Patterico's Pontifications


The Kafkaesque Courthouse

Filed under: Buffoons,General,Law — Justin Levine @ 4:23 pm

[posted by Justin Levine – not Patterico]

A true story of bureaucratic hell at a filing window located in a Southern California courthouse.

30 Responses to “The Kafkaesque Courthouse”

  1. So, ok, why didn’t you go to the Chief Clerk or to the Supervising Judge? You, a lawyer, got into an argument with a non-lawyer? Why did you have to leave the courthouse and pay the second parking fee? Doesn’t the courthouse have a law library so you could make a Xerox of the statue, step up before the Supervising Judge and get a “No Fee Filing” order? With all due respect, being a lawyer is not just a profession. It’s a status. Especially in a courthouse. You have to learn how to use it.

    nk (bfc26a)

  2. Simple – I wasn’t sure about the law the first time I went up to the window. I ahd never dealt with WV-110 forms before. Does every courthouse have a law library that is accessable to attorneys where you can xerox things? News to me. But maybe that’s the case. I left the courthouse to access computers where I could look up and confirm what I thought I had read earlier.

    Also – News to me that you can simply ask to see a Supervising Judge at a moment’s notice and get a “no filing fee” on the spot like that whenever you have fee dispute with the filing clerk. But hey, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time.

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  3. Yikes. Yes, that’s what Supervising Judges are there for. If Court is in session you ask his clerk to make you an “add on” on the call or if you’re lucky enough to be there on miscelaneous orders you just join the line. If he’s holding a trial, you wait until there’s a break and just ask for leave to approach. If Court is not in session you go to his chambers and ask his secretary or his deputy if he will see you.

    Even if the courthouse does not have a law library, the Supervising Judge certainly has a copy of the State’s statutes. Actually, every judge should. You can ask for permission to use his “library”.

    nk (77d95e)

  4. P.S.

    Follow your own link and see that the Pasadena courthouse does have a law library. It’s in Room 300. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..

    nk (77d95e)

  5. P.P.S.: But that’s not my point. A lawyer needs more than knowledge of the law. You need attitude too. And confidence in yourself and in your status as a lawyer. And a superior attitude which translates that you are only interested in convincing judges.

    nk (77d95e)

  6. It sounds to me like you handled this situation very well. Many people would have paid the fee and passed it on to their client, but you stuck to your guns. In addition, next time something unexpected happens – and there will be a next time because that’s how lawyering works – you will have experience dealing with surprises. As a 25+ year practicing attorney, I’m convinced most of what I know came from learning the hard way. I say chalk this up as good experience and a successful outcome, so that makes it a win-win.

    As for what comes next: If you plan to handle this before the judge, be very, very prepared. Most judges work with and know the clerks but they see different lawyers every day. The judges I know don’t take kindly to “blame the clerk” stories, even if it’s deserved.

    Personally, I would go back tomorrow or the next day and ask to see a supervisor in the Clerk’s office. I would explain what happened, what you are going to tell the judge and why. Ask the Clerk’s office to help you clarify this so everyone can provide the best public service possible. The more you help them do their job well, the better you will look and you will make a friends that can help you do your job in the future.

    I practice in West Texas and the clerks here are great – from the smallest county office to the large federal district clerkships. They have rules they need to follow but they want to do things the right way. Maybe clerks in California aren’t like clerks in Texas but my guess is they are more alike than different.

    DRJ (0df497)

  7. Sounds good DRJ. Thanks for the advice!

    I trust you realize that the specific tone of my prepared monologue for the judge was crafted in jest.

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  8. nk –

    I hear what you are saying, and you certainly have some good points. But at the same time, true confidence should stem from actual knowledge about a situation. People who are confident without genuinely knwoing the facts or the situation they are facing often simply come across as assholes. (Which unfortunately is true of many lawyers I know. I am determined to avoid that.)

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  9. Justin,

    Absolutely. It was great fun to read but I knew you were kidding about what you would say to the judge.

    My point was really that this is a great opportunity to turn clerk lemons into lemonade. You will never regret it if you make friends in the clerk’s office in any courthouse, and there can be no better or more valuable friend for a courthouse lawyer.

    DRJ (0df497)

  10. Given a choice between being loved and being feared, it is better to be feared. Once I tried to file a motion in a Chancery case in a Branch Court. The Branch Court’s rules were different from the Chancery Court’s. When I tried to tell the Chief Clerk of the Branch Court that I was allowed to do this by the Chancery Court’s rules, she told me, “So go file it in the Chancery Court”. I did. It was a long time ago. Now, I would go to the Supervising Judge of the Branch Court, show him the Circuit Rule that superseded the Branch Court rule, and get an order compelling the Branch Court Clerk to allow my filing.

    If I sounded harsh on Justin it’s because the kind teacher is the bad teacher. I suffered my share of humiliation, while learning the ropes as a lawyer, at the hands of high-school drop-outs who got their jobs because they could bring out the vote on election day. To the extent that I can give him some pointers … forgive me if I sound abrupt.

    nk (bfc26a)

  11. nk –

    I’m still content let the public read your comments on this and other postings and let them make up their own minds about your views. Peace out.

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  12. Honestly,

    I was not getting into a pissing contest. Just trying to give you the benefit of my experience. The abruptness for the reasons I said. Take it as you wish.

    nk (50d578)

  13. NK,

    We should team up. We’d make a great “good cop, bad cop” combination, don’t you think?

    DRJ (0df497)

  14. Lemme guess, after the second trip to the courthouse, you called your client back and said “The good news is that I got you out of the illegal $320 fee they were trying to charge. The ‘bad’ news is that at my hourly rate, I racked up an extra $750 in the process.”

    Am I right, or am I right?

    Xrlq (1e3b05)

  15. DRJ,

    In twenty-four years of practice, I have only been warned of skirting contempt once. (I could have been, another time, but the judge just preferred to give my attitude back to me and just say, “Next case”.) I’m not that bad.

    nk (50d578)

  16. NK,

    I didn’t think you were bad. There’s two sides to every coin and I can identify with the view you presented. I offered another view but I think there is always value in considering other perspectives.

    DRJ (0df497)

  17. NK,

    I’m sorry if you think I was suggesting that you are like a bad cop. I’ve read your comments for some time and that is not my opinion of you, personally or professionally. We seemed to be presenting two sides in response to Justin Levine’s post. That reminded me of a “good cop, bad cop” scenario because I’m sure we each could switch sides and offer the opposite positions. In retrospect, it was a poor example and, again, I’m sorry.

    DRJ (0df497)

  18. DRJ, #16 & 17:

    You must have taken me seriously because you said it twice. On my part, I took no umbrage. I did not think you meant it insultingly. I don’t know if it’s “bad cop” but I do take on a polite but firm attitude whether it’s a judge or a clerk. I want them to do what the law requires. As I said, it took me a while and my share of humiliations to learn how to do it.

    nk (50d578)

  19. NK,

    Thanks for responding. I did misunderstand but it seems we’ve now achieved a common understanding. I agree with your “polite but firm” approach. Court personnel are professionals who deserve to be treated as such. It would be insulting to demean them, just as it would be wrong to patronize them.

    I’m done. I’m sorry for acting like I’m on an Oprah episode. And if I say I’m sorry one more time, shoot me.

    DRJ (0df497)

  20. DRJ,

    Sorry, I am a Christian and a pacifist. You will need to find someone else to shoot you. 😉

    nk (50d578)

  21. you should exult in those 10,000 funny rules, because if they didn’t exist, anybody could easily represent themself.
    i remember the time a court changed its policy on filing fees without telling us. here i was trying to file a demurrer in an unlawful detainer suit on behalf of the tenants, a young couple, one of whom would have been eligible for a fee waiver, the other not, so under the existing policy of one filing fee covering all responding tenants, i had a check for one filing fee with me.
    clerk says, we just changed the policy, you need two filing fees or one fee plus a fee waiver application signed by the indigent tenant.
    it was late in the afternoon of the last day to respond and i didn’t have my checkbook with me, so i did the only thing i could. i scratched off the name of one of the tenants (the indigent one) on the demurrer and filed it. i had already served a copy of it on plaintiff’s counsel by mail. this would be enough to protect the premises from a default judgment while i went home and figured out what to do about the scratched-off tenant.
    the next day, plaintiff’s counsel filed an amended complaint (my demurrer was well taken) and in order to expedite things, had a girl personally serve it on me while i was barbecuing on the deck of my condo.
    five days later, i filed an answer – but only on behalf of the non-scratched-off tenant. since the filing of the amended complaint wiped out the original complaint, the scratched-off tenant’s default could no longer be taken on it, and since i had appeared so far only for the non-scratched-off tenant, personal service of the amended complaint on me was only effective as to her. plaintiff’s counsel didn’t notice that my answer was on behalf of only one of the tenants, so he set the case for trial.
    15 minutes before trial, plaintiff’s counsel realizes that he doesn’t have personal jurisdiction over the scratched-off tenant. he and his law partner both tried to persuade me that i had committed some kind of misconduct. i was laughing so hard i was having trouble standing up. finally, in order to resolve the matter and induce my clients to move, the landlord had to pay them several grand.
    my clients had no idea what happened and were surprised to receive this money the day they thought they were going to trial with an eventual judgment against them. “you smart guy! how did you do that?”

    assistant devil's advocate (e5a7e7)

  22. but, but, but, that type of thing happens with everything you do these days–it’s normal!!! I always fight it and always win, but is this how I’m supposed to be spending my time????????? (like during the “click it or ticket” campaign, they stopped me because apparently they had nothing better to do than to stop an old lady driving an old car, albeit a MBZ 500sl; he was speechless when he realized I was indeed wearing the seat belt, but wrote the ticket anyway. I won. But what a waste of time to save $81!!!)

    woastew (84e157)

  23. Man, nk stomps everyone. I may not agree with him on some topics, but I sure would love to see him (or any one of the legion of lawyers that frequent this site) as a plaintiff/defendant on a TV court show, handing the “Judge” his ass on a plate.

    Leviticus (a12f52)

  24. Kinda random, but it needed to be said. My apologies.

    Leviticus (a12f52)

  25. I’m still surprised that California requires Defendants pay filing fees. Then again, I’m not licensed in California. 😉

    Lysander (b9a564)

  26. Tough!

    mhr (e9abec)

  27. Lysander — 11/30/2006 @ 9:23 am wrote

    I’m still surprised that California requires Defendants pay filing fees. Then again, I’m not licensed in California. 😉

    Having been a member of an organization sued by an indigent in pro per plaintiff on a factually frivolous (but legally sufficiently pleaded) cause, I assure you it is so.

    But there is a silver lining, for what it’s worth.

    After fielding about a thousand pages of discovery demands, sitting through several days of mad hatter tea party while plaintiff presented his “case” with only a handfull of objections from defense (about a couple per day), twenty minutes for defense case, followed by a couple more hours of plaintiff’s “cross examination”, we, the defendant prevailed.

    The court, sua sponte, awarded defendant all court costs and filing fees.

    Plaintiff is still at large, has not paid the judgment, and has filed yet another suit against someone else.

    Life is hard when you’re dumb, but California gives you five strikes.

    Occasional Reader (c6a3bc)

  28. Leviticus, #23 & 24:

    Just in case you decide to be a lawyer. I never “handed [any judge] his ass on a plate”. A good judge will only do what the law requires him to do. If you want him to rule in your favor you must convince him that the law gives him no choice and you must give him a solid record so that he can be confident that he will not be overturned. Otherwise he will maintain the status quo. It is an “attitude” that is different from “street attitude”. Even with the clerks who harassed Justin, all street attitude would have done would have been to further antagonize them. Lawyer attitude would bring them to do what he wanted whether or not they wanted to do it. Exactly as he related. I would have done it differently and who would have thought that Justin Levine is a nicer guy than I am? I think lawyers who handle appellants’ cases understand this best.

    With all due respect to Quakers, let’s call it “mostly, gentle persuasion”.

    nk (77d95e)

  29. I realize, as does anyone with an IQ superior to your average baked potato, that talking to a real judge in such a manner is likely to get you in trouble. What I said was “Judge”, as in TV “Judge”, as in “Judge” Judy, or “Judge” Mathis.

    I’m sure there’s a difference.

    …Isn’t there? Please?

    (by the way, I meant “hand them their ass” in a legal sense, insofar as these TV judges [when I’ve seen them, in passing] never seem to know anything about the legal system; they just say “Okay, you are obviously wrong here, give him $500.”)

    Leviticus (3c2c59)

  30. TV judges opearate under arbitration rules. Arbitrators’ rulings are practically unappealeable. They cannot be challenged on the facts or the law. Only on bribery or going outside the record.

    nk (5a2f98)

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