Trial and Error: When bad things happen to good lawyers
by Stacy Chesney
To make tasks like document review or checking e-mails more bearable, I bought ipod speakers for my office. One morning, I came in a little later than usual, and was really rushed. I put on my iPod speakers and ran out of my office and down the hall to grab some coffee. Everyone was already in their offices.
As I began walking down the hall, I was startled by P. Diddy’s "Bad Boy for Life" booming and vibrating — from my office. I ran all the way down the hall, into my office and frantically tried to turn off the music, but it took at least 20 seconds of "Bad Boy for Life" lyrics playing for everyone to hear before I could silence the rap. People looked at me a little differently for the rest of the day.
Is There a Draft in Here?
One afternoon I returned from court and walked through the office, greeting everyone as I went. Unbeknownst to me, I had ripped my skirt in the back, and several people quickly alerted me to the issue. Fortunately, there was a secretary in our office who could stitch up my skirt, and I went into my office and shut the door and waited while she mended my skirt. While I was waiting in my office, as a joke, my boss’s secretary paged me and said that the boss wanted to see me in his office — stat. I had to inform her that I was not appropriately dressed to meet with the boss, nor could I go in with "just a blanket." The jokes continued, as the following day a police officer came to "arrest" me on three counts of indecent exposure.
I spent the second day of a week-long jury trial wearing blue suit pants with a grey suit jacket. My client didn’t even say anything until I brought it up the next day.
C.O.D. Pizza & Port-o-Potties, Oh My!
My first "real job" out of law school was as a public defender. Certain clients were assigned to me, such that neither I, nor the client, could "fire" the other. Unbeknownst to me, one such disgruntled, mentally unstable client started ordering items for delivery at my office, c.o.d. First, a pizza. Confused, I sent it back, saying I didn’t order it. Next, airline tickets to the East Coast (the travel agent actually showed up at my office). I gave her the same spiel. Before I knew it, a performing clown was juggling in my office. A few other items came, but the last takes the cake. A port-o-potty delivered to my office doorstep. I sent it back, chagrined. The laughter from the other attorneys in the office resounded for weeks.
Jim Doyle, a long-time practicing Denver lawyer, gave me my first job in 1963, fresh out of University of Denver Law School. A friend of mine, Clif Kruse, also had recently started practicing in Colorado Springs. Clif contacted me with a referral to a fellow in Boulder who needed a lawyer.
In those days, we were beginning to use a dictating machine. Lois, Jim’s secretary, transcribed from her own machine. I dictated a letter to Clif, responding to him that I thought he would be better off using a Boulder attorney. Lois, however, presented me with a finished product that read: "Clif, I would suggest that you contact a bolder attorney to handle this matter." (Emphasis supplied.)
Let’s face it: Jim’s secretary knew how to practice law. She treated me kindly, however this instance probably revealed her true assessment of me.
When I was a new lawyer, my boss, Al Zarlengo Jr., took me to court with him to show me how to argue a motion. We were in front of Zita Weinshenk, a Denver District Court judge of exemplary grace and patience who later would be appointed to the federal bench. Al was arguing a procedural point and referred to a local court rule. Judge Weinshenk interrupted him:
Judge: Mr. Zarlengo, I’m reading that rule and I don’t see where it says what you say it says.
Al: It’s right there in section 1, Your Honor.
Judge: No it isn’t, Mr. Zarlengo. Are you sure you have the correct local court rules?
Al: Says right here on the cover, Your Honor, "Local Court Rules for the First Judicial District."
Judge: Mr. Zarlengo, this is the
Al: Oh, well, it’s always been
You Snooze, You Lose
I was clerking for a U.S. District Court judge in the early 1970s. During the last two weeks of my clerkship the judge decided (correctly) that I wouldn’t be accomplishing much, so, he had me sit through a very boring two-week securities fraud jury trial and had me take notes (something he had never done before in my clerkship). Not much of interest happened very often in the trial, so I brought several Federal Reporter volumes into the courtroom to read cases on other research issues I was working on. These heavy books were piled up on my desk at the side of the courtroom.
During one particularly boring afternoon of testimony I was reading a case with my elbow on the table and my chin in my hand. I fell asleep and my elbow shot out and knocked over six or eight volumes of federal cases. The sound was deafening and everyone in the courtroom — lawyers, jurors, the judge — just stared at me. It was like a Southwest Airline ad: "Want to get away?"
The judge, who had a wonderful, if cruel, sense of humor said nothing and gleefully let the silence drag on as I sheepishly recovered the books from the floor. After a long pause, he looked down at me with a definite twinkle in his eye and said: "Are you ready to proceed?" All I could say was, "Ready when you are, Your Honor."
A Shoe-fire Argument
A prosecutor was giving her closing argument to the jury in an assault case. The victim in the criminal matter had been kicked; the prosecutor was attempting to relive the act itself and mimicked the defendant kicking the victim. As she swung her leg forward, her shoe flew off across the courtroom. Luckily, no one was injured.