Recently, I attended two pre-trial conferences in geographically separate courts. I love pre-trials. They offer an opportunity for opponents to sling inadmissible mud at each other in the presence of the court with impunity. The events are always noteworthy, as they take place out of earshot of a stenographer, and are therefore juicier than the usual arid proceedings.
At the first of these pre-trials, there was an added enticement: a large bowl of candy, seated temptingly between the opponents on the table in chambers. The case involved an attorney I had faced before. He required placation with doughnuts, and a three-hour face-to-face conference to resolve objections to discovery in that case. But I digress.
My opponent asserted, unusually, that rather than the economic damages, his client’s loss of her ability to pursue her hobby as the alleged result of the vagaries of balancing on a large rubber therapy ball were the most profound of the damages. They militated, he said, in favor of a voluntary payment of a rather exorbitant number, followed by many zeroes. In the hallway, he waggled his finger at me to drive home the point that he believed the jury would hate my client, and adore his own.
The pre-trial was unusual in that, for the first time in a very long while, the court appeared to think along the same lines as I did in terms of liability, causation and damages. In fact, the court’s assessment of the Plaintiff’s chances of success at trial was materially more pessimistic than my own. Buoyed by the support, I offered the Plaintiff’s counsel all the money I had in my wallet to settle the case. He considered the offer briefly before finally agreeing to mediation.
I tried this tactic once before, in a case where the Plaintiff’s attorney, who had handled several dozen cases on behalf of his client, failed to heed that the client was a convicted felon. Further, that client also lied about having been a guest of the State and a consumer of its famous cheese sandwiches on more than one occasion during his deposition. The Plaintiff in that case, it should be noted, did not appear for the trial. Perhaps he was … detained.
The second pre-trial was the scene of the hands-down winner of the illustrious My Dog Ate My Homework Just Before the House Burned Down Excuse for Failing to Comply with the Practice Book Award, known colloquially as “The Doggy.” The stated reason for the delay in this case was that the attorney in question had another case with a similar name in which he had actually done everything he was supposed to have done in compliance with the scheduling order, meanwhile believing that that case was this case. OK. I could have fallen victim to a similar error myself – but would not have lived long enough to confess to it in the presence of one or more witnesses. I would also presently be employed as the person who sweeps up popcorn in the movie theater if anyone had found out about it. Here was my opposing counsel, glumly ‘fessing up. It was a treat.
Another thing I love about my job is requests to revise. These pleadings, which are dinosauric in historical terms and epic in length, provide me with an opportunity to do what most writers secretly long to, but rarely get the chance to do: edit some other poor creature’s manuscript! I get to point out grammatical errors, syntactical mishaps, trim repetitious assertions and gross deviations from clarity.
Even though my requests to revise are usually denied, I take a perverse and egomaniacal pleasure in their preparation. I can always insist that I was just trying to help. I genuinely hope that the request to revise does not go the way of the demurrer or the special appearance. It is a satisfying way to spend a day.
Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tansky & Young in Hartford.