A Curse Be Upon...Me?

Yesterday, I experienced a first as a trial lawyer. After I won a jury trial on my motion for directed verdict, the pro se litigant's sister placed a curse upon me, prompting me to over-enthusiastically address the indignities of such an offence. Her uttered incantation aside, I find myself reflecting on some lessons learned about the case.

In short, the case was a simple car crash. The Plaintiff claimed a host of physical and mental injuries all attributed to my now deceased driver/client. Unfortunately for the Plaintiff, she burned through two highly competent attorneys and opted to try her luck on her own, proceeding pro se. More unfortunately for the Plaintiff, she neglected to 1) offer any admissible evidence at trial, 2) offer any medical testimony linking up her injuries to the crash, or 3) offer any evidence or testimony regarding her claimed medical bills. So, after we picked a jury, made opening statements, and the Plaintiff testified, I moved for directed verdict (i.e. to dismiss the lawsuit on legal grounds as the Plaintiff failed to prove the essential elements of her claim.) Although the trial ended favorably for me, the Plaintiff will likely file an appeal, and I may be cursed.

What can be learned from all of this?

First, don't upset someone who freely casts curse-filled spells. Second, don't burn through competent counsel – they tend to know how to present a case to a jury. Third, if you do burn through competent counsel, hire another one. Trying a case to a jury requires some attention to detail, such as knowing the rules of evidence. Finally, follow the rules of civil procedure and the local rules so the court doesn't exclude witnesses and evidence on technical grounds.

My Suspended Lawyer Failed to Show Up

What happens when your attorney fails to show up for trial because he's suspended from practicing law? Oh, and the suspended lawyer apparently never bothered to tell you that he wasn't going to be there or that he was suspended? A woman in Lawrence County, Tennessee recently found out – albeit fairly late in the process.

In Tidwell v. Burkes, two sisters sued each other over whether a real property deed was forged or not. Both sisters had legal representation who participated in the case for about 1 ½ years. Sister A's lawyer, however, was suspended from practicing law at some point before trial (we don't know why). The now suspended lawyer never told his client that he was suspended or that trial was set for September.

What does the trial court do on the day of trial? It moves on and makes Sister A try her case with no lawyer!

Sister A testified that her lawyer never told her about the trial and that she didn't learn about the suspension until that same morning. She pleaded with the court that she wasn't prepared. The trial court didn't seem concerned with this, finding that because her now suspended lawyer had notice, she did too, and that the court would accommodate the out of state witnesses over her.

Obviously, Sister A lost, but she hired new counsel who appealed. The court of appeals reversed the trial court, finding that Sister A should have been granted a continuance to hire a new lawyer and that it was error for the trial court to make her try the case.

It will be interesting to see how the case ends up now that both sides appear to have counsel, who aren't suspended, and who likely will show up for the new trial. What's the takeaway? Hire an attorney who you trust and with whom you can communicate effectively.