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Legal Anecdotes

The Fifth Streeters Tale

This is an actual event which occurred in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and has become a local legend. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.

The term “Fifth Streeter” is a derogatory term used when referring to attorneys whose practices are located very near the Superior Court in the District of Columbia, most of which are on Fifth Street. Many of these practitioners perform the necessary functions of taking court appointments and servicing clients with small matters. Due to the large governmental, corporate, and lobbying presence in the District, such small practitioners are not held in high regard.

A certain Fifth Streeter was involved in a trial. The opposing counsel is a local practitioner who is blind and uses a seeing eye dog to safely guide himself. During the trial, the Fifth Streeter moved to admit a document into evidence. The Judge asked if he had shown the document to the opposing counsel. Taken aback, the Fifth Streeter was unsure how to comply with the Judge’s request. Not wasting a moment or an opportunity, the Fifth Streeter approached the opposing counsel’s table and placed the document under the nose of the seeing eye dog. Neither the Judge nor the opposing counsel appreciated the gesture, but this courthouse urban legend remains.

The Judge Who Dropped A Bomb on Himself

A now retired administrative law judge from the Social Security Office of Hearings and Appeals was well known for his bombastic demeanor. All too often he would deliberately bait and berate Claimant’s during hearings. On one particular day the Judge was particularly irascible when one of our clients entered the hearing room. The client walked with jerking motion and was chewing as he sat down. Not wasting a moment to intimidate, the Judge bellowed: “Sir, are you chewing gum in my Court!” The client calmly replied that he was chewing his tongue.

Since the Judge had not fully reviewed the file prior to hearing, he failed to learn that the client suffered from schizophrenia and had been medicated with haldol for many years. During this time, the long term use of haldol had resulted in tardive dyskinesia, also known as “Fly-Catch,” a condition which is characterized by uncontrollable muscle twitches and movements.

Recognizing his mistake, the Judge quietly ended the hearing within a few minutes without any other insensitive comments and benefits were granted.

When No Accommodation is Reasonable

A Social Security client suffered from terrible panic attacks which were aggravated by entrapment in closed surroundings, especially elevators. The Office of Hearings and Appeals for which she was scheduled to have her case heard was located in a secured building where the stairwells were locked. The Administrative Law Judge in the case refused to hear the case in the lobby or at a remote location, insisting that the Claimant would need to use the elevator or the matter would be dismissed. After much cajoling, the Claimant consented to enter the elevator along with her boyfriend, one of our attorneys and a Social Security employee. The panic attack started as soon as the elevator door closed and the Claimant remained in a nonresponsive state for the entirety of the hearing. Fortunately, her boyfriend was able to provide helpful testimony. In order to buttress the case, our attorney called the Social Security employee to testify. Never hearing such a request before, the Judge asked if he could acquire the testimony later when the employee was on break. The Judge did so and the client received her benefits.

Elvis Lives

At a medical malpractice trial, a trial attorney was faced with an unfriendly and experienced medical expert. The expert was known to the trial attorney, who had faced him before. The attorney was familiar with the expert’s tendency to tout his experience by reminding juries that he was involved in the autopsy of Elvis Presley. In addition, the expert was seemingly unflappable and spoke with an authoritative monotone. In order to win the case, the attorney knew he had to rattle this expert. But, how?

At the last minute, the trial attorney decided to utilize a new line of questioning as follows:

Attorney:Good morning, doctor. You remember me don’t you.

Expert:Yes I do.

Attorney:You have testified in other cases and have been examined by me before.

Expert:Yes I have.

Attorney:After all this time, I just wanted to ask you one question.

Expert:What is that?

Attorney:Is Elvis really dead?

(Causing immediate laughter from the jury and judge who had to turn his chair around to hide his smiling face)

Following this original questioning, the attorney proceeded to take apart the expert’s testimony. The expert could no longer keep his composure and was unsure (or had become unsure) of his testimony. Black became white. Night became day.

Not to leave well enough alone, the attorney had a final question for the expert.

Attorney:By the way, doctor, are you still sure about Elvis?

(Again the jury and judge convulsed with laughter)

Greatest Historic ExchangeDuring the course of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial at which time Clarence Darrow defended a school teacher against the criminal offense of teaching evolution in a classroom, the special prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan (a vice-presidential candidate and stalwart religious conservative) took the stand to testify about and defend Biblical Creationism as literally interpreted from the text. The following is a partial transcript of the historic exchange between these legal titans:

D:Do you think the earth was made in six days?

B:Not six days of twenty-four hours.

D:Doesn’t the Bible say so?

B:No, sir.

D:Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?

B:Yes.

D:Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam’s Rib?

B:I do.

D:Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?

B:
No sir, I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.

D:Do you think the sun was made on the fourth day?

B:Yes.

D:And they had an evening and morning without the sun?

B:I am simply saying it is a period.

D:The creation may have been going on for a long time?

B:It might have continued for millions of years.

D:Yes. All right. (Then he continued after a long pause) Do you believe the story of the temptation of Eve by the serpent?

B:I will believe just what the Bible says. Read the Bible and I will answer.

D:All right, I will do that. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow though shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

That is right, isn’t it?

B:I accept it as it is.

D:“And God said to the serpent, Because thou hast done this, though art cursed above all cattle and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly thou go and dust shall eat all the days of thy life.
Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?

B:I believe that.

D:Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?

B:No, sir.

D:Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?

B:No, sir, I have no way to know.

(Laughter from the audience, then turning to the Judge) Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur the Bible, but I will answer his questions, I shall answer them at once. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee…

D:I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.

The Lighter Side of DarrowDuring his career, Clarence Darrow was indicted in Los Angeles and faced prosecution. He learned that the prosecutor intended to introduce a photograph of Darrow which purportedly showed him leaving the house of a beautiful local widow at dawn. As Darrow bemoaned his fate, a friend optimistically stated that Clarence’s enemies would always believe the worst of him, and his friends will know the photograph is a fake. When Darrow asked how his friends would gain such knowledge, his companion replied that Clarence would never leave the home of a beautiful widow at dawn. He would stay for breakfast.

Small Town JusticeIn a trial, a small town prosecutor called his first witness to the stand, an local elderly woman. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Smith, do you know me?”

She answered, “Why, yes I know you, Mr. Jones. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie. You cheat on your wife. You manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you!”

The prosecutor was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he proceeded to point across the room and asked, “Mrs. Smith, do you know the defense attorney?” She again replied, “Why, yes I do. I’ve known Mr. Handley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and has a drinking a problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention, he has cheated on his wife with three different women.”

The defense attorney nearly died from shame. At this time, the Judge brought the courtroom to silence and asked both counsel to approach the bench. In a hushed voice he said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt.”

True Family StoryScott’s mother’s side of the family comes from Albany, New York. Although it is the little known capital of the state, it had a small town feel when she was growing up. My great grandfather had been a prominent attorney in the area for many years. His son, my grandfather, remained in the area to work and raise his family.

One day, my grandfather was called for jury duty. He was assigned to an motor vehicle accident case. When the judge asked if anyone in the jury knew any of the person involved in the case, my grandfather rose. The judge asked by grandfather who he knew. My grandfather stated that he knew the defense counsel since the lawyer had been a friend of his own father for many years (Scott received his middle name from his great-grandfather, who was a prominent upstate New York attorney). The judge asked if my grandfather knew anyone else. My grandfather said he also knew the defense counsel from many social events in which he attended. The judge asked if my grandfather knew any other person who was part of the proceeding. My grandfather stated that he knew the Defendant, who had been his high school principal. The judge then asked, “Well, do you know the Plaintiff?” My grandfather answered affirmatively as the Plaintiff was his family’s tailor. Following this exchange, the judge asked my grandfather, “Could there anything more you know about this case?” My grandfather replied: “Yes, the tailor was on his way to my house to drop off my son’s pants that he had repaired when the accident occurred.” Needless to say, my grandfather did not serve on that particular jury.

 

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