In a lawyer's world, the more information that is acquired for a particular case, the greater the likelihood of winning it all in favor of the client. Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is one missing detail or a withheld piece of intelligence to ruin everything. The lawyers below share a time when exactly that happened to them, and their stories will make you frustrated as heck.
#1 What A Coincidence
A friend of mine is a lawyer and he said that a client once turned up to court in the actual same outfit he was wearing in the burglary. When the CCTV footage came up in evidence, the client looked down to himself and was like, "Oh shoot." In my head, I couldn't help but make fun of the situation and imagine my client saying: "Your honor I can guarantee you the man on the screen is not me, but he definitely has impeccable taste in fashion."
#2 Nothing To Hide
A friend of mine’s client showed up to their court session with no shirt on at all. Luckily, she had her husband’s dry-cleaning in the car and he was able to wear one of his. She truly wondered how he thought going half nude was going to convince the judge he was an upstanding member of society. I guess you could say he had nothing to hide...
#3 Just Don't Lie
Unfair dismissal case. The client claimed to have been dismissed without reason or following procedure. After we had started the case, it comes out that not only was he given three written warnings but he was also called in for a disciplinary hearing before his dismissal. Don't lie to your lawyer. Similar to a doctor: I feel like not telling your lawyer everything can just hurt you.
#4 Ignoring The Warnings
I had a case in regards to tenant law and an eviction order. The dude claimed he never got the written warnings of his landlord. 10 minutes into the case, he admitted to not having checked his letterbox for months due to being over at his girlfriend's place most of the time. He was afraid to find letters of his landlord due to missing rent. I still got him a deferral to pay the missing rent in full within 30 days to avoid the eviction. Of course, he did not.
#5 Right Here, Bud
Not a lawyer yet, but I clerked for a DA's office throughout law school. Obviously, we don't have "clients," but I'll never forget this kidnapping case I worked on. It involved two Asian male defendants who were both the same age and looked relatively similar. The witness was on the stand and was asked to identify where the defendant who pushed an uzi into his face was seated. It was clear that the witness was having trouble differentiating the defendants. In a true moment of brilliance, one defendant RAISED HIS FREAKING HAND and basically pointed to himself like, "Right here, bud." Hands down the dumbest thing I'd ever seen. I thought his defense attorney was going to have a brain aneurysm.
#6 Asking The Wrong Thing
I’m still a law student and this happened during my first internship at a court. A girl among other people was charged with possession but because she had thrown away the evidence. The police couldn’t prove that she bought or owned them because it could have been one of the other people as well who still had the substances on them. The judge ruled in dubio pro reo, then asked if she wanted to say or add something. This girl asked if she can get HER substances back. The defense attorney looked like he was about to get a heart attack.
#7 Ruined Chances
It was a typical appointment with the Immigration Committee to grant my client a residence permit. He was marrying a woman in my country with my country's nationality and this is a legitimate reason to be granted a residence permit, so it was a typical procedure. At least that's what I thought. The Committee was bored to death and we all wanted it to be over with, so they asked him all typical and boring questions, like how they met, where they lived, etc. (they ask these things to identify false marriages).
At some point, they asked him if he was married before and he said, "Yes, back in my home country and I am still married actually. I never got a divorce." What the heck. I was stunned. Double marriage is forbidden in my country. And he never bothered to mention this detail to me. He later told me he said the truth because he was afraid to lie in front of a Committee. An honest and stupid man. I got all my money, but we had to find another way to gain a residence permit...
#8 Caught On Camera
I am actually a lawyer, but I was only watching this trial, not participating. So the case was that Woman A had hit Woman B in the head with a heavy bottle at a bar, and Woman B got pretty serious injuries. The defense claimed that Woman A had not hit anyone with the pint, but instead had just thrown the pint into a random direction, and it happened to hit B in the head, thus it was an accident and not a battery. Well, the prosecution had a CCTV tape from the bar, and it was shown at the trial...
And the tape CLEARLY showed in HD as A walked behind B, and smashed the pint to her head so hard that the pint shattered on impact... I looked at the defense lawyer and his jaw literally almost hit the table. The prosecutor also noticed this and asked something along: "Thrown, eh?" And the defense lawyer said that due to technical difficulties he couldn't get the CCTV tape open on his computer when he was reviewing the evidence. Woman A was found guilty. So yeah, I was completely dumbfounded.
#9 The Flip Phone
A defendant was written a cell phone ticket while driving and defended himself. “Your honor, I was not using a smartphone while driving. I was actually using a flip phone.” Guilty. People like to think that typos or glitches on a ticket mean they get off, but the justice system doesn’t work that way. The lawyer was an idiot for not instructing him correctly. Most states allow using Google Maps as a defense.
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#10 Technicalities Matter
First off, I’m a male so gaining custody of my young son was a challenge. His mother was living in a Camaro with her married boyfriend. I had a brilliant lawyer at the time and every tax season, we would go back for slightly more custody. For one of the last ones, he wrote a whole book for the magistrate and submitted it. Her defense? My lawyer wrote I lived in a two-bedroom house. At the time I had a two-bedroom apartment. Her using that as her only defense... that my lawyer had a typo about the house or apartment. It helped me eventually receive full custody.
#11 Make, Year, And Model
I had a defendant admit to me that he drove a car without an interlock on it (despite his license only being restricted to cars with interlocks) but he said that he talked to some people and that he’ll get off because he was in a 2018 Ford Focus... The officer wrote that he was in a 2015 Ford Focus... that case is set for trial soon. We’ll see how that’ll work out for him.
#12 Insider Trading
The FDA dismissed a guy for insider trading. He would access a database of illicit substances about to be approved, which nearly always caused the stock to go up. He'd made millions buying stock in his family's name to cover his tracks. But he made a fatal mistake. He looked at the database and then bought stock with his work computer, which FDA owned and could search without consent. You click a statement to that effect each time you sign on. If he'd waited and done it on his own computer they'd have had to get a search warrant, a much tougher proposition.
#13 Admitting Guilt
Not a lawyer, but a law student. We read about a criminal case in which there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the suspect, so the suspect was not guilty due to reasonable doubt, and he responded: “Thank you judge, I’ll never do it again.” The DA went into appeal and dude got convicted. In the United States, the prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal.
#14 Blind Truth
Not my client, but the son of the opposing party (and presumably the party himself) lied about being blind to make himself seem more sympathetic as a witness. We didn't know either until he took the witness box, their counsel asked him to take the oath, and he picked the card up and read it. That was the cherry on top of a series of ridiculous events. The judge dismissed the whole thing in our client's favor shortly after. I was a trainee at the time, but my boss, who was in her late sixties then, said it was the most ridiculous case she'd ever handled.
#15 It's In The Fur
I had a woman with an expensive fur coat and she claimed that the laundry ruined it. It was kind of ruined but the laundry claimed those stains were already there. The judge ordered an expert opinion and the fur coat had traces of illegal substances all over it. There was a raid at her place and her husband got convicted because they found several pounds of illicit substances.
#16 Spoiled Rich Kid
I was involved in a hit and run car accident. My leg was pretty mangled. However, the driver of the car was caught. He was a rich kid who was driving his mom's convertible Porsche. He denied all knowledge of hitting me. At the trial, the prosecutor asked him how long he had been driving, to which he answered, "Do you mean how long have I been driving legally or illegally?"The judge then went nuts asking why and when he had been driving illegally. His defense team sat down in their chairs and shook their heads. Needless to say, he lost the case. Interestingly, he died a year later by drowning. He had hired speed boat and holiday flipped it over and drowned. He was tipsy at the time.
#17 The 60/40 Split
Not a lawyer. My parents had a long messy divorce that took two years in court. My dad claimed that my mother was trying to take 100% of everything based on a settlement offer she sent him. He failed to mention to his lawyers that her initial offer (also sent to his previous lawyers) was a 60/40 split and she only sent that 100% one in response to an equally unreasonable offer from him. As soon as she could prove the initial offer was reasonable the judge just basically ruled on everything according to that first offer. His lawyers were SO angry because they built their entire case around the idea that she was the unreasonable one.
(I think it was something to do with arguing that she was not sending genuine settlement offers, I'm not sure why. His goal wasn't to win, it was to prolong the battle. But the original offer exposed him in the lie in front of the judge which made the rest of the process go very quickly).
#18 Good Riddance
My parents were in court reevaluating child support for years after their divorce. They would come to an agreement and my dad would pull it off the table at the last minute. He clearly just wanted to punish my mom for leaving his tipsy, unemployed, cheating butt. Finally, the judge got upset, picked the most recent agreement and told him if he pulled that stunt again she would make him pay every cent of the original agreement and make him pay back payments. It would have been like $40k.
#19 A Costly Lie
Not a lawyer as such, but a planning consultant. The client signed sworn affidavit stating he’d been running a truck park business for over 10 years on a piece of land. After 10 years the use became immune from legal action. The Council checked Google Maps and saw immediately he lied— he had only run the business for 7 years. He had committed a criminal offense by submitting a false sworn affidavit. Plonker.
#20 Big Mouth
Not me, but my mentor. This is the reason you never ask questions that you don't already know the answer to in court. During the trial with the judge on a divorce matter, the wife brought up that he had abused her during the course of their marriage. The client whispered to my mentor that that was absolutely NOT true. On the stand, during his portion of testimony, my mentor asked, "At any point in the marriage, did you lay your hands on your wife?"
"One time, we were having an argument and I held her down on the couch until she stopped arguing with me." What. My mentor said it was like she could see it happening in slow motion and all the alarm bells were going off in her head because he had NEVER mentioned this and, apparently, to him, this was not considered abuse. The judge gave the wife a lot more money as a result and the husband was baffled. My mentor was fuming.
#21 Committing Perjury
This one ended my marriage. My husband lost his job in the mortgage business. He applied for unemployment but got denied. I decide to help him with his appeal hearing. I asked him multiple times before the hearing: “ Is there anything you did that caused them to fire you?” He said no, absolutely not, they fired him out of nowhere. The hearing day came and he testified under oath that he did nothing wrong. He was a good employee, no issues, etc. Upon cross-examination, the other attorney pulled out documents from one of his real estate closings—documents he forged and backdated. He had to admit he perjured himself. Needless to say, he didn’t get unemployment and he didn’t sleep at home that night.
#22 Down With The Hammer
A friend of mine was married to some kind of technician. He worked, among other things, installing and repairing elevators. One day, one of the customers sued him for destroying an elevator, and the husband denied having anything to do with it. My friend was enraged and, together with the husband's lawyer, they went over all the evidence and the documents to prepare a rock-solid defense. Then, suddenly, my friend realized that a lot of things don't add up. She asked her husband: "Please, be honest with me, did you do it?" several times, which caused the husband to explode at her and accuse her of being a bad wife.
And then, a couple of days before the beginning of the trial, he came to her hanging his head low and admitted that it was him. The customer ended the maintenance contract, and in retaliation, this guy showed up with a hammer outside business hours and trashed the elevator. My friend was livid. If they didn't have children she would have divorced him.
#23 Playing The Victim
Unfair dismissal case. My client claimed to have been unfairly dismissed from her accounting job due to poor performance. It turns out that she was running her own private accounting business, with her own clients, at her employer’s premises during working hours, using their facilities. Her argument, when confronted with this fact, was that her clients would never have given her employer their business anyway. I actually did get her a small settlement because they didn’t follow proper procedure when firing her (which is why I didn’t know about the real reason for firing her), but it was peanuts compared to what she would have deserved if her story wasn’t nonsense.
#24 Forging Signatures
Not me, but my dad represented a guy in a civil case. He doesn't normally do criminal law, but in this instance, the question of a forged signature came up, and his client lied, saying he didn't forge it. My dad was very clear in explaining that admitting to him wouldn't land him in jail, it would just allow him to build a better defense, but he still denied forgery, and so my dad rolled with it. He said his case was completely cut up once it came out that yes, in fact, his client did forge the signature.
#25 No Remorse
A friend of mine is a defense attorney. He was representing a guy with a lengthy record for assault. Basically this guy took an A/C unit and threw it at his girlfriend. My buddy told me he was able to get a plea deal for one-year probation no jail time. The judge was all ready to accept the deal when he asked the defendant if he had anything he would like to say. The defendant responded,” Yeah, I don’t know why they charging me with assault, I never touched her. I just threw and A/C at her. This is nonsense.” The judge rescinded the plea deal because of the defendant's attitude and lack of remorse. He went to trial and got a year in jail.
#26 Defending A Dirtbag
Not a lawyer, but going to law school. I worked for a defense attorney who worked a lot of federal cases. One of our cases was with this guy charged with the trafficking of minors. We met him at the prison to interview him and he swore up and down he had nothing to do with this. A month or so later, heaps of evidence from the US attorneys office comes in and its pages of Snapchat messages and texts between him and these girls, video confessions from every co-defendant and victim saying our guy was the ring-leader, proof of him checking in and out of different motel rooms, etc. We showed him the evidence and he claimed his co-defendants were conspiring against him.
He continued to deny everything and wanted to go to trial but we repeatedly told him that would not be wise because of all the evidence against him. He ended up requesting a new attorney to be appointed claiming that we were “ineffective.” To this day, my old boss and I reminisce about how difficult this client was when we catch up on the phone.
#27 Mom v. Daughter
The case was about a woman who took the car from her daughter and grounded her. The daughter called the police and the court proceedings began. Apparently, the woman didn't tell her lawyer that the daughter was 22 years old and didn't live with her mom. The mom decided to go to the daughter's place and took her car out without her knowledge.
#28 Cutting Ties
This happened to a girl I dated while she was over at my house. The mother was upset that she wasn’t answering her phone (she was asleep), so she came over, trespassed on my property, and used her spare key to steal it from my driveway. It didn’t take long for the cops to find her since she was “hiding” in a parking lot across the street from the local PD.
Years later, she still thinks that I’m some sort of manipulative mastermind who tricked the police into believing that she’d committed a crime and that she was in the right for what she’d done; despite the fact that she corroborated the story to the police. They told her in no uncertain terms: “You can’t do that, it’s illegal.” The best part is that her daughter doesn’t speak to her anymore. It wasn’t the first or last incident that led to that outcome, but it still amuses me that freaking out because her daughter wasn’t talking to her led to her daughter never talking to her again.
#29 A Fatal Mistake
In a quiet title case where the purchaser of a piece of real property was seeking an implied easement by necessity, the client failed to mention that, when he purchased the real property in the late 1950s, the conveyance was done to a defunct corporation. This is critical because a defunct corporation does not have the legal capacity to act and, consequently, the conveyance was void.
I checked the Secretary of State website but the records did not go back that far—I took him at his word that the corporation was active at the time of the conveyance. It is unclear to me why he chose to have the property conveyed to his defunct corporation rather than taking ownership as an individual, but it was a fatal mistake to the case.
#30 Demonstrating A Lie
Not me but my legal studies teacher who used to be a lawyer was representing a woman suing a supermarket for a slip that caused her to hurt her shoulder. She had to tell the court how much it had impacted life and the fact that she couldn’t do her everyday tasks. She said, “I can’t even lift my arms like this to hang the washing,” and proceeded to show the court the exact gesture in the perfect form that she was explaining she "couldn’t do."
#31 To Trial We Go
I was approached by this attorney to work for him for free to go after smugglers. This guy had been arrested for dumping goods onto American markets that violated trade agreements. In his arrest, a bunch of goods was left in warehouses to rot, and their owners, his clients, were never paid. This attorney showed me that this smuggler had assets and that he had gone to the criminal trial and gotten the judge to set aside $2 million of the criminal penalties to settle his client's debts. He had receipts, invoices, all of the paperwork. He just needed associates to help him take the case to trial. He wanted me to work for free, but he would pay me on contingency once he obtained the verdict.
He had two other attorneys working for him with the same deal. I worked on the case for a short while but luckily moved on to other things. The other two attorneys worked on that case for over two years. At one point, they negotiated a $1.5 million settlement of all claims. The attorney in charge rejected the offer because he was convinced he could get twice as much at trial. In the end, the case settled for $200k, because none of the clients would enter the United States to testify, for fear of being arrested. The two associates got $8k apiece for two years of work.
#32 Saved My Bacon
A postcard. While I was in law school, I worked in a state AG office, administrative appeals division. The guy was appealing a huge tax bill for unpaid tax on his dairy farm’s milk production. His entire defense and claimed basis for appeal was that he had zero notice of the requirements to report production, sale, and proceeds. In initial disclosures (pile of discovery) was a postcard from the state tax office from when he initially registered to obtain a state tax number. Very smart AAG laid low, sprung it on the guy after he has cemented his position fifty ways to Sunday. Exploded his whole theory, resulting in big judgment. Moral: read your own discovery responses and document production before building your entire theory of the case. One piece of paper can end your client’s position. This lesson has saved my bacon in 27 years of practice for sure.
#33 The Good And The Bad
The client said his ex owed him a lot of money and that she was trying to get out of paying him back by getting a protective order against him. It seemed reasonable so I took his case. At the hearing, it came out that they were never a couple. He was sending her intimate paraphernalia to her residence on a weekly basis and she never asked for the thousands of dollars he gave her over the years. We lost and he got laughed out of court and he learned a valuable lesson: tell your lawyer the good AND the bad stuff before trial!
#34 Obnoxious Yellow Shirt
Credit card fraud case. When I was a young lawyer back in the late 80’s I was trying this guy on a cc case and the witness was the department store clerk. Before video surveillance, the state relied heavily on witness identification. As she described the “customer” that was purchasing the very unique clothing her store sold I asked her how could she be so sure it was my client. She looked at my client who was wearing the most obnoxiously yellow shirt imaginable and said: “Because not only does he completely match the description I just gave you but he’s wearing the exact same shirt I sold him.” The jury convicted him and I learned that day to better prepare my clients for trial.
#35 Plain Stupid
Not mine but I went to court over a ticket. A lady was in front of me for a DUI and hit and run. The judge assigned a lawyer for her since she was so shaken that she quit her job. The judge asked the prosecuting attorney for details on the case she legit said, "You mean that car I hit while I was in intoxicated?" The judge stopped, took his glasses off and said "Everything is recorded in this courtroom. I told you not to talk to anyone about your case except the attorney that I assigned for you." You could tell he was ready to walk out of the room with the level of stupidity this lady showed.
#36 Pointing Fingers
When I was an intern at court I was watching a battery trial with another intern. The defendant was asked if he can remember how many people were present when he beat up the other guy. He then points at my fellow intern and says rather loudly: "She was there but she didn't see anything! Don't trust her!" Of course, she wasn't there and the defendant was found guilty.
#37 Case Closed
I was in a car accident when I was 18, it was my fault but there was very minimal damage to the lady's car and no one was injured other than whiplash. So I was really confused when I got a summons for a disposition almost a year later. She was suing me for $40k because the accident has her migraines and hurt her shoulder badly enough that she couldn't pick up her disabled son anymore. She'd gotten referrals and had seen a specialists six months before the accident. The case was immediately closed.
#38 Back Together
I wasn't a lawyer in this role, I was a law clerk. This was a typical divorce case. This particular jury trial was about splitting assets and who would get what. It was a long drawn out case that took about five days. Right before the closing arguments the attorneys wanted to talk to the judge, it seems as though a couple of days prior the couple decided to get back together, and instead of telling the judge and their lawyers, they just kept it a secret.
We heard four days of evidence, arguments, brought in experts such as land assessors, financial planning people and the like AND THEY WERE BACK TOGETHER. One of the attorneys asked to be dismissed from the case immediately and walked out the courtroom, the judge had to dismiss the jury and the couple was adamant that they didn't think that them getting back together was a detail any of their attorneys needed to know.
#39 Privacy Issues
Over my summer internship, I helped with trying to get some evidence admitted. The evidence was recorded audio of mental abuse over the phone (daughter talking to father). The lawyer spent a while trying to show there was no expectation of privacy for the conversation. The client went on the stand and the first thing she said regarding the audiotape was that she always stays as far away from her daughter and lets the daughter lock her bedroom door so that their conversation has the utmost privacy. It wasn't admitted.
#40 Can't Hide The Rich
Not a lawyer but a woman I know received several hefty speeding fines. In my country, you can go see a magistrate in order to have the fines reduced if you plead poverty. She heard about this and decided to give it a shot, so she went to court and told the magistrate a sob-story about not having enough money. The magistrate heard her out, then he asked her: "Madam, what type of car do you drive?" She replied in a tiny voice, "A Porsche."
#41 Bend And Snap
My father is a judge. I remember him talking about a case where a woman was suing for a severe back injury that she said was preventing her from working and taking care of her kids and so on. In the middle of the trial, a pen rolled off the table and she was bending over trying to reach it from her chair, but the pen was too far away. So she stood up, bent over, picked it up, and went back to her seat as if nothing is out of the ordinary. My dad was just looking at her and she snapped at my dad saying, "What are you staring at?" My dad asked her if she was okay and her response was that she was fine. Her attorney leaned over and said something to her and she then loudly started complaining about her back and how much it hurt, but no one believed her.
#42 Garbage Evidence
Not a lawyer, but I heard about this at a place I volunteer. A guy got in trouble for illegal dumping by the county. The guy claimed that he'd been cleaning up other people's litter and he was doing the country's work for them. Then the county brought said litter into evidence and a heap of it was junk mail with the guy's name and address on them.
#43 Ruined By The Tallboys
My dude in a custody battle where the opposing party claims he has a drinking problem and he denies it 1000%. Even after the “real talk” I have with him asking him to not hide stuff from me and to be honest, we go into court and at cross-examination the opposing party provides video evidence of him finishing work, driving to an abandoned parking lot to drink a few tallboys and then going to pick up his kid from school. Every single access visit. He not only didn’t tell me that, but he also forgot to mention that his ex’s brother owns a private investigator firm.
#44 Living A Lie
I heard of a guy trying to appeal his disability benefit being revoked. He was supposedly a paraplegic, but the opposition had over 10 minutes of video footage of him walking, running and even jumping over a fence After the one minute mark, the judge said: "Okay I've seen enough. Please leave." It's hard to defend the guy when there's evidence like that against him.
#45 Blown Wide Open
Employment case. We got to the deposition of my client and all setup. The first question was: "Please state your name." The client looked at me and said, "Can we take a break?" We did and she pulled me out in the hall to tell me she's lied to me about her identity. She was apparently a serial fraudster and has changed identities seven times since the '90s. She apparently thought the other attorneys had somehow figured it out and that's why they asked the question.
#46 The Imperfect Will
Estate matter. The client neglected to tell me he had four children from a previous marriage. Guess who showed up to challenge the will after he died? They lost, but I would have drafted his will differently had I known. He knew they existed and wanted to leave them nothing. That’s possible, but there’s a way of doing it right. By not telling me about them he prevented me from doing it right.
#47 All An Act
I had a work comp case where a client claimed he fell off the side of his truck while putting a tarp over the load and hurt his back. It seemed legit as he was taken to a hospital and they had given him meds. As we were pursuing the case, it turns out the company had a surveillance camera. The injury seemed fishy to the employer so they looked at the recording. The idiot had climbed off the side of the truck, then laid down on the ground and started yelling for help. He had made the whole thing up. No wonder employers question work comp injuries. This guy ruined it for legitimate claims.
#48 Gotcha On Facebook
Facebook screws people every time. We had a recent case in which a person claimed a shoulder injury. He reported extreme pain all the time and was insistent that his elbow couldn’t be lifted above his head. He even came in a sling to his first deposition. We performed a social media review and there were pictures of him rowing in a canoe, jumping, raising his arm in the air...
One was at a football game and it was just after his team scored. He was holding both hands up with bottles in them. At settlement, it became clear to us his attorney hand to checked his own clients' Facebook. We tried to settle but the demands were too great so we didn’t even produce the photos. At trial, once we entered the pictures, you could feel the jury start to hate this guy. They were borderline shaking their heads at him. His attorney kept a straight face but it was over. Full defense verdict.
#49 Still Lost
Probably when I was set for trial on a DUI, the day of trial I get a call from the state attorney that it was never disclosed in evidence that the friend my client had been meeting the time of the arrest was a dealer. It was believed my client was in the middle of trying to buy illicit substances. When I confronted him about it, he just looked at me and said: "I didn't think it was important, it wasn't drinks." (Florida DUIs are alcohol or any controlled substance). Thankfully, we kept that out of the trial due to late disclosure. We still lost and he's an idiot.
#50 The Other County
Not a lawyer but I was in court to testify on another case. The accused was pleading guilty and the judge told him to allocute and describe the crime. After the defendant gave a detailed confession, the judge glanced at the paperwork and said: "Mr. So and So, that's not what you are accused of." The guy groaned and said, "Oh, that's the other county."