The Uncivil Litigator
Article Date: Monday, March 28, 2011
Written By: Anonymous
Several years ago, I was involved in a very contentious piece of litigation. My opposing counsel was, to put it mildly, difficult. As an example, his client, who was in New Jersey, just refused to produce documents to me in North Carolina. I offered to pay for the copying and the shipping, but to no avail. This went on for months. My client didn’t have much money, and I’d taken the case on contingency.
The prospect of flying to New Jersey to inspect documents was just too expensive. When I had a death in the family, and had to go to Pennsylvania for the funeral, I jumped on the opportunity to make a side trip to New Jersey to review the documents. At that point, opposing counsel insisted that the responsible party could not be there that day and claimed that it was therefore impossible for me to review the documents then. Of course, when my client called the place of business that same day, he was able to reach the allegedly unavailable party immediately.
In the same case, opposing counsel moved to dismiss my client’s lawsuit on the basis of an agreement to arbitrate. It’s a long and complicated story, but to make it brief, I won at the trial level, and his motion was denied. He appealed, and I won at the Court of Appeals. He appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. In the intervening time, I moved forward with the litigation below.
Eventually, we went to court-ordered mediation. At the mediation, we settled the case for six figures. We signed the memorandum of settlement, and opposing counsel signed for his clients, who without any notice or permission failed to show up. When it came time to execute formal documents, however, he sent me a settlement agreement with all kinds of new, non-negotiated terms. Suddenly, the money was to be delivered to my client over the course of six years, there were all sorts of conditions, and my client had to take on totally new obligations. When I told opposing counsel that we would not agree to the new terms, he refused to move forward with the settlement. Naturally, I filed a motion to enforce the settlement. Just as naturally, the judge was shocked by the other party’s refusal to do what it had promised to do, and ordered it to pay the money as promised.
Around that same time, the appeal of the denial of the original motion to dismiss came on for hearing at the Supreme Court. Despite my protests that the matter had been settled, opposing counsel refused to withdraw the appeal. I ended up having to argue it, and the Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and remanded. In the meantime, opposing counsel filed a new appeal of the order enforcing the agreement.
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but eventually, the right thing sometimes happens. I won at the appellate level, and my client got paid. But I’ll never forget the awful experience of dealing with that other lawyer.
Please send in your anecdotes and war stories about the annoying, rude, or obnoxious events (and/or people) in your legal life. Send them anonymously, please, to spare the perpetrator from public embarrassment. (And us all from a possible defamation suit!). We want to hear from you. E-mail your stories to email@example.com. And let us all remember to behave like adults. After all, you wouldn’t want to become the next person to be featured in our column!
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