Wednesday, April 6, 2011

TNJ............. a Questionable Meeting..........

Part One

I had an odd feeling about my court room experiences so far. Most of the time I was not really sure if the judge was listening to what I said or if he was off somewhere else mentally. I felt to some extent like I was not being taken seriously maybe because I was representing myself or maybe it was because he already had his mind made up despite what I had to say. I don't know for sure. I just know I felt like a little tiny fish in a great big ocean with the shark beginning to circle and there was no place to go. I knew the law said I should get all of what I requested but I didn't seem to be able to get that conveyed to the judge. It was not a good feeling.

I'd been warned that judges don't really like those acting pro se in their courts because they take up the court's time with their ignorance. That translates to mistakes and valuable court time lost because pro se's don't know what they're doing . I was trying hard not to be one of those people but even with all my research I'm not sure the court could see I was trying hard to be effective.

On the other hand I had been warned if I did too good a job for myself, some judges wouldn't like that either. They would be resentful they had to spend all that time learning their profession and "who do you think you are in my court" having figured out how to make it work in a few weeks. I didn't feel there was much chance I was in this latter category either because I still felt so off balance and out of place. I had a long way to go before being proficient in court.

No matter what the issue really I felt my experience in court that day would have gone much differently if I'd had an attorney. I worried how I was going to overcome this problem whatever it was. If it was nothing but my confidence, it was getting in the way and needed to be fixed. If it was real, it needed to be dealt with as well.

After leaving the courtroom Dave and I headed to the law library. On the way we began talking about what had happened in court. Dave seemed to think that the judge did grant me all of my requests. I found myself wondering if I had misunderstood the judge or if Dave had but just in case I was correct we needed to go to the law library. I needed to figure out the problems I perceived.

At the law library I did more research about obtaining discovery against protests from opposing counsel. I knew I had seen some kind of information about it but I wanted to be sure I had everything I needed before I began the next phase of my journey through the legal system and discovery. I also did more research about those deadlines for discovery to see if I could figure out exactly when my time would be up and how to get the deadline extended if that's what I needed.

Just like the time before, I asked the law librarians for places to research my topic and I poured over law books. Dave made copies of everything I thought I needed and I spent some time on their computers looking up precedents I didn't have access to at home. By the time we left there, I felt like I was once again on track.

From my time at the law library I learned how to get the rest of the documents I had requested. All I had to do was document my steps and make several serious attempts to get them from opposing counsel including phone calls, emails, letters and faxes. If I made enough tries on all levels, kept accurate records of those attempts including dates, times and contacts, then I should have done the work the court wanted to see. If opposing counsel did not comply after all of that, what I needed to do was do back to the court with my documentation and the precedents that guaranteed me the right to those documents.

The court would have to grant my request or risk me having grounds for appeal. No judge wants to leave the door open for appeals and precedence helps them see those possibilities. If it's already been decided somewhere, then it is what it is. That's the way it looked to me with my requests for documents. I found plenty of precedence to support why I should get them and not one piece to suggest I shouldn't. It looked like an open and shut request to me as long as I followed the steps required by the court.

From my research it looked to me like the reason the judge didn't give me my requests was because I hadn't gone through this process yet. From what I could tell from the information provided by their counsel in her objections to my requests, the business and tax records I requested were actually allowable under the local court rules. If that was the case, the judge had not ruled on them because I hadn't gone through the correct process of requesting them for opposing counsel first. The only time the judge intervenes is when the normal methods have all been exhausted and I hadn't done that part yet.

When I got home I checked in with my "legal counsel" (tongue in check) in the back yard. I knew she would want to know how court had gone. She'd also know how to handle the question that had arisen about court after my conversation with Dave.

Not knowing our local court rules, she could only assume that my new understanding of the issues was correct. I got some specific ideas about time frames to make requests to satisfy the court's expectations before I would go back to court and ask for a ruling from the judge again.

To find out who was right about what happened in court, I would have to call the court clerk. If she didn't have the answer she was the one who could get it from the judge. In the meantime I should consider what I had signed was indeed correct.

The following morning I called the court clerk to tell her I was confused about what the judge had decided. She told me she was quite clear on that BECAUSE the opposing counsel had called the judge later that afternoon and they'd had a long conversation about the hearing. The judge had asked the court clerk to listen in on that conversation as witness to it's content.

According to the clerk the reason for this conversation was opposing counsel had called the judge's chambers earlier in the day to say she had a conflict so she couldn't make court until after mid afternoon (I don't recall the specific time something like 2:30). When the court convened the judge's clerk had forgotten about that message and had called our case when it should have waited until opposing counsel arrived.

The court clerk was clear the judge intended for me to have the admissions I had requested and he also intended for us to work out the rest ourselves. He'd made it clear to opposing counsel he didn't want to be bothered by something that should be able to be worked out between us.

I told the court clerk that I really believed opposing counsel would not give me what I was entitled to receive. She told me I should do everything I could and if it didn't work out I could always come back to court. I knew from the information I had gathered at the law library what route I should go even though I believed in the long run I would be right back where I was asking the court to order them to provide the evidence I requested.

The only thing that might affect this would be if the judge had gotten through to opposing counsel about providing things that should be provided. However, since the judge had told opposing counsel at our first hearing to keep things moving and she hadn't complied, I wasn't going to hold my breath that she would provide the documents I knew I should get. I was going to deal with her at the hostile person I expected her to be.

What I should have done while I was on the phone with the court clerk was to ask about those discovery deadlines. I knew it was fast approaching and I wasn't quite sure how to cope with that. I had been unable to find the information at the law library and I knew I was missing something. Had I remembered in that phone call, I would have saved myself some stress but for now, it was another of those things "I should have done" solving that problem would have to wait.

When I got off the phone I went straight to the back yard to talk to the paralegal. It just didn't seem right to me the judge had talked to the opposing counsel like that on the phone. Even if he had asked the court clerk to witness the call, it just didn't seem right.

I was not alone in my thinking. Both the paralegal and my friend from the big law firm thought there was something wrong with it too. Both advised me to keep track of this information for possible later use.

Even with the pressure I had now applied to BG and WF, I knew the real nightmare would come in the form of my evidence. They still hadn't seen one piece of it. If they thought my requests were a big deal wait until they saw the volumes of paperwork I had already prepared to prove my complaints. Once I had their responses to my admissions requests, I would be well on my way to building an effective winning case.

To be continued..............

Unexpected Loss........

This picture is one of many of the twins we were blessed with here. You can tell from this picture they got pretty comfortable with me in their space. With all the time I spent living in their stall in those early days I guess it is to be expected. It is the filly, Surprise, using me as a pillow while her brother, Trouble, and her mother, Vee, look on.

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  1. Very interesting. Good idea from the paralegal about keeping track of the conversation with the judge. I know with my dealings with the court my attorney and the judge knew each other but the judge didn't act like she knew anything about my case but what happened in court. The attorney and the judge even discussed their families in court.

  2. Those twins are so cute! I bet they are still a handful.

  3. The twins are wonderful. They couldn't be cuter.

    Doesn't sound very impartial and professional for the judge and attorney to be conferring on the phone. It's easy to see why you felt like a little fish in a big ocean with the sharks circling. Thank goodness you had some people on your side and helping you with some of the more legal aspects of what was needed. Not that you didn't do all of the research yourself. But it's still nice to have someone in your corner with advice.

  4. Personally, I do not think the legal system should be so complicated (nor should the tax system, but that's another issue!). Men and women should be welcomed to stand up for themselves and the judges should be more like Solomon!

  5. Weird about the judge calling but... The whole proccess boggles my mind. Love the pic of the twins what cuties!

  6. Easy to see why you felt the way you did. Court can be so confusing and the lawyers seem to know how to work the system in their favor. The wording can be tough to follow too. Good to know about calling the court clerk for clarification afterwards.

    I can see why some of the judges take offense in both ways too. But they are there to uphold the laws and be fair about it and not exactly take sides.

    One thing I have noticed in watching all the court tv type shows, the side that is respectful of the judge and the courts usually wins. The side that is outspoken and tries to push and prove their point does not. But how much of that is purely for the cameras? Anybody's guess.

  7. I would find the court environment so intimidating. Good for you for standing up to it and standing up for yourself. I'm continually impressed by your methodical, thorough approach.

  8. I don't blame for feeling uncomfortable about the judge and opposing counsel having conversations without you. Seems like a conflict of interest to me.

    Any new photos of the twins? How are they turning out?

  9. cut-n-jump: I've been involved in a number of court cases in various ways. Mostly by watching rather than participating, but I have followed a number of cases, some of which ended up being cross jurisdictional and ending up at the US court of appeals. My business partner does expert witness work for a local tech law firm.

    There is a level of deferrment to the judge that is good, but when lawyers are involved they are usually both respectful enough of the judge and the process that what you see on TV isn't that applicable. I suspect the TV judges usually rule in favor of the respectful person, not because they respect the judge/process, but because they're right.

    Court is fascinating to me and a lot of my business requires I know what's going on in the courts. I have read some legal briefs that have made marvel at the creativity of the lawyers and their ability to pull a story together. Even with that level of experience I don't think I could do what MiKael did in pulling this together.

  10. Working pro se is very tough, it's really a foreign world where just a single wrong step can unravel your efforts. I fought a simple traffic ticket, but didn't quite get how to introduce evidence. Even with that I got a hung jury!

    To me courts are such an insider game. It's tough to take it on from the outside...

  11. lauraatkins- That is why I added the part about people acting it up for the cameras. I don't expect what we see on TV is the standard of what everything else is to be measured against. If the attorneys were to behave in a poor manner, they would hopefully be reprimanded accordingly.

    The creativity of an attorney to twist the facts or peoples' perceptions (jury) of the actual events, can make or break a case for them and their clients. Interpretation is a big thing and everyone can look at an object, yet we each still see it a little differently.