Being a lawyer is stressful, but it can also be entertaining. They witness dramatic social situations unfold in real-time, right before their very eyes, on a daily basis. While it's usually difficult to witness other people's misfortune, some situations are just too juicy to not indulge in.
Lawyers from around the world took to the internet to share the worst way they've seen a person screw someone else over in court. Usually, their clients were involved in some sort of criminal, civil or divorce proceedings. From disputes over last wills to intense custody battles, the following stories will surely keep you tuned in.
Don't forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 The Bias Game
A witness for the plaintiff in a civil suit, who was a co-worker of the plaintiff, testified very strongly against the company and in favor of the plaintiff. I questioned her about bias toward the plaintiff—if they knew each other well or if they were friends, etc. She said no, just friendly co-workers, or "work friends" at best. I pinned her to it.
When I got a chance to cross-examine the plaintiff, she had no choice but to burn her witness' credibility, because not only were they very close friends, but they had become sisters in law just a few years before. I still don't get why people want to fight small bias by destroying their credibility, but it happens more than you'd think.
#2 Nice Try, Saboteur
I am being sparse on details here due to confidentiality, but: I had a client who was accused of a very nasty offense. He had an alibi—he was at work where he is the boss of a team. He had an employee who could absolutely vouch for his being there. I talked to the employee, and the employee confirmed this. Around the time when I needed to send in an "alibi notice," which is an advance notice to the Crown so that they can investigate the alibi and determine whether or not it's true, I called the employee up again to reconfirm.
Turns out, my client fired him in the interim, and so the employee quite candidly told me, "Oh, yeah, he was definitely at work. But that's not what I'll say in court. Screw that guy, he is going down." I did not call him as a witness, or file the alibi notice. We still won the trial, but if I hadn't thought to call the guy, or if he'd been less candid, my client would have been in deep water despite being completely innocent.
#3 No More Chances
Not my case, but my dad's. He was a public defender decades ago. There was this guy who would often get caught for being tipsy in public. It was almost EVERY weekend. He seemed to draw the same judges and was pretty well known to everyone in the courthouse as an absolute lost cause. One of the "regular" judges had him appear in his court again.
The judge was ready to give him a prison sentence because he was driving a car this time, but then the guy started crying. He was pleading for mercy as he finally got a job out of town and was trying to turn his life around. The judge told him that as long as he never made a mistake in "his" town again, he would just drop the charges.
Well, sure as heck, the guy showed up the following Monday. Same judge. He had been driving tipsy AGAIN. My dad now had his case. The judge told him he gave him his final chance, to which the guy sobbed and replied, "I was leaving town, your Honor. But my friends decided to throw me a going-away party." The judge was not amused. My dad had to do everything he could to not laugh.
#4 Chatterbox Trouble
My dad was a judge and had someone on trial for DUI. The guy would not stop running his mouth and was trash-talking everyone in the room. He instructed him to stop, but he didn't. My dad, therefore, placed him in contempt of court for 90 days. The dude eventually got out and went back to trial. The first thing he did was start running his mouth again. Boom. Another 90 days in jail for contempt. 180 days in jail when a DUI in our state is only 60 days for his level of DUI.
#5 Karma Hits Back
My husband's kids asked us to fight for full custody after years of systematic abuse from their mom. My stepdaughter was assaulted and my mom decided to marry a guy who was best friends with the guy who assaulted her. My mom never told us what happened, nor did she ever get her counseling. She also never reported it to the police.
In mediation, she brought up a conversation I had with her which she denied ever happening until then. She started saying lie after lie and all my husband had to say was: “My wife had that conversation with you to explain how uncomfortable my daughter is living with this man because he is connected to her assault."
The mediator was not amused. She said, “You have someone living in your house who is connected to your daughter's assault. Your relationship with your children is broken.” She spent the rest of the session sobbing and signed away custody because this was just the tip of the iceberg that we had on her and she knew it.
Hearing her sobbing made me so happy after all she put these kids through. I had to walk my stepdaughter into the police station to report her assault. I usually don’t want people to suffer but after warning her this guy was coming between her and her kids and then her lying about the context of that conversation, I made an exception. I tried to stop her from the chain of events that lead us to court and she tried to use it against me.
#6 Not Smart
I was waiting for my client while the judge was giving a mass colloquy for an alternative program on a DUI. Basically probation. Question: "Has anyone consumed beverages or taken substances in the last 24 hours?" Obvious answer aside, one dude proudly raised his hand: "I did some last night..." He did not get probation.
#7 Rules Aren't Meant To Be Broken
I'm a paralegal. The best situations are when a sovereign citizen (someone in the USA who thinks that the US laws do not apply to them for a vast variety of reasons) hires us but won't let us do anything on their case. We've had to actually fire a bunch of clients because they have gone against our "rules" like: don't send a letter to the judge, don't write your own motions, don't announce that you're not Mark Smith because Mark Smith has capital letters and you were born with lower case letters, etc.
#8 Played Himself
Someone I knew had a pro bono case where she had to defend a person who had been charged with a criminal offense. Even though the police and the DA could pretty much pinpoint the crime to her client, there was no evidence to tie him to the crime. 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 does not know how to answer a question properly.
She pleaded with him, saying she could prove that the court had nothing on him. She felt it in her bones that, for once in her career, a pro bono case seemed to be going her way. After her plea, the judge thanked her and turned to her client. He asked if the client had something to add to the plea. The client looked at her, then back at the judge. Tears started welling up in his eyes and he blurted 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 (now a convict, apparently). She basically got screwed by her own client, who screwed himself even worse.
#9 Good For Him
I knew a guy going through a divorce whose wife had cheated on him. During the proceedings, he liquidated his 401k and sold the house which was in his name. It was more than a million dollars. He was a dual US/Romanian citizen, and he ended up leaving for Romania a few days before their divorce was final with the money. All she got was her BMW lease.
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#10 DVD Jon For The Win
The MPAA entered DVD Jon's code for breaking DVD copy protection as part of their lawsuit into their evidence which then became public record. The code that breaks DVD copy protection was now available to the entire world, defeating the entire purpose of their lawsuit.
#11 Don't Question The Expert
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 he brought up a chapter in a medical textbook. He asked my dad to read a highlighted paragraph, then asked: "So, what you just read means x,y,z, right?"
My dad confidently replied, "No, it does not mean that."
Lawyer: "No but if you read x,y,z, the author clearly states—"
Dad: "No, really, that's not what the author means."
Lawyer: "How do you know that's not what the author meant?"
Dad: "Well, because I wrote it."
The judge basically facepalmed while the lawyer mimicked a goldfish and stared at the author name on the chapter. Basically, it was the best moment of my dad's professional life (Yes, the ruling was in the defendant's favor).
#12 Don't Try Me
I did computer support for a surgeon who no longer practiced but was an academic, fundraiser and expert witness. He had a large office setup for depositions. He was confronted by a passage from a medical text and asked if that demonstrated he was wrong. He pointed out he had corresponded with the author, convinced him he was wrong, and collaborated with a revision that would be published in the next textbook. He offered to pull the correspondence from his files.
#13 Divorce Drama
This wasn’t my case but I followed it closely because it was an acquaintance’s divorce proceedings. He and his now ex-wife shared some commercial property that was worth some dough. They were both on the paperwork and had access to the same information. Well, they came across a hitch and I think some lien was filed.
The husband would try to talk to his then-wife about the whole thing but she would blow him off. Not only would she ignore him and the finances, but she also started cheating on him. Fast forward to divorce. It was contentious and they got down to fighting for the primary residence whose market value (unencumbered) was much less than the commercial building.
She demanded the house and the husband effectively offered to give her the commercial building if he could keep the residence. She never paid attention to how bad off the commercial building was and for some strange reason, her lawyer didn’t do any due diligence, so they took the deal. I don’t know if the asset allocation included any saving conditions or caveats for the ex-wife, but I did like to see that her own disinterest may have led to bargaining for an underwater property instead of a paid-off house.
#14 Messy Outcomes
A wife filed for a restraining order because she wanted the house during the divorce. The husband had a good job, like 200k per year. The employer found out about restraining order and fired him. He was a very specialized employee so the only job he could find close to the house, his ex-wife, and their daughter paid 50k. The house eventually got foreclosed and he was ordered to give child support at less than $500 per month. The wife had to get a job as a waitress. Their four cars got repossessed.
#15 Motivated By Spite
Not a lawyer, but when my father-in-law and mother-in-law got divorced, she wanted to file jointly for the previous year because they were still married. They would have gotten a decent refund. He insisted on filing separately—despite the fact that he would owe 4k—because he wanted her to also owe the IRS. He did it to "frost her butt."
#16 The Wrong Test To Cheat
My dad is an executive safety officer at the company he works at and one of the company's truck drivers got into an accident. The driver wasn't at fault but it is company policy to test any driver involved in an accident for substances on the same day. When the results came back, the guy failed the test.
The guy disputed the results so they had him retake it. When he finished up in the testing facilities bathroom, the sample he gave them wasn't warm at all. They found a strip of tape and a little vile and cap container. My dad had to be on a conference call with the driver, his manager and some other relevant parties. The guy maintained his innocence and they couldn't conclusively prove the tape or cap meant he cheated the test.
As they were getting off the call, my father just kind of took a shot and asked the driver nonchalantly: "Say, doesn't attaching the vile to your leg hurt? Like, how do you get it off?" and the guy replied without missing a beat: "Oh no, it was just painters tape. It comes off easy and didn't hurt at all." There was like five seconds of dead air after that. The company was able to fire him without any trouble.
#17 Three-Way Fight
I was involved in a custody case where a wife cheated on her husband and had a child as a result. She let husband believe the child was his until she was about five years old. To stop him from getting custody, she convinced the biological father to try to get custody, thinking that if he won, she would wind up with the child.
It became a huge three-way fight, with multiple sets of grandparents involved. Attorneys fees skyrocketed because the case would have been pretty quick otherwise. She couldn’t pay her attorney and tried to get the biological dad to do so, which made things even messier. Basically, until now, there still isn’t an agreement that all parties will follow. They are in and out of court every year or so. She screwed herself.
#18 A Real Jerk
There’s a lawyer in my town who has a reputation for being a real jerk. He left a very successful firm to go off on his own. He and the firm negotiated which clients he would take, and how eventual fees from those clients would be divided. All seemed fine and dandy.
As soon as he was out the door, he sued his old firm saying the deal was unenforceable and that he should get 100% of the fees from the clients who came with him. He lost, then appealed, then lost again, then appealed to the state Supreme Court where they shut him down and, in extremely diplomatic language, pretty much called him a jerk.
#19 Don't Burn Bridges Too Early
I never get people who burn bridges for short-term gain. I see it all the time at work. Like, someone gets a job in a new dept and decides to say everything they've ever want to their old boss. But then a couple of months later they realize it's difficult to do their new job when they've torched their own reputation and turned department heads against you just because you wanted some pretty revenge.
#20 Misogyny Will Get You Nowhere
One time, I saw an indigent defendant who was in custody tell the judge his public defender wasn't working hard enough and he wanted the judge to appoint different counsel. The judge asked him what specifically was the problem and he said, "I don't want a female lawyer. I need a man who can take charge and fight for me" or something very similar to that."
The judge, also female, told him that wasn't how it worked. Then, he started yelling and getting into specifics about his public defender. The judge got annoyed and eventually gave in. "Fine, I'll appoint another attorney for you, but because you are not satisfied with your attorney and I need time to appoint you new counsel, I am not going to hear any other issues today. I will reset your case."
A few days later, the judge sent the defendant notice of his newly appointed attorney, who happens to also be female, and notice of the case reset for six weeks. The case was originally set for a bond hearing and the DA and his PD had agreed to release him on an unsecured bond, meaning he would have gotten out that day. But because of his temper tantrum, he had to wait another six weeks in jail just to have another female attorney represent.
#21 Child Support Woes
I've seen a parent use non-existent discipline as a tool to win over their teenage child so that the child will choose to live with that parent. That parent will, in turn, receive child support from the other parent. It boils my blood seeing someone allowing their 15-year-old child to drop out of school, get tipsy every day, and do just about every negative thing you could do to a kid, just so they don't have to pay $100 in child support a month.
Child support amounts in my jurisdiction are relative based upon the paying parent's situation, income, schooling, assets, etc. The party who won custody were deadbeats working part-time, under-the-table seasonal employment. Another unfortunate part of the whole ordeal was the party that was losing their child was a stand-up person who worked. Meaning that, since they weren't deadbeats and reported their income, the child support payments they had to make to the deadbeat was in the realm of $1,000.
#22 The Dumbest Criminal
Not my case but still my favorite story. A dude screwed himself over when he went to a jury trial for a burglary charge and wore the same, distinct sweatshirt he wore the night he committed the crime. Kind of hard to argue the guy in the video isn't your client at that point. Needless to say, he was convicted and spent a few years in DOC.
#23 The Worst Ex-Wife
The ex-wife was a lawyer and represented herself. The ex-husband had a pretty bad lawyer. She kept hauling things back to court trying to get more benefits from him and his lawyer just let it keep happening, despite the fact that it was destroying his life. Finally, the ex-wife's father (also a lawyer) asked to meet with the judge and mentioned a few things that he knew were going on...
One of the children was manic-depressive and the ex-wife would take him off his meds before it was the ex-husband's turn for custody. The child abuse allegations were from the ex-husband trying to restrain the child during a manic episode because he wasn't medicated. The ex-wife had intentionally timed the child abuse allegation to fall just before the holidays so the ex-husband couldn't see the kids for Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas. She bragged to the family that it would do the maximum emotional damage possible doing it then.
The ex-wife had forged documents to overstate the ex-husband's income when alimony was being determined. Oh... and the ex-wife was sleeping with the ex-husband's lawyer.
#24 Think Twice, Maybe?
Prosecutor here. I showed up for a bond hearing one morning and the defendant asked the judge if he could say something. The first words out of his mouth were: "Hey judge, like, the reason I hit her was that she disrespected me." He did not prevail.
#25 Good Connections
I once went to traffic court for various tickets. I was not a responsible automobile owner back then. Anyway, on the advice of a friend, I hired an attorney who specialized in traffic court. Best decision I ever made. I got called up in front of the judge, so I start on my story and the judge just interrupts me. "Hold on. Did you hire this guy?"
He pointed to my lawyer. "Yes your honor," I replied. "Then please shut up and let him do his job." The judge, my lawyer and the prosecutor all know each other on a first-name basis and my lawyer ended up getting me a good deal where I paid a minimal fine. The judge closed the case by simply saying, "Thanks, next".
#26 Arsonist's Confession
My attorney is pretty old, so he needs me to help him find papers and stuff in the courtroom. As a legal assistant, I go over for all domestic and criminal cases. We had a custody case where the mom was already screwed because she was literally picked up by a bounty hunter while the dad was there getting their daughter for visitation.
Anyway, the dad’s new wife got on the stand and testified that the mom, the defendant, threatened to blow their house up. The mom got on stands and said, “I didn’t threaten to blow your house up. I threatened to blow you up.”
#27 Bad T-Shirt Choice
A woman showed up to court in an, "It's party time, witches! Drink up!" t-shirt. She was there for her first appearance on a third DUI charge. The judge was not in a humorous mood that day.
#28 Counterproductive Admission
I had a guy admit to being tipsy when he totaled his car and put himself in the hospital... during a probation violation hearing for something completely unrelated. The cops picked him up at the hospital when he was discharged, then he started cussing at them. Nobody asked him why he got in the accident. There weren't even DUI charges against him related to the accident. He had just stopped showing up to his probation meetings, so a warrant was put out.
But he was kind enough to run his mouth for five minutes and admit to a bunch of stuff he shouldn't have admitted to. When asked if I wanted to make any closing remarks, I said something like, "No, your honor. The record is crystal clear why the state is requesting the defendant to have his sentence reinstated."
#29 Sad Ending
I worked as a public defender for six years and definitely had a handful of clients that were A-ok with being in jail. The streets aren't easy and I worked in a mountain town so the winters could be worse. The saddest case I can think of like that is a client who spent 18 months in before his case was dismissed.
He got out with no family, no money, and he lost essentially everything he had while in jail. He had lost sixty pounds while incarcerated. He was in his early sixties and passed away from hypothermia a few months after his release sleeping in an alley. He weighed 90 pounds when he passed away and had five dollars in his pocket.
#30 Two Fathers And The Wife
Two fathers—one who found out the child wasn't his and another who found out it was actually his—were fighting to stay in that child's life. Unfortunately, the mother was manipulative enough to try and steal away her kid from both men. I feel bad for everyone but the mom. She sounds like the only one not fit to raise a kid. She ended up getting custody.
#31 British Gas v. British Grandparents
British Gas took my grandparents to court for non-payment of bills. My grandparents owned their house from new. They never had gas mains; everything was electric including the heating. There was no connection, no meter, no nothing. Having tried to explain this calmly a few times on the receipt of early bills, my grandfather quite enjoyed his day in court.
#32 "Well, um..."
I knew this witness who had a warrant and the state called her anyways. The first question on the cross was: "Ma'am, are you aware that you have a warrant out for your arrest?" She went nuts. The DA started objecting. The judge cleared the courtroom and then asked what she was objecting to and the DA looked like a sad cat: "Well, um..." It was one of my favorite trials.
#33 Bonding Over D&D
I've been very lucky in my career that VERY few opposing counsels, be they for the State or in minor civil matters, take things personally with me. I'm a very jovial guy and try to get to know them over the course of the cases. There is one prosecutor I currently have cases with where we may disagree on certain issues, but before we hit the bench, we share our respective latest cool D&D moments (we both DM games).
Just recently, he and I had one of the last cases on the docket and we were discussing said sessions. The judge had to interrupt us and said, "If I could get you nerds to stop for a second and do this motion, that'd be nice, I'd like to go to lunch..." Laughs were had. Lawyers that take things personally or get personal with opposing counsel are terrible lawyers and don't belong in the profession, but that's just my opinion.
#34 Believe Facts, Not Acts
It was a lethal tipsy driver case. My boss was representing the family that got hit (the two kids and the wife had died, but the father had not) and they wanted the driver, who was a college student, to be mounted on a wall. This was back before Facebook was commonly used in Court proceedings.
The college student had managed to get the judge's sympathy during the first part of the hearing by saying he was sorry, haunted by the situation, etc. The judge seemed to really be eating it up. Then came my boss, who immediately burned the kid's remorse to the ground by showing numerous Facebook statuses and photos of him binge drinking, partying, and even joking about driving tipsy from the date of the accident up until a night ago.
The kid looked like he was being forced to swallow hot coals and the judge was absolutely livid. Needless to say, the kid had to do way more than just apologize and be remorseful after that.
#35 Second Time's Not A Charm
Police officer, not a lawyer. I’ve had two different people I’ve arrested for DUI show up to court tipsy (not on the same day). The judge was not amused, and both of them were sent straight to jail for a couple of days for contempt. cTheir cases were rescheduled and one of them showed up to court tipsy the second time around. The judge was even less amused for the sequel.
#36 Moral: Honor Your Contracts
A lady brought a frivolous case to get out of a contract she signed. She lost, then sued the attorney and the witnesses for conspiring against her. They got her case dismissed and an award of attorneys fees which she refused to pay. The lawyer recorded it as a lien on her house and scheduled a foreclosure sale, which caused her mortgage lender to declare a default and accelerate entire mortgage balance.
The lawyer also made a side deal with the lender to pay them all proceeds of the sale, then sold her house on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder, then arranged for the sheriff to forcibly eject her onto the street with her belongings. She's homeless now.
#37 Don't Upset The Judge
Well, the guy screwed himself, technically. I'm not a lawyer but I was a witness on the case. My brother was beaten up by a group of guys outside a bar because one of them lived in a place my mom rented out and he tried to evict him for numerous reasons. One day after this beating, they were lipping off to my mom and my brother called him out on it, so the guy and his friend came charging.
My brother had a baseball bat nearby and smacked the guy with it. He ended up getting charged with assault. In court, the guy who got hit came in tipsy and called the judge a bunch of sensitive names. The judge told my brother: "I still have to give you something because you used a baseball bat. How's probation sound?" True story.
#38 Awkward Defense
In a case where a semi-truck driver ran over a grandma and her daughter (leaving two kids without any family), the defense attorney said: “Really, the semi-truck driver is the victim here because he has to live with what he is done.” I don't think that sat very well with the judge or anyone else in the courtroom.
#39 Conniving For Custody
I heard a story about a woman who had her soon-to-be ex-husband over during a custody battle and seduced him by getting him heavily intoxicated. She led him out to his car, sat him in the driver's seat and then called the police. He got a DWI and he lost his parental rights.
#40 She Tried It
My biological grandmother died 20 years ago of ovarian cancer. She left all her money, trusts, bonds to my grandfather to use and disperse. My grandfather remarried something like 15 years ago to my step-grandma, then he ended up passing away a few years later. My step-aunt is a greedy witch who lives on the opposite side of the country. She's lived off of her mother and my grandfather for all of her life. She'd often take them on "vacation," using my grandparents' money to buy herself things and get a free skiing trip about eight times a year.
After my grandfather passed, my step-grandma had to move where her children lived to get care for dementia. My step-aunt has access to not only her own mother's estate but my grandfather's as well to take care of her needs. That wasn't enough. She decided to try and sue my dad and uncle for their dead biological mother's estate.
My dad is bilaterally paralyzed and in a wheelchair. My uncle is a triple bypass survivor with a pacemaker and multiple stints. Both are on fixed disability income. The court date came and I literally wheeled my dad in while my uncle walked with a cane. My step-aunt is entirely able-bodied and rolling in the millions that my step-grandma and grandfather worked their whole lives to earn.
The judge took one look at the whole picture and she was absolutely denied access to my biological grandmother's estate. We were there for less than an hour.
#41 Same Name Drama
There was a case going on in my town between a father and son that was hilarious. The dad was a big-time personal injury attorney who started his own firm under his name, George Sink. His son ended up joining the family business. Eventually, they had a falling out, so the son went off to start his own firm. He took his dad's name, so the dad ended up suing the son for using the name he gave him to start his own law firm. In the end, the dad actually won.
#42 Pink And Blue
A friend kept meticulous records of how much time his estranged wife spent with their daughter. He used a pink highlighter for the mom and blue highlighter for himself. The mom sailed into arbitration demanding full custody, handsome child support, and the house. The dad pulled out three years worth of year-long calendars. The mom had spent less than a full month with the child in three years. She was not happy with the outcome.
#43 Lawyer v. Lawyer
I was a very new lawyer, with no bankruptcy experience. A partner sent me to the bankruptcy court to try to make a claim as a creditor related to a $50 million building that was being sold. Time and lack of knowledge will prevent me from accurately describing everything that went down, but I will do my best.
The court handled my client's claim very quickly and easily at first. It ruled that we were not a creditor because our claim was against a tenant, which was correct (Note: we had purchased the claim from someone merely to try to somehow wedge our way into buying the property—which was very transparent to the court).
So, I could just set 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 a 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 there in the courtroom.
I have practiced for almost three decades. It was the most badass thing I had ever seen and it was particularly noteworthy because the courtroom was packed with other attorneys.
#44 The Wrong Thing To Admit
There was a high-profile case of a toddler in Australia in the '90s. I'm paraphrasing, but the judge asked the witness (who gave his name as 'Spider') if he was nervous to be giving evidence, and Spider replied, "Gee yeah, I was this morning, your Honor, so I had a few drinks and I feel really calm now."
#45 The Fine Print Matters
I have one of these clauses in my employment contract. Originally, it was worded that I would be terminated if arrested. I had my lawyer change it to convicted and they agreed. Part of the reason? I have significant control over company finances and can commit the company to legally binding contracts, and the legal liabilities that come with them. It gives them a defense should I go rogue and commit criminal acts on behalf of the company or acting like I was doing it on behalf of the company.