Blaming it on the Judge
May 10, 2017 § 3 Comments
I am totally comfortable with the fact that one side in nearly every case that I decide is convinced that I am: (a) a raving, total, lunatic; (b) an idiot who lacks common sense; (c) a gullible fool duped by the liars on the other side; (d) an ignoramus about the law; (d) “on the take” from the other side or from sinister, unknown vectors; or (e) any combination or all of the above.
I get that. It comes with the territory. It’s part of the reason why I get a paycheck from the state each month. It would be in my job description if I had one.
But what I do not get, and what I totally do not appreciate, is getting blamed for the lawyer’s lapses. It happens, and when I find out about it, it chaps me to no end.
One example occurred several months ago when a frustrated party called the chancery clerk and complained that she was told that I was refusing to set a case for trial. I pulled the file and found that it was a case for contempt and modification that had been pending several months. Neither lawyer had answered discovery, which was overdue. No one had filed a motion for a trial setting. There was no scheduling order. There had been no status conference. Where, then, had the unfortunate client gotten the idea that I was refusing to set the case for trial? Surely not from her lawyer, right?
A judge told me recently that he had a similar experience and set the case for the following Saturday. That nipped that bud.
When I was in practice, several times I had people wanting to hire me for contempts or modifications who had been previously represented by a particular lawyer in town. Their property settlement agreements or agreed judgments were disadvantageous to them, and I asked why they had agreed to those terms in the first place. Their answer every time was that the lawyer had asked for a conference with the court and emerged to report sorrowfully that the judge said either to agree to those terms or else. They felt they had no choice. I can tell you that no chancellor in our district ever did such a thing. I can also tell you that I carefully avoided in-chambers conferences with that lawyer afterward.
When Judge Gene Fair was a chancellor, he refused to allow in-chamber conferences with lawyers alone for that very reason. He either conducted conferences from the bench, or invited the clients into chambers along with the lawyers.
It’s okay to blame a bad outcome for your client on the judge’s bad judgment or ignorance of the law.
It’s not okay to shrug off your lack of attention, or failure to do your job, or inability to negotiate effectively as the judge’s fault.