Procrastination (But I Digress)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


This morning I was in court to appear before a judge popularly elected in my town. I had met him before he ran for the office of judge and liked him. He is the only judge I know who was not first appointed by the governor and then stayed as an incombent judge, rubber stamped by the voters, which is the ordinary way a person becomes a judge in this state. When the governor is a Democrate, democrates who want to be a judge put in their resumes. When a
Republican is governor, republicans put in their resumes. I went to a seminar--you need 150 recommendations (preferably from other attorneys) to allow your resume to make the cut to actually be considered with the other 600 resumes of people who got their 150 recommendations (or some such other seemingly impossible hurdles). Poltics. It is also a good thing to get a high rating from the state bar. More politics. [I got a rating from a national publication that is widely respected of "B". You know me, I love A's and I was hardily disappointed with a B. Since I did not have a great deal of litigation experience at the time I was rated, I was very suspicious of their methodology and I must comfort myself with the knowledge that although other attorneys rated me a B, I know in my heart of hearts that my approach (non-cut throat, what is the best settlement position for my client, taking transactional costs--time, distress, etc. into account) is the best. But I digress.]

Before court started, the clerk of the court complimented the bailiff because he was conscientious about handing out the note pad to the proper jurors, so that they each got their own. Some bailiffs (the sheriff keeping order in a courtroom) would simply toss the notebooks on any old chairs and the jurors would have to scramble around or use a different person's note pad. Our conscientious bailiff said, he's always ready to help out, even though it's not really his job. His job is simply to keep order--he's not even supposed to answer the phones. What a guy. I mean it--I have called courts many times and if the clerk is too busy to answer the phone, it will ring and ring. A court with a bailiff who will answer the phone and tell you the best time to call back for the clerk is a godsend. But I digress.

Clerks and bailiffs are forbidden by law to give legal advice. This law is strickly enforced and at least in this county, it is very rare indeed for a clerk or a bailiff to speak to a citizen and tell them anything that is not strickly outside the scope of legal advice. They even hesitant to tell lawyers simple matters of procedure. Clerks and bailiffs are extremely knowledgable about procedures and the law, so from society's point of view, this feels like a waste of resources. On the other hand, they appear to be in positions of power to the ordinary person and the fact is they are not lawyers or judges who have extensive training, licensing and in the case of judges are either appointed by an elected official or elected to their posts directly. These protections are in place for a good reason. [I can't tell you how many horror stories I have encountered from people giving their money to paralegals without knowing what they are doing with the paperwork they get. But I digress.]

So I'm in court and the case before mine is being heard. The defendant has filed bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a steel door that comes down from the federal government and stops all pending proceedings. It is even questionable to hold a status conference about a case with a pending bankruptcy, but state judges really don't like to be told how to manage their calenders and they do it all the time. My hero judge asks the other attorney what he would like to do? Good attorney asks for the moon, a 45 day continuance of the status conference to see how the bankruptcy proceeds. Hero judge is ready to grant it when bankrupt citizen says that she's already done what lawsuit is about. Hero judge correctly sees that the whole case can simply be dismissed, but "good" attorney says not so fast, we still want a trial about other issues. So judge (stepping away from hero status) says ok, let's set the trial for 45 days from now. Experienced clerk says, No, you can't do that to judge because there is a bankruptcy. Judge (quickly moving into totally incompetent territory) looks at the bailiff who tells him, no you can't set a trial date when there is a bankrupcy pending. The bailiff!! Judge (rapidly diminishing in my esteem) sets the status conference for 45 days away (perfectly fine given the status quo argument any lawyer worth his salt could make) and then seems to order the defendant to return. You can't do that--there is a bankruptcy. Any lawyer knows that no action can be taken against a debtor while they are in bankruptcy without going through the bankruptcy court. The clerk tried to clarify notice, the judge looks at the bailiff who happily added his two cents and I'm cringing in the background as chaos reins.

I'm so disappointed.

Meanwhile the parties--the ordinary citizens are completely lost and I thought, why can't I just win the lottery and open a little store front to settle disputes like this one. So much trouble for such little disputes. It is my theory that "A" attorneys fight, fight, fight for best monetary result without seeing the big picture about not wasting resources and coming to best solution. I might be in the wrong business, but hopefully I can do more good from within.