Trial and Error
by Stacy Chesney
When the Client Ran the Show
My first client was a courtroom veteran. He knew some tricks and was determined to get his way. I was a rookie lawyer, actually only a law student in the DU Defender Program. I thought the client was the boss.
"The cop’s not here. Ya gotta move for dismissal," he whispered hoarsely as he scooted in next to me over two hours late for his trial in Denver County Court, Courtroom 186F.
"How can I do that? I’ve had to beg Judge Conley pass your case four times already."
"Hey, I’m the client, you do what I say. The judge will dismiss. I’ve seen this happen!"
I looked to see if his eyes were bloodshot. He didn’t smell like he had been drinking.
Earlier, I had hoped Judge Conley would not get around to calling the case so soon. My client’s traffic case had been one of the longest pending matters in the program. We had a "unique" administrative law argument; we had challenged the underlying order suspending his driving privileges to oppose the driving under suspension charge. The hearing on that argument had been reset a bunch of times. The case had been passed around five deputy DAs. We thought we had a great point. Judge Conley finally heard that issue and bluntly denied our motion to dismiss with very little comment. Now we were faced with trial, surrounded with pessimism and the prospect of mandatory jail time.
Judge Conley came around to me with a determined glare. I rose, hesitated and then blurted out, "Your honor, defendant moves to dismiss. The people are unable to proceed with proof."
"Counsel, are you kidding me? The officer was here when this was first called. And I think the officer will be here for your client’s new trial. I see that he has finally showed up. Your motion is denied. See my clerk for the new date."
I walked toward my client with the trial slip extended. He didn’t seem to blink, but I started pondering the difference between wants versus needs.
It’s Only Fair
One day, many years past, I was sitting in Denver County Court (civil division) waiting for my case to be called and listening to the lawyers who were presenting before the Honorable Larry Bohning (one of the kinder and more patient judges on the Denver Bench at that time). Dennis Brinn was seeking a default judgment and asked the court to award him attorneys fees in addition to the damages. Judge Bohning looked through the court file and asked Mr. Brinn, "Is there an agreement or a statute you can direct me to, Counsel, which provides for an award of attorneys fees?" "No," said Mr. Brinn. "Then on what basis are you requesting an award of these fees?" asked the Court. "Well, Your Honor, somebody has to pay them!" replied Mr. Brinn.