[Editor’s Note: Aaron R. Davis is in an undisclosed location, so today we bring you a special guest blog post by Samantha Jackson.]
The following is not meant to be legal advice (et cetera). Truthfully, I’m committing this to text because whenever someone says the word “sue,” my ass begins to twitch.
You can’t sue someone when they cause you minor damage (and by “minor” I mean anything short of “life-altering damage such as paralysis”). All tales suggesting the contrary have been edited for storytelling purposes. If someone won a lawsuit that seems trivial in the retelling, then the teller doesn’t know the truth of the case. A lawyer will not waste his time with a case that a) will not award him a decent payout (for a “bad” lawyer this can be $15,000 – meaning your “win” is $45,000 – but for a decent lawyer we’re talking six figures) or b) cannot be won.
For example, if your grandfather is conned out of your inheritance, that case probably cannot be won because it is very difficult to prove that someone was not of sound mind at the time a decision was made. As an aside, doctors will almost never testify in court, especially if their testimony conflicts with their peers. It’s an unspoken law. Doctors who work with lawyers are virtually on retainer and are exiled from the medical community. It’s like being a “snitch.” Note that this generally applies to all people in all professions.
You can’t sue somebody because they piss you off, kill your cat, steal $500 from you, et cetera. Such a court exists for petty grievances (it’s called Small Claims and they handle person-to-person cases over amounts of $7,500 or less), but it is staffed by the judicial equivalent to cops who give speeding tickets. Nobody wants to work at the bottom of the ladder and nobody wants to oversee litigation for Mrs. Johnson’s broken window.
From the door, they hate you because you are wasting their time with your “silly nonsense.” Most (if not all) small claims litigants meet with a “mediator,” a lawyer on par with a public defender who will do everything in his power to come to an agreement between the parties before they see the “big” lawyer (all judges were once lawyers).
On the plus side, no one is going to sue you for these petty grievances either. People say this all the time and it drives me crazy. Unless someone owes you an excess of $100,000, no court will waste its time with you. In almost all cases, the court and attorney fees would be greater than the winnings. The fees for one lawyer alone are generally over $10,000. It doesn’t make sense to spend $10,000 to win $500, because you’re throwing away $9,500.
You cannot sue big business, nor will any lawyer take your case to sue big business (unless this big business dropped 100,000 barrels of toxic waste over a small town), because the case cannot be won. Be wary of taking people to court who very regularly go to court, because they will have resources and experience you do not have and will bury you (this includes stores, organizations, landlords, et cetera). The court favors the guy who knows what he’s doing, regardless of whether or not he is in the right. Think of law as water that will follow the path of least resistance.
This is the most important thing that no one seems to realize: feelings have no place in a courtroom. It is all about money. Television court is a farce; if you cry in a courtroom, you will be perceived as mentally incompetent and you will lose the case. Second most important thing: do not ever phone in to a hearing unless you are in a body cast. It’s extremely disrespectful, judges hate it and you will lose the case. Of course, you should also dress for the event. If you wear jeans and flip-flops, you are disrespecting the court and you will lose the case. Further, speak to the judge like he is Saint Peter. Do not say “um,” “like,” “dude” or “man.” Speak to him like he is the god-king of all mankind and do not waste one second of his time. He will not like you, but the less reason he has to “hate” you, the better your chances of success will be.
You should not represent yourself in court any more than you should perform your own surgery. It “seems” easy and intuitive, but it isn’t. Forms are unclear, proceedings can be murky and the guillotine can come down on you with frightening speed. If you do not have the money for an attorney, seek legal assistance. The most common complaints are covered by county services.
Court is S-L-O-W. Lawyers have three years from the date of an incident to file with the courts and most lawyers will wait two years and 11 months before filing. They will not return your calls and you will have to wait. It sucks, there is no alternative and no one cares about any fees/interest/pain you may accrue while waiting.
You will not see anything change. The insurance company of the doctor who broke your child’s neck will give you whatever amount of money is appropriate (if your child is not permanently disabled, it will be a pittance) and the doctor will go on breaking necks. Again, feelings are irrelevant.
Being a judge used to mean something; it was awarded to the most deserving attorneys. Now it’s a popularity contest, so there are “guidelines” to control the idiocy – minimum and maximum penalties that can be levied. Judges are like cops; once in a while, one has a good day. Most of them are not good people. All of them care more about their lunch than they do about your livelihood.
If you are in doubt about anything, seek a second opinion – even if it’s the Internet. Lawyers are not gods and can be wrong about very important things (for example, if you are charged with a “group” crime (vandalism, robbery, et cetera) and your lawyer suggests you bury your friend, bear in mind that what happens to one party happens to the whole group – you sink or swim together). Lawyers also lie, manipulate and never have your best interests in mind – they want the money, and if they can’t get the money, they want to get out of there as soon as possible.
Do not lie to your attorney. Tell him the whole ugly truth, or it will bite him in the ass and he will feed you to the wolves. Do not forget any facts and do not fail to bring him any and all paperwork on the issue. However, do take care not to waste his time. Attorneys are often likened to pit bulls for good reason and after a certain period of time that behavior will overcome their personality and they will not be able to turn it off. They are not nice or gentle people; do not take it personally. If they are soft touches, bear in mind they will also be soft with your enemies.
If you are charged and the case is dismissed but you are charged again, that “dismissed” case will be taken into consideration and you will probably be regarded as a repeat offender. In certain cases (such as DUIs) this can mean the difference between fees and prison.
Court is a big, slow, cumbersome, but necessary evil and is never a good tool for vengeance. Do not take someone seriously when they threaten you with “legal action.” This is an empty threat used by stupid people who think you know as little about the law as they do.
“Knowing the judge” only works in television. Corrupt litigators are charged by a state ethics committee who take their work very seriously. You will not get special treatment. That said, some lawyers are certainly better at presenting convincing arguments and are more knowledgeable in the law, which is why all lawyers do not charge the same fees.
In court, whoever you are, you talk too much. Answer the question in as few words as possible and do not ever offer information that is not requested. Do not “guess,” “estimate” or otherwise provide information that cannot be confirmed. Also, this is absolutely not the time to make yourself look like more than you are. If, for example, you suggest that you are Chuck Norris, then your plea of self-defense will go out the window.
If you need an attorney, do not look in the phone book. Call the state board and ask for a referral; it is free and you can see as many lawyers “for free” as you like. A lawyer does not start working for you until you sign a retainer.
This post was brought to you by an idiot who suggested to me that she was going to bring someone to court over $200.