July 27, 2019

Good Days in Court

I wanted to share a great experience I had in court recently.  Often, a lawyer’s work is far from glamorous, despite what the television shows would have you believe.  It’s long hours, tedious issues, and a whole lot of stuff that no one in their right mind would be involved in, and so often the results of your work are inconclusive or are just another step down the path to eventual resolution.  But, every once in a while, you get to be present at the moment when a person’s dreams come true; when the hearing or trial or appeal you worked so hard on and prepared so hard for results in the best of all possible results.  I had one of those yesterday.

I was brought in on a custody dispute–names shall remain nameless, for obvious reasons–and it was new territory for me.  My trial counsel was very able, but we were dealing with a question of finality of a judgment rendered back in January and the trial court’s rather odd actions since then, and all of that stuff falls much more within my idiom than hers.  In our estimation, the January judgment was final, there was no reviving the case (our clients had effectively won custody of their foster child), and the trial judge’s setting the case for a full-blown jury trial in October was completely inexplicable.  There’s a lot of technical detail dealing with judgment timelines, etc., that I’m leaving out here because it makes even my head spin.  Suffice to say, I thought we had a rock-solid argument but was expecting a not-so-happy reception when we raised it before the trial judge.

What we got, instead, was a visiting judge who knew the rules like the back of his hand.  He saw and understood the argument within seconds.  He promptly announced that the court had no jurisdiction to do anything else on the case and that the January judgment was final, unappealable, irreversible.

This left only one issue:  how do we memorialize this?  Because I asked the judge to sign an order, and he said he didn’t think he had jurisdiction to do anything–literally, anything–in this case.  Not even sign an order taking a scheduling order and trial setting off the docket.  (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure he was wrong on that because Texas trial courts always have jurisdiction over their own dockets, and that’s a strictly ministerial matter.)  What my trial counsel and I convinced the judge to do was make a written record of his findings–recited to the court reporter and transcribed word-for-word–as I asked a few pertinent questions and got the answers down in the record.  Result:  bulletproof holding.

And, as my trial counsel took time to speak with a few of the other lawyers on the case, I had the joy of getting to go out into the courthouse hallway and tell my clients to put their fears aside and revel in the fact that this was all over.  We’d just driven a stake into the heart of what had been nagging at them for three years.  Three years of doubt, uncertainty, and toil, and it was all over after a 15-minute hearing.  The looks on their faces went from disbelief, to shock, to joy, to relief.  And I got to witness it and be a part of it.

When asked why I practice law, I often say that some do it for the money, some for the power and prestige, and some out of a sense that they really want to make a difference.  For me, it’s always been about the intellectual challenge; I want to show that I’m smarter than the guy across the table. But yesterday wasn’t just about winning the intellectual battle, but about doing what was right and about making someone’s wish come true.  We did that.  And that’s a good day in court.