contesting the probate. Needless to say, the judge made me do a personal call to the step-daughter in addition to the mail notification.
#46 Judge Has No Time For Shade
I’m not a lawyer, but I defended myself in traffic court.
Got pulled over for my window tints. The front windows were tinted too dark (past 25% light transparency). Went to court with a large plastic bag containing my tints (peeled the stickers off the window).
When the judge called my name he asked: “What is in your hands”?
Me: “My window tints.”
Judge: “Case Dismissed.”
Not so epic but I was 16 and felt pretty cool.
#47 They Seem Upset
Many years ago, I was a puppy lawyer working in the public defender’s office. We were in juvenile court defending a kid who had been busted by the cops in the very act of doing about $30k in vandalism damage to a public school. No doubt at all that he did it, and he was charged with sundry crimes which all required proof that the damaged public school building was “property of another.”
You can see where I’m going with this. Everybody knows that a kid doesn’t own the school, right? It’s plain as can be, isn’t it? It went down like this:
Prosecutor: “The state rests.”
Defense: “We move to dismiss on the ground that the statutes defining the charged offenses all require proof that the damaged building was the property of another and there has been no evidence introduced to that effect.”
Judge: “You’re right. Case dismissed.”
Prosecutor [Turning slightly pale as it sinks in]: “But, but, but…”
Judge [Visibly angry that this jerk kid is going to walk]: “No, I cannot and will not allow you to reopen your case. There has been no surprise evidence or trickery here—they haven’t done anything but sit there all morning. No, I cannot take ‘judicial notice’ to supply a needed element that’s missing from your proof. We are done here. Case dismissed.”
The prosecutor damned near broke the lectern when he slammed his notebook shut before stomping out of the courtroom.
#48 Nice Try, Officer
A colleague of mine was questioning a police officer about a “consensual” encounter with a defendant. The officer claimed that he did not intimidate the client and that she could have walked away freely at any point during their encounter, despite the fact that there was video footage of him holding her down and pushing her aggressively.
My colleague then asked the officer, “Do you think that based on what you said and how you acted that any person in this room, under those circumstances, would feel like the could walk away?”
The officer said yes, and the full courtroom audience started laughing.
#49 Potty In The U.S.A.
Port-a-potty tipping case. I invoked the rule and sent all witnesses outside including the co-defendant in my case. I spaced out and asked the witness if he recognized anyone else in the courtroom who was there when the toilets were tipped. Luckily it wasn’t on the record, but I felt like a giant idiot.
Result? Found guilty, but we beat the offer. The case was dropped on appeal because my client was arrested for felony assault on law enforcement and the state didn’t care about toilets anymore.
#50 Taking The Law Into Your Own Hands
My great-great-grandfather was a lawman in his town and was in a court case with someone that had recently been arrested. He was questioning him, but wouldn’t get answers. On top of that, the man arrested was spewing insults at him. After a while, he got sick of him, so he pulled out his revolver and shot the guy’s thumb straight off. The guy started spewing details immediately. The gun is up in my office room now.
#51 Numerous Failed Attempts Later
I was a family law paralegal and we had one case that was a total mess. It was clear from a week in that the mother’s only goal was to utterly destroy the father in any way she could. We wound up getting temporary custody for the father and actually went to trial because the mother refused to cooperate. The mother was representing herself so my boss said I could stop by and watch a bit for the experience and to satisfy my own curiosity.
The mother called co-workers of the father. I’m not sure why, but she asked a female co-worker, “Isn’t it true that you told (father) that you think I’m a nightmare?” My boss tried to object for relevance but it was too late. The witness looked the mother right in the eye and said, “Absolutely.”
Needless to say, we won that one for the father. It’s been ten years and the mother is still trying to get custody back. She hasn’t seen the kid since he was in diapers, but she just won’t let her revenge plot go.
#52 Rest My Case
Not a lawyer but I was in court for a speeding ticket. Out of nowhere, my friend walks into the same courtroom; he was there because he did not pay the toll on a bridge in the county we live in. The judge calls him up, he tells the judge there are no toll bridges in the area we live in, judge pounds the gavel on his desk and dismisses the case. Everyone applauds, he turns around and bows seeing me and smiles, then walks out.
#53 There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
I was the prosecutor on a case a few years back with a real lack of physical evidence, so it was pretty much a “he said/she said.” The victim was to be my first witness during the trial. I prepped her the Friday before trial. One of my standard prep lines is, “Dress like you’re going to a job interview.” I wasn’t going to be able to see her the morning of trial before going on the record because she had a civil case in another branch during my jury selection.
Anyway, the case begins, finish voir dire and openings. I call her to the stand. She walks in with incredibly done-up braided hair, huge hoop earrings, shiny black leather high heeled knee-high boots, and a skin-tight shiny black leather dress that cut off a bit too far above mid-thigh. The moment she walked in the door, all three of my female jurors started covering their mouths and suppressing laughs. We lost the case at that moment.
I’ve since changed my line to: “Dress like you’re going to church with your judgmental grandmother.”
#54 It Really Is This Easy Sometimes…?
Not a lawyer, but I read about this.
Two guys were being tried for robbing a gas station. A customer who saw the robbery was now on the witness stand. The prosecutor asked him to describe what he saw. He said that he saw two guys robbing the store and then running out, and one of them bumped into him. Then the prosecutor looked at the two perps and said: “Are those two men in the courtroom today?”
At which point, the two idiots raised their hands.
#55 So You Noticed The Notice?
I was defending a tenant in an eviction case. At the close of my client’s testimony, I thought it would be good to at least offer her testimony about an improper motive for eviction. I asked her, “Why do you think the landlord wanted you out?” Objection, lay opinion, speculation, etc.—overruled—so I repeat the question and she answers by saying, “Um, because they gave me the notice to vacate?”
We all had a nice chuckle about that one, especially the opposing counsel, who had a very loud, hearty laugh while gauging the judge’s reaction.
The judge ruled in our favor in the end, but it was kind of a pyrrhic victory. Still, that’s what she wanted and I won her case—can’t feel too bad about that.
#56 Saved By The 1988 Nissan
A friend of mine was pulled over and issued a ticket for doing 85 mph in a 70 mph zone.
He went to court and was asked if he could prove that he wasn’t speeding. He calmly pulled out the keys to his mom’s 1988 Nissan Quest out of his pocket, offered them to the judge, and said “Sir, if you can get that 14-year-old minivan to go 85 mph, I’ll pay the ticket”
The judge laughed and dismissed the case.
My friend is now a lawyer.
#57 Money Down The Drain
In a divorce, the attorney asked her client if his wife dissipated marital assets during the marriage. He said, “Yeah, she claims $350 per month on hair care and nails. In 10 years, that’s wasteful dissipation.” I asked, given his $350,000 average income as a doctor, if it also wasteful dissipation to spend $5,000 on that toupee that sat on his head. He laughed and said, “I suppose it was.”
#58 She Was Definitely Turning Right
“She was in the right-turn-only lane, with her right turn signal on, and the street was one way to the right. Did I assume she was turning right? Yes, I did!”
#59 Those Mall Deals, Though
I had a client who physically assaulted a store clerk in a mall and the entire thing was caught on video. The client decides to plead guilty, so the only issue in court is sentencing. I argued for probation with a conditional discharge, meaning that if he finished his probation without any violations, he wouldn’t have a criminal record. The judge accepted my argument and was in the process of issuing that sentence. One of the conditions of probation the judge decided to impose was a restraining order with the mall so that my client wasn’t allowed to be in the mall until his probation was over.
While the judge is saying this, my client turns to me and starts complaining loudly about the fact that he isn’t allowed to go to the mall. The judge stops talking and starts yelling at my client, telling him that he could reject all my arguments and sentence him to jail. The client shut up very quickly after that, but later he dared to try to argue my bill because I didn’t get him a good enough deal. Apparently, probation with no criminal record wasn’t good enough.
#60 Case Closed With A Single Photo
I took debate in high school and we had a lawyer come in and speak to our class. He shared with us a lot of practical advice about the law.
He told us about a time when he won a case with his opening argument. The defense lawyer came back with a picture of the shuttle Challenger explosion which somehow was enough to prove reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.
The defendant was found not guilty.
#61 Right To Remain Silent
A judge I appeared in front of on a contract case had enough of the opposing counsel’s shenanigans and his client’s continual failure to appear for depositions. He ordered me to draft an arrest order to have the client picked up and dragged to the courthouse. Nobody in my large firm had ever drafted such a thing, so I had to wing it.
Ultimately, I drafted it, the judge signed it, and I gave it to the sheriff of the relevant county. After the county’s attorney signed off on it, a deputy in the sheriff’s dept’s civil division staked this guy’s house out for a few days. He called me when he was on his way to the courthouse with the scofflaw in the back of his squad car: “Better get down to court, counselor! We’ll be there in 30 minutes!” As a third-year associate in a big law firm, I felt pretty cool telling my colleagues that I had to bounce because I’d had my opponent on a civil matter arrested.
#62 Cockiness Was His Downfall
I was not involved with this case, but my professor was. The state was trying the defendant for the third time after his prior cases ended in a hung jury.
The defendant was cocky and took the stand in each case. However, he got too cocky at the third trial. When the prosecutor pondered on how much the victim had suffered, the defendant confidently replied, “She didn’t suffer.”
The prosecutor immediately asked, “How could you know that?”
#63 We Can’t Find Them
I had a case ready for trial. The prosecutor had two witnesses, one of whom was adamant that she didn’t remember anything. He still had the other, so he wasn’t going to dismiss, even though the victim didn’t want to go forward. Five minutes before trial, his other witness walked into court, looked right at my client, looked around a little more, and then said out loud, “Where is [client’s name]?” She was less than a foot from my client. Charges were dismissed as fast as the prosecutor could move.
#64 The Mercy Rule
The crown prosecutor on a case I was serving on the jury for stopped calling his witnesses and claimed he was invoking the mercy rule. As you can imagine, the guy was found guilty.
#65 Out In The Cold
Last week, I was doing a plea with a defendant for a really minor misdemeanor (just fines, no jail). I thought she was tipsy because her eyes couldn’t focus and she was slurring her words. I was a bit curt with her because of this, and because she seemed to be stalling to avoid sentencing. As the judge called on her to approach, she could sign something, so she started swaying. The bailiff and I lunged to catch her, and we had to call 911.
Turns out, she had walked five miles to the courthouse when it was 28 degrees Fahrenheit and windy. She was in the middle stages of hypothermia.
#66 Solving The Crime In Court
I have a friend whose cousin defended him in a robbery case. The prosecutor had all this evidence that suggested my friend and his buddy committed the crime. He had photos of tire tracks, eyewitness accounts, etc.
The cousin had solid explanations for literally every single piece of evidence they threw at him. He was also able to use those pieces of evidence to determine who the real robbers were… all while still in court.
#67 It’s All On You Now
Robbery case set for trial. Not a good case on our side by any stretch, but we had a decent strategy. I’d spent hours prepping testimony with the client. The trial was about to start and the client suddenly gets cold feet. Says he isn’t testifying. Period. I spend the next two days trying a robbery case having to modify the defense case on the fly because my client was no longer testifying.
#68 An Admission Of Guilt With Raised Hands
Two guys were being tried for robbing a gas station. A customer who saw the robbery went on the witness stand. The prosecutor asked him to describe what he saw. He said that he saw the two guys rob the store and then run out, and one of them bumped into him. Then, the prosecutor asked, “Are those two men in the courtroom today?”
The two idiots raised their hands.
#69 Putting Their Foot Down
I’d been up a long, long time preparing for this appellate hearing, and I had my lines of questioning all prepared, and one of them had to do with whether or not an officer had stuck her foot into a door in a given way. And so I ask, essentially, “Is it true that, after prior to affording appellant the opportunity to deny entry to his residence, you took a specific physical action that prevented him from denying entry to the residence and from there proceeded to enter it, but at that point it was an action you took to prevent him from denying access?”
I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was complete gibberish. After a moment of confused silence, the judge asked me “Counsel, are you asking if Detective X put her foot in the door?”
And I’m like, “…Yes, your honor.”
It wasn’t great. Reading the transcript was worse.
#70 Not An Illegal Alien, Thank You Very Much
I practice immigration law. I had one woman come in and explain that she was from Canada and had been living in the US without permission for decades. Her boyfriend beat her up to the point where she was hospitalized. She pressed charges and the boyfriend basically let her know that his lawyer was going to call her credibility into question since she was an illegal immigrant.
Turns out, her mom was born in the US and met her dad in college, which meant that she could gain dual citizenship through her mom. We got her citizenship certificate expedited and I made her promise not to tell anyone.
Sure enough, at the trial, the defense attorney asked, “Isn’t it true that you are a Canadian citizen who has been working illegally in the US for decades?”
She replied, “No. In fact, here’s my certificate of citizenship. I’m a dual Canadian and US citizen.”
The lawyer looked like a puppet that just had its strings cut off.
#71 Who Says You Can’t Go Home?
It was a civil jury case where it was being decided whether my client had given a house to his girlfriend through a written or implied contract.
There was a typewritten document (unsigned) that the other side said the client gave to the girlfriend showing his intent to give her the house. The client was adamant to us that it was on his computer as a draft and that she’d gone into the computer and printed it out herself; he never gave it to her.
At the trial, when the opposing counsel asked it, he had given her the letter and said, “I might have… it’s possible, I’m not really sure.” The second he said it, I calmly wrote to co-counsel and said, “We’re screwed.” He responded with, “I know.”
There went the case and the $625,000 house.
Client blamed us of course.
#72 Get The Right Guy Next Time?
I got a violation put against my name for some land I didn’t own. I took pictures showing that the violation was posted on city-owned land, not my land and that my name should have never been included. I also explained how the city was breaking a bunch of grass height laws and what not.
The inspector who wrote the violation stood up and called me by a name that wasn’t mine, then showed pictures of a busted up car with a bunch of weeds on it that I had never seen before. The judge raised her eyebrow and asked what location was being depicted in the photos. The location he named ended up not being my own.
He literally had the wrong guy.
The judge removed the fines, and the case was dismissed.
#73 My Bad, Y’all
I was prosecuting a contempt action in family court (something that basically never works) and everyone in the room could tell I was winning. The other side was unprepared (out of arrogance) and I was basically ripping this guy to shreds on cross-examination (which his lawyer didn’t even think would happen because he expected the case to be dismissed).
At the end of the trial, the judge ruled for me and stated that she found the defendant’s testimony to be untrustworthy. I was shocked at winning a contempt trial, but then this exchange happened…
Defendant’s attorney: “Your honor, now that you have found my client’s testimony to be untrustworthy, I am requesting a continuance to prepare further witnesses.” (This concept is shocking in itself because to even think you can bring more witnesses after you rest your case is laughable.)
Judge: “You had your shot and you missed, counsel.”
Defendant’s attorney: “Your honor, there was no way I could have anticipated that you’d find my client’s testimony untrustworthy and as such, I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare other witnesses in support of his position”.
Judge: “That may be an argument for your carrier, counsel, but it holds no water with me. See you this afternoon for sentencing.”
For those who didn’t pick up on it, the judge basically told the lawyer ON THE RECORD IN FRONT OF HIS CLIENT that she expects him to get sued for malpractice because he messed up so royally.
That was mindblowing on multiple levels.
#74 A Rude Way To Close
We have Judge Rinder in the UK.
One time, a woman was suing a man for selling her a mobility scooter that didn’t do the mileage specified. The man assured the judge that the scooter performed to specifications.
They got a “scooter expert” to weigh in and the judge asked him if there was any reason he could think of that would explain the scooter not being able to perform as advertised.
The “scooter expert” replied, “She’s too fat.”
#75 Living A Lie
I’m a bankruptcy and foreclosure lawyer. In bankruptcy, you have a 341a meeting, where the trustee sits down with the debtor (the person who filed bankruptcy) and their lawyer if they are represented. They are asked questions about their property and their debts, and it’s under oath. Before you can even file, we sit down for a long meeting where we review every single thing you own and every asset you have so we can make sure everything is accurate. There shouldn’t be any surprises at these meetings.
At this particular meeting, the trustee asks the debtor if he has any other vehicles than the car he listed. He says no. The trustee then shows him a picture he printed from Google Maps showing a huge recreational vehicle parked outside his house and asks if this is his address, his house, his RV. The debtor says yes to all of them. I get angry because dude deliberately lied to me about this. He says he didn’t list it because he’s planning on selling it. The trustee makes him hand over the keys at the meeting to avoid repercussions.
Bankruptcy fraud is no joke.
#76 The Proof Is In The Nub
As a clerk in the district attorney’s office a few years ago, there was a battery case where the victim (who was an addict wandering the streets and picking fights) got into an altercation and had his hand chopped off by the defendant’s machete. The day the victim came in to testify, the clerk asked him to raise his hand to swear in.
When he raised his handless nub, every single juror gasped for air and we knew a conviction was on the way.
#77 Thanks For Nothing
I had a divorce client lie and throw me under the bus to a judge, saying I had never advised her regarding the effects of certain provisions in an agreement. We had discussed the particular provisions and their effects at least 20 times.
I interrupted my client and immediately asked for permission to withdraw from the case as I could not continue in the representation of a client that I knew was lying on the stand.
#78 Gonna Need A Drink After This One
Had a case where a college teacher faked price tags on wine bottles in a local supermarket. The defense attorney tried to sell the judge the story that it was physically impossible to push a shopping cart and manipulate the price tag simultaneously. The judge went to the supermarket, fully in his robe, with the guy. The judge himself pushed the card and was able to manipulate the bottles (of course it’s possible, everybody knew it), and the judge sentenced the teacher in the break room of the market.
#79 Don’t Skip Leg Day?
I had a client with a long rap sheet set for trial. The offer was good, but we had a decent case and since he was on parole, it was a free roll for him (max or min sentence didn’t matter). So I prepped and prepped for a good 50 hours, then right before trial we met in the jury room and the client said to me, “I’ll take the deal. I just get bored in jail and wanted to get out a few times to come to see you and stretch my legs.”
#80 Skynet: The Accuser
There was some story (with pictures) about a guy who got a ticket in the mail from a red-light camera.
So he sent a letter to the clerk of the court stating the Sixth Amendment, where you can go to court and “face your accuser” with questions, except he pointed out that his “accuser” was not a human, but a camera, and therefore his right to a fair trial was voided. It took some back and forth correspondence and some more of the guy citing more laws about this, but they did finally drop his case.
#81 Putting In Work But Where?
Our client was alleged that the guy we were suing was a member of this one company, but the opposing side kept denying his involvement. We subpoenaed them for the company’s paperwork, but of course, the opposing party was like, “We don’t have this, we were never a part of this company,” etc.
We finished the first day of a three-day trial. Later that night, at like 8 p.m., our client was finally able to get (from an old employee of the company) a set of the company’s bylaws with the opposing party’s name and signature all over them. We immediately e-mailed them, faxed them, etc., to opposing counsel, but he clearly hadn’t read his e-mail and wasn’t at his office to see the fax, so he was pretty surprised when he walked into court the next morning and we had a conference to tell him what we had found. You could tell that he honestly believed his client had no involvement. He looked so defeated when the judge allowed us to incorporate the new document into our trial exhibits. It was a bench trial and I’m not sure how that would have played out had there been a jury.
There was a case where this clearly deranged woman said she didn’t need to be moved from her home. She was a hoarder and cluttered nearly all corners of her house to the point where she didn’t have a usable toilet. When the judge asked her, “How do you go to the restroom?” she confidently and quickly responded, “I pee in a cup.”
#83 Flipping The Script
This was about two years ago. I was defending a guy with a fairly solid chance of getting him off. I prepped questions with him and told him how to construct his answers for direct and cross. I was feeling good.
For reasons I won’t go into, he took the stand to testify. Co-counsel went up to do direct. They must have gone into auto-pilot and weren’t really listening because the defendant decided to be “helpful” and go off script into lies that he thinks will sound better than the truth. I’m still new enough that I don’t want to get up and object to my own client and partner, so I sit there watching the screw up of the century slowly unfold in front of me.
Suffice it to say that it did not end well.
#84 Think Fast, Sir
To make a long story short: when I was a baby lawyer, an older lawyer sent me to court for a hearing he “couldn’t” attend and sent me on my way (having never been to court) to file his brief on the morning of, in a small town court.
When the judge calls my case, I step forward in my big law firm attire, feeling incredibly dumb and out of place. Strangely, three people stepped forward, one of which also claimed to represent “my” client. It turned out, the client had fired my firm. I have no idea how my superior didn’t know. The judge got so angry about the mass confusion that he grabbed my brief out of my hands (yup, he reached over the bench) and threw it at me. It hit me in the chin. I quit that law firm immediately.
#85 Hey, I Know You
I prepared for a long time to argue before a judge that my client should be released without having to pay bail. I collected family information, job info, and every reason possible that he would not be likely to fail to return for his next hearing. It was set up to be perfect until we walked in and the judge remembered him by name for previously skipping out on bail. Bail was set. At a very high dollar amount.