When Lawyers Can’t Agree..


One of my favorite trips to court is on a busy family docket day.  One reason is that it is fun, is I get to run into so many lawyers that I happen to know from the area, all dressed-up and looking clean and smelling nice.  Most lawyers are on their best behavior in a courthouse.  There are usually lots of smiles and handshakes all around.  No hard feelings, we are all colleagues when we stand in front of the bench – the great equalizer.  Another reason is that it can serve as a reminder to me and to my clients of how truly different their path to divorce is from many of the other cases we see around us.

I was asked to help out on a case recently. The lead attorney was on vacation, and my job was to go to court, meet opposing counsel, and pick a date for the next hearing.  I reviewed the file. There had been a hearing scheduled in mid-May, but our client would not be able to attend, because he was scheduled for spinal surgery the same day.  We had a doctor’s note in the file advising the client that he should expect to be incapacitated for 6 weeks following the surgery.

No judge is likely to order a hearing while a client is recovering from surgery. So, I knew that the continuance would be granted. It was just a question of comparing calendars with the opposing attorney and finding a mutually agreeable date.  Since the lawyer would not return my phone calls, and did not respond to a letter I sent looking for his dates, I figured he was just busy, and that we would be able to talk in the hallway at the courthouse.

The day of our hearing arrived. I went to court, saw all my lawyer friends, and found the attorney I needed, we can call him Attorney Ferdinand.  I showed him the letter, and asked if he would be available the first week of July.  To my shock, he responded by offering me two weeks – the beginning of June.  I pointed at the words on the page, thinking he might have missed them, 6 weeks, I showed him.  My client will be ready in 6 weeks.

“No,” Attorney Ferdinand said, “he just can’t work for 6 weeks. He can come to court.”

“Really?” I asked.  “What kind of work does the client do?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.  “But if it is laparoscopic surgery…”

I looked at the paper again, wondering where it said laparoscopic.  I did not see any description of the type of surgery.  I asked Attorney Ferdinand to point it out to me.

“Oh, I don’t know what type of surgery it is, but if it were laparoscopic…”

So, to my shock, we wound up having to wait in the courthouse another 30 minutes until a judge could see us.  We stood before the Judge, who granted our continuance and told us to meet with the clerk to get a date.

Another hour passed before the clerk was able to meet with us.  He took one look at the doctor’s note, looked at the court’s busy docket, and gave us the date of September 15th.  Not the two weeks Attorney Ferdinand wanted, not the 6 weeks I had expected, but 5 months.  Plenty of time for my client to heal. . .   and for Attorney Ferdinand to cool his own heels.

So, the family savings got depleted by $1000 and instead of the 6 weeks both clients could live with, his client had to wait an additional 3 and a half months.

Well, not really. I wrote a letter that afternoon making a reasonable suggestion to my client.  He showed it to his wife. She told her lawyer to agree to it rather than wait 5 months, and the hearing never happened.

I will never really know Attorney Ferdinand’s motivation that day, but I do not think that his client benefitted from him taking such a hard line.

What We Love:  Sometimes lawyers (or their clients) make no sense, but the court frequently gets it right, anyway.

– Sharon Oberst DeFala

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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