You know those moments in TV shows and movies where defendants inadvertently admit guilt, witnesses are caught in lies on the witness stand, and lawyers brilliantly prove their client is innocent? Well, these moments don’t just exist in scripts; they happen in real life too!
In the following stories, lawyers share their best “gotcha” moments that happened in court.
42. Inverse Paw Patrol
I acted for a plumber who ripped up a tile floor to replace a pipe. He installed a new tile on top but warned the owners not to walk on it for 48 hours. He emphasized not to let their kids or their dogs walk on it either. They walked on it but alleged the defects were caused by improper install. We had an expert do a report which confirmed that it was consistent with proper installation but people walking on it too soon. Crazy homeowners still went to trial on it.
In their evidence disclosure, they included a series of pictures. One of the pictures had in the foreground a tile that was tilted upwards. The background very clearly showed a dog’s paw pressing down on the other end of the tile. That wasn’t so much an “I got them” the situation as they got themselves.
41. Social Media Isn’t Bad At All
The plaintiff alleged he was so injured in an auto accident that he couldn’t work, do any regular activities or pick up his young kids.
He then posted on his public Facebook profile a video of him doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. If you’re not familiar, he basically lifted a huge cooler filled with ice water over his head. His attorney had no idea he had posted it.
40. When That Word Problem In 6th Grade Math Class Actually Matters
I had a client accused of leading the cops on a high-speed chase. The cop on the stand estimated he was going 90 mph, but never actually clocked him. Then the cop identified where the chase started with me, and where it ended. It lasted about two miles.
Then we went through his log of when it started and when it ended. About three and a half minutes. Once you walk through the math on that, the average speed of this chase was 35 mph. The client got acquitted really quickly after that.
39. A Buddy Body Cam
I represented a driving under the influence client who swore up and down to me he hadn’t been drinking or doing any illicit substances. The cop who pulled him over was a newbie officer who had his Field Training Officer with him in the car. The rookie pulls the client over for a tag violation, and walks back to the car with his body camera still on. His field training officer says, “Get him out for driving under the influence.” The rookie says, “But he hasn’t been drinking.” The reply from the FTO was, “Do it anyway.” The bodycam clicks off and it turns back on seven minutes later and they’re doing field sobriety exercises on my client.
The client sat in custody for three weeks until I finally got the tape from the prosecutor and presented it to the judge. The “oh crap” looks from the prosecutor and FTO when the judge saw the tape … I’ll treasure that one. The judge wrote the police chief a letter saying the FTO was dead to him and he’d deny every search warrant he tried to bring thereafter for being a liar. The client is hopefully still on track with his civil attorney in a lawsuit.
38. The Secret Formula
I worked as a paralegal/investigator. I was working a trade secrets case involving the manufacture of dental wheels used to grind teeth. Long story, but go with it … Company A was a small family-owned manufacturer but made the best product on the market from a small factory in the middle of nowhere. Sold massive amounts of product because of quality. Its location was remote enough and the owner paid employees so well, the employees stayed there FOREVER. All of them had worked there for 30+ years. When the founder of Company A died, it was sold to International Company B because the kids and grandkids had no interest in the company. Company B then closed the old factory and tried to use company A’s formula at their facilities. Company B couldn’t make the formula work … Now enter Company C, another international company who lost the bid on buying company A. When company C heard about the problems Company B was having, they bought the old factory facilities and then rehired the old staff to restart production. All the employees of old company A were delighted to have their good-paying jobs back and went straight to work. Producing better quality items once again and Company C’s product worked. Company B sues company C for trade secrets violation. When you buy a company, you buy their trade secrets. And this company had a bunch. This product was just one part, but the most profitable part of their operation. Thus, company C, because of their action, was accused of violating the laws governing trade secrets. Company B even managed to get a temporary restraining order against company C in federal court and Company C had to stop manufacturing at the old plant they now owned.
This is when I enter the picture. Our firm represented Company C and I was assigned to interview all the employees. I was in the living room of this delightful older lady in her late 50s that offered me snacks, asked me if I was married and wanted to set me up with her granddaughter, you name it … BEST AND FUNNIEST INTERVIEW EVER. Then she drops the surprising news. I asked her how she knew how to make the product. All my previous interviews said so and so taught them. She said … “From the directions on the wall.” Total moment of silence. “Directions on the WALL?” “Yes,” she said, “No one ever looks at them. But there is a board on the wall with the directions.” I call the janitor of the facility from her phone (yeah, this is before cell phones) and had him meet me there. He unlocks the place and yep, covered in probably 40 years of dust making it just part of the background, is a board with the entire process on it. Thus, when company B sold the factory, which was eventually purchased by company C, company B accidentally sold the trade secret to company C because they abandoned it on the wall. I did serious evidence sourcing on this. My best pictures were of this 65+-year-old former janitor knocking the dust off the pages, taking the entire board off the wall, putting it in a paper bag, and sealing it so I never touched it. In every picture he smiled for the camera. His FU expression was priceless in every picture. They were so freaking funny. The judge in federal court was laughing his butt off when he heard the details of what I found to reverse the restraining order. When he opened the bag, he laughed even more. The factory reopened immediately. Company B and C settled by agreeing that they both got to use the trade secret but couldn’t sell it to anyone else. What they really figured out was … those little old ladies had slightly changed the formula over the years and slightly made them better over time. Even the formula on the wall didn’t work as well as these little ladies did.
37. That’s Some Clever Work
I had a client whose $60k car was ruined by a shop that put in the wrong oil. We couldn’t prove it at first; the engine blew up, oil leaked out and evidence was lost. I subpoenaed their bank records and figured out they bought their oil from Costco.
I called Costco and got their prices for the last two years. I then worked out the amounts they were spending, did some backhand math, and showed based on the values it was impossible they had ever bought the right oil. They settled in full immediately.
36. Just A Little Background Check
My client’s house burned down from an explosion in the fuel oil tank used to heat the house. It was clearly the oil maintenance company’s fault, but his homeowner’s insurance (from a very reputable company) still refused to pay out, citing a ridiculous technicality in his policy. Essentially, the policy covered damage caused by the oil heater but they claimed that it was the storage tank that exploded and wasn’t part of what was covered. So they deny his claim, which was about $1.2 million, and then I get involved.
During a deposition with the claims adjuster, I ask how she came to the conclusion that the storage tank was not a part, or at least connected to, the heater. She states that she relied on her “expert witness,” who was an engineer. Little did she know I had already checked this person’s background. He had zero engineering experience or education. As most of you might know, you don’t get attorney’s fees in most cases. However, when an insurance company denies your claim in “bad faith,” now you do. Her little admission cost the company about $500k in fees, on top of the original claim for $1.2 million.
35. Don’t Be Such A Chicken
I was representing a mom in a bitter custody fight. The dad wanted full custody and argued mom was an unfit parent. Mom wanted full custody because Dad had a history of domestic violence towards her and the kids. Dad’s lawyer was doing a good job of painting her in a bad light during his cross-examination, and I was starting to get worried. His lawyer brought a close family friend as a character witness for Dad, who said the usual nice things about Dad. Then he said something about them owning chickens.
I thought that was odd so I asked more questions. I was able to get the friend to spill the beans that the dad owned chickens for illegal fighting, and he’d take his minor children to these fights. Not only that but when the children were acting up, he’d punish them by forcing them to feed the chickens, during which they would get pecked and scratched by the chickens. And obviously, the children were terrified of those chickens. I could see the color draining from Dad’s lawyer’s face. Mom got full custody.
34. Case Closed + Bonus
I’m a legal videographer. This gentleman was claiming injuries/seeking damages against his employer after a fall at work. He claimed he couldn’t raise his right arm above his shoulder because of the fall. The first deposition comes along and I am hired by the defendant’s attorney to videotape the deposition of the plaintiff. Anyone know THE FIRST THING a court reporter asks you to do in a deposition? “Please raise your right hand and repeat after me …” The plaintiff raises his right arm above his shoulder with ease and no sign of discomfort; it does not occur to him what he has just done. Both attorneys were looking down at their notes when this happened and neither of them caught it. The plaintiff himself didn’t catch it. The court reporter looked at him and then looked at me and her eyes went wide with realization at what just happened.
Four hours of deposition proceed where in the plaintiff is instructed (multiple times) to show his range of motion and precedes to pretend like he can’t raise his arm above shoulder level which he did at the very beginning of his deposition. The deposition ends and the plaintiff’s counsel leaves. I call defense (hiring party) counsel over and show him the first two minutes of the tape. The counsel excitedly whispers to me, “Case closed, you just saved us tens of thousands of dollars.” I got a $5,000 bonus and the plaintiff’s case was dismissed with prejudice.
33. Game Over!
I’m not a lawyer but my grandparents had the longest-running divorce settlement in L.A. history in the 70s. My grandpa refused to pay his alimony.
One year, he went to Hawaii and sent my grandma a postcard that said something along the lines of (but more wittingly), “I’m enjoying all of your alimony money; look at what I’m doing with it.” She drove it straight to her lawyer, and it was game over for gramps.
32. I Guess Her Gamble Didn’t Pay Off
A lady got into a minor fender bender with a truck in a casino parking lot (she backed out of a spot into him). My guy said she parked and went inside the casino for a few hours. At her deposition, she testified that she was so hurt she went right home and to a hospital.
I then asked if she was a frequent visitor of casino, and if she had a rewards card. She was happy to tell me she did and she had gold status, and showed me the card. I subpoenaed her rewards cards records, and it showed she was playing slots for hours after the accident.
31. It’s Crazy How The Right Question Can Be The Key To The Truth
I served on a jury that was deciding a medical malpractice case. The plaintiff’s common bile duct was cut during a gallbladder surgery (a risk she was made aware of beforehand). She was suing the surgeon who performed the operation. The plaintiff’s lawyer called as a witness a surgeon who had performed this surgery thousands of times. Speaking from this breadth of experience, he told us this mistake was “entirely unacceptable” and something that no competent surgeon would do.
The defense lawyer got up and grilled him for a while to make it clear that this guy made bank by traveling around the country testifying against other surgeons. Right before he sat down, the defense lawyer said, “By the way, have YOU ever cut the common bile duct during this surgery?” The case was decided (and the jury all but burst out laughing) when he answered, “Yes, I have.”
30. This Is Why You Should Never Monologue Your Evil Plan
I was suing a landlord who failed to make serious repairs in order to force the tenant out. The hard part is proving bad intent instead of mere idiocy so you get higher damages.
Code Enforcement was involved, so I request those records. The landlord left a voicemail to the enforcement department saying to hold off on the fines; they would make the repairs as soon as the tenant is forced out. That was an easy case.
29. “Don’t Count The Chickens Before They Hatch”
My brother is an attorney. He had a case where the guy said he was permanently disabled from a work accident. At a deposition, my brother overheard the guy talking about getting his house remodeled. He was already spending the money he thought he was getting.
So my brother drove by the house to see how much work was being done and saw the guy carrying bundles of roofing shingles up a ladder to the roof. This was before smartphones so he drove to a Best Buy and bought a video camera, went back, and recorded the guy. He had copies made and sent to the other attorney. The guy dropped the suit and was back at work the following Monday. My brother’s client didn’t want to pay for the video camera. He saved them thousands of dollars. They eventually paid but he still gets a little peeved when he talks about it.
28. Shhh, You Talk Too Much
The ex-wife (“EX”) was trying to fight the ex-husband’s new girlfriend (“NG”). NG is in her car trying to flee while EX is beating on car, blocking her escape, and grabbing at door handles to get in, but doors are locked. After EX briefly moved out from the path of the car, NG begins to drive away slowly. EX, noticing the car starting to leave, dives onto the hood of the car, slides off, gets run over at slow speed, and breaks bones. Several surgeries later, EX sues NG, alleging negligence in hitting EX with the car.
As I’m deposing EX, she claims to have never touched the car before it hit her – never punched or kicked the car, never broke the windshield wipers, never grabbed the door handle to try to open the door, never dove on the hood – she had only been yelling. I asked what NG was doing during this time, and EX describes NG as a deer in headlights, staring straight ahead, locked in her car, both hands on the steering wheel. “How did you know the doors were locked?” That one got dismissed pretty quickly.
27. Very Bad Acting
My brother is a divorce attorney. One of his most memorable cases was when he was representing a guy in a divorce custody battle who was accused of horrific child abuse. Very graphic, very detailed depositions from the young kids against daddy. Things were looking pretty grim. Then my brother notices the deposition transcript (done by social workers under oath) contains a question at the end from one of the kids: “Did I hit my marks?” My brother had previously tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood right out of high school, failing miserably (and decided to go into law, an altogether different form of “acting”). He wonders how these little kids know about acting jargon.
So, he subpoenas the wife’s personal checking account during discovery, and sure enough, the mother had paid for acting lessons. The findings lead to an extremely sketchy “acting coach.” The panicked coach quickly coughs up DVDs of “practice interrogations” with the kids. It turns out they had spent hours coaching the kids on exactly what imaginary things to say about daddy. My brother says it was his one and only Perry Mason moment in his 20+ years of practice, and Dad got sole custody of the kids.
26. A Full-Time Liar
My client’s wife was on the phone with her new boyfriend when he got home from a barbecue with their son. He asked her who she was on the phone with, and she freaked out and ran to the bedroom and locked herself inside. She told the new bf that he’d hit her, that she was black and blue, etc. Her new boyfriend is (understandably I guess) freaked out. He calls the cops and relays everything wifey said to him. Then he tells her he called the cops. She freaks out even more because now she’s about to be caught in the lie. The cops show up and she tells them he hit her on the back of the head, and that’s why they can’t see the mark. The cops feel the back of the head and she winces. They arrest my dude. We take it to trial. When you testify at trial, certain prior convictions can be used against you to show the jury your character. Wifey had a prior conviction for “falsifying statements to a grand jury” in a different state a few years ago.
In cross-examination, after she changed her story up and accused me of attacking her, I asked her about her prior conviction for lying to a jury. SHE LIED ABOUT IT TO OUR JURY. SHE SAID IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. I very calmly approached her with the certified record of her conviction and asked her to confirm it was her name, date of birth, then walked back to my stand and asked the same question. She refused to answer this time, just glared at me. The jury walked my client.
25. This Attorney Is Bad At Doctoring Things
My favorite was a proceeding that actually lead to the disbarment of the opposing attorney. The opposing attorney was sent discovery requests that he never responded to. Multiple emails were sent and nothing. Moves to compel and the attorney shows up furious that we file a motion and are wasting the court’s time. He says we’re playing games and claims that he’s sent multiple emails and we aren’t responding. The opposing attorney produces emails that supposedly show he’s been begging us to respond. After looking at the produced emails and then looking at my calendar we see that the date in the time stamp doesn’t match the day in the time stamp.
It turns out the attorney doctored an email he prepared last week and changed the date but forgot to change the day. The judge was furious and chewed him out about professionalism and ethics for 15 minutes; meanwhile we just sat quietly. It was actually uncomfortable to watch. This idiot then gets angry at the judge and tries to say that it was his IT guy’s fault. Lying is an extreme no no for attorneys. Our legal system depends on us being honest. He was disbarred later that year.
24. Careful Who You Share It With
When I was a prosecutor I had a guy who was representing himself. He was charged with car theft and evading. He was actually able to escape the cops for quite a distance and was captured later. His defense was that he wasn’t the person.
I got his calls from jail and he talked so much to his girlfriend about how he had committed the crimes. The look on his face when I told him that I was providing him copies of his jail calls was great.
23. Smiling And Walking …
I represented an employer in an FMLA retaliation claim. The plaintiff had quit, claiming a hostile work environment, then went on and started her own company that more or less competed with my client. In the plaintiff’s deposition, she went on an on about how sick she was when she went on FMLA leave, and how horribly she was treated by my client. Her new company had a Facebook page. I asked her about it, and had printed out several sections from the page, including photos. She admitted she had posted the photos, and more so posted them from her phone moments after they were taken.
After I had those admissions on the record, I produced pictures of her touring the facility where her new business was located, smiling and walking with her friends. The date of those photos was while she was on FMLA leave from my client.
22. Because She Swore “On The Bible”
I represent tenants in eviction proceedings. Landlords being landlords, I have lots of “gotcha” stories. The most recent one was last week, in a classic “he-said, she-said” case. That is, the entire case depended upon whom the jury believed. When the landlord was sworn in prior to testifying, she unnecessarily said, “Yes, on the bible,” when asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, etc. Her testimony, however, was evasive. She avoided answering almost every one of my questions. She even avoided answering some of her own lawyer’s questions. During a recess, but still in the middle of her testimony, she was seen outside the courtroom, in full view of the jury, whispering with her lawyer and a family member about what she was supposed to say on the stand. When she got back up, the first thing I did was ask her what she was talking about with her lawyer and her family member outside the courtroom. I demanded to know whether they were telling her how to answer my questions. Her lawyer objected. The judge overruled the objection and ordered the witness to answer. The witness responded, “My life is my life.”
During closing arguments, her lawyer tried to argue that she must have been telling the truth because she swore “on the bible” even though she didn’t have to. That meant, according to him, that she took her oath more seriously than the average person (impliedly, my client) who wouldn’t bother swearing on a bible when not asked to do so. In my response, I agreed with the landlord’s counsel that his client must take her oath to tell the truth seriously. She must have taken it so seriously, in fact, that she refused to lie under oath when her truthful testimony would have sunk her case. So, instead, she just refused to answer almost every question put to her. The jury came back in about 30 minutes with a 12-0 verdict in the tenant’s favor.
21. When Things Gets Too Heated
I’m not a lawyer but I was taking my ex to court over custody of my kid. I had compiled a 150-page dossier complete with a report from child protective services since there was abuse in the household. Text messages and tons of records of contempt of our previous agreement. My daughter has a court-assigned lawyer that is normal in these cases, which after reading through all the materials and talking to all the parties sided with my lawyer and I. The ex decided to represent themselves because … hubris, I suppose. Before the case was heard in the hallway outside of the courtroom she gave me an agreement she typed up which would grant me custody as well as some generous provisions for herself. I politely declined as we were confident we would be getting a lot more in trial. The case was called. Testimonies in. She put on the most hilariously insane and embarrassing show for the court. In her closing testimony, she attempted to hand the judge the agreement she tried to give us. The judge refused to take it. “You can’t just hand me things. That’s not how you submit things into evidence. I’m not reading that.” She’s arguing with the judge, yelling at him, and losing her mind.
In the insane nonsense she was spewing she said, “… and this agreement gives him custody which is one of the things he’s after!” in what I assume was an attempt to show that she’s attempting a compromise. My lawyer peppers in a quick statement, “OK, so you agree for the father to have full custody?” She snaps in heated anger, “Yes! That’s what I agreed to!” Our side falls completely silent and the judge after much effort ends her little outburst. He gave his final verdict which started with granting me custody and putting her in court-mandated therapy. She literally gave away custody of her daughter in a heated argument with the judge.
20. Wheelie Dealie Boundary Stealie
I’ve had much bigger moments, but because of the character on the other side, this will always be my favorite. I was doing a boundary dispute, a squabble over what was essentially a few inches of land. The other guy was a lawyer, and an absolute jerk. He was acting for himself – the whole “a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client” thing was bang on for him. But he was a deeply unpleasant guy, a bully who thought that he was the smartest guy in the room. Part of his case hinged on wheelie bins and how prior to the boundary having been moved there wasn’t space to store a full-size bin beside the house. The fact you now could mean clearly the boundary must have moved. That was the extent of his evidence; it really was thin stuff.
During the actual trial, he pulled a fast one by suddenly producing an old aerial photo ostensibly to show the boundary at the front of the property had also moved (a fast one because you have to disclose stuff like that in advance; you can’t just sit on something relevant and then suddenly whip it out at trial with a flourish). Whilst he was making his submissions that it should be admissible, I looked more closely at it, away from the bit of the boundary he said it was relevant to and realized that it very clearly showed a wheelie bin in exactly the spot his case said there couldn’t be one. I told the judge we were happy for the photo to be admitted after all, got the other side to confirm the date it was taken, then pointed out he’d just completely sunk his case. That photo did him for nearly $50k in adverse costs. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving man.
19. “You Just Confessed, Sooooo….”
I was prosecuting a traffic ticket and ended my opening statement with something similar to, “By the end of the day you’ll agree that the officer caught the defendant going 65 in a 50.” The defendant, representing himself, stands up and says, “While he may have clocked me going 65 in a 50…”
The judge stopped the trial, excused the jury, and was like… “You just confessed, soooooo… Are we changing your plea to no contest or what?” By the way, this is Texas where you have a state constitutional right to a jury trial on literally anything.
18. But Money Can’t Replace A Lost Arm
My client was a woman working at a meat-packing plant. Her glove (they would only give her the loose kind because they were cheaper) got caught in the machine and she lost her arm. We sued the owners of the plant for the glove issue. We also sued the machine manufacturer for failing to include the required guard. Then we sued the distributor for being in the chain of the sale but didn’t really think they played much of a role. The manufacturer swore they included a hand guard and said the plant owner must have used a grinder to take it off.
During the deposition of the guy that owned the distraction company, he shows up with the sale documents he was supposed to have turned over weeks before. Turns out there was a note in small print at the bottom he didn’t know about that said the sale was without the hand guard. Which is against the law. I pointed it out and we ended up settling that afternoon with the distributor. The woman got all her medical bills paid, got money for a prosthetic and got a bunch of pain and suffering damages.
17. Just A Simple Question
When I did family law this one would happen more often than I would have liked but I always got a little rush out of it, at least until I thought about the kid. But a parent, almost always the father, would claim to be the primary caretaker of the child and how mom was neglectful, etc. I would ask a simple question, “What is the name of your child’s teacher?” They almost never knew.
Nothing will destroy your custody case faster than not knowing the name of your child’s teacher or their pediatrician. And these idiots, who knew so little about parenting that they didn’t even think it was important to look up their child’s teacher’s name or find an old report card or find out the pediatricians’ name, would claim they were the primary parent over and over.
16. Doing Whatever It Takes So The Wifey Won’t Find It Out
Not so much a “gotcha” as it is the defendant giving themselves up. When I worked for insurance defense I handled a fraud case where a man reported his Rolex as being stolen. He was adamant that he was at a hotel and it was stolen. He has shown no proof of being in a hotel so it’s flagged.
We go through the whole process and finally reached depositions. He gets sworn in and eventually let out that he wasn’t at a hotel but rather with his mistress and he had left it at her house. His wife noticed he didn’t have it on so he immediately claims it must’ve been stolen. This man decided to hire an attorney and go through this whole circus just so his wife wouldn’t find out about his affair. Needless to say, the claim was denied.
15. Tell Your Attorney Everything
I had a former client file for bankruptcy and in connection with that case brought an action against his landlord for violating the automatic stay. In order to prove “damages” he wanted to show he paid my firm for legal fees in connection with the landlord’s pursuit of rent in violation of the stay. So this former client’s bankruptcy lawyer serves me a subpoena to show up at the bankruptcy hearing. He didn’t ask me any questions prior but just gave me the gist of what the objective was, i.e. verify with the court the time I spent and the cost to his client. The bankruptcy attorney called his client (my former client) to the stand first. He asked him questions related to his hiring my firm to do this and that as it related to his landlord. Apparently that’s not enough; the bankruptcy attorney wants me to verify these facts as well. I get to put on the stand and I’m asked to verify the invoice. I first object to the question as a precaution since it may be a violation of attorney-client privilege to answer the question and to cover me for any claim by the bar or my former client.
As predicted, the judge overrules and orders me to answer. I review the invoice answer, “No, this is not my invoice.” His attorney: “I don’t understand; this is your firm’s logo and information right?” Me: “Yes” His attorney: “And you provided these legal services right?” Me: “No.” A very confused attorney slowly started to put together (after a couple more follow-up questions) that this idiot client of ours had manufactured my invoice to prove his damages. Needless to say that I could have given his new attorney the heads up, but I wasn’t going to help someone who had committed perjury to the court using my name. I had represented him in a completely different matter and this guy was trying to make some extra cash through this bankruptcy hearing. Two lessons: tell your attorney everything and as an attorney, make sure your client feels comfortable to tell you everything.
14. Don’t Rip Up Anything You Want To Destroy, Burn It!
We hired a private investigator to track our defendant in a fraud/asset recovery case. The private investigator returned with a photograph of torn pieces of paper that clearly constituted a ripped-up note, albeit in a foreign language. I happened to know the said foreign language, so pieced it together and realized it was a letter written by the defendant raging at his accomplice for making highly specific mistakes that screwed him over in the context of our fraud/asset recovery case. (Obviously, we later had this verified and sworn to via affidavit by an official translator.)
It was unbelievable – the handwriting was a match; plus, he’d also signed it, and the contents were so specific (contained information about specific amounts going into specific trusts under specific names) that it was basically conclusive evidence. We almost thought they’d planted it to throw us off, but the guy was just stupid and arrogant. Ran into a bit of a fight over admissibility but the letter ultimately helped us receive a significant settlement that made our clients extremely happy.
13. It Was You!
I had a guy who was representing himself. It was a residential burglary and one of the elderly neighbors saw the defendant running from the house.
At trial, the defendant was cross-examining the witness and he asked, “Now when you saw this person running away …” and the witness said, “You! I saw you running away.”
12. Sorry, I Forgot!
I was deposing a guy in a large breach of contract/fraud action. I asked him if he’d ever been convicted of a crime; he said no. Later in the deposition, I asked him the question again and there was no objection and he answered “no.”
I then whipped out his indictment for felony fraud and his conviction for misdemeanor conspiracy and he denied it was him until I started asking about his co-conspirator (his son). Then he gave me the “oh yeah I remember something about that” routine.
11. So Are You A Criminal?
I was cross-examining a custom home builder who had a lump sum contract (set price as opposed to “cost plus” which means the cost of the materials plus x% as builder fee) with the homeowner. He claimed he put 20% more labor/materials in building the home than the contracted provided for and he was suing for these excess costs. I was asking him about an email with my client negotiating the price of the construction and he volunteers that he knew he couldn’t build it for that price. My head snaps up, my supervising partner’s head snaps up, and the opposing counsel goes pale.
The dialogue was something like: Me: “You quoted (x price)?” Builder: “Yes.” Me: “You knew you couldn’t build it for that price?” Builder: “Yes.” Me: “You knew the homeowner was relying on that quote?” Builder: “Yes.” Me: “You knew the homeowner wouldn’t have signed the contract without that representation?” Builder: “Yes.” Me: “And you told homeowner’s lender you could do it for (x)?” Builder: “Yes.” Me: “And the bank relied on that price and wouldn’t have given a loan if it knew it was wrong?” Builder: “Yes.” This is textbook fraudulent inducement and he had no idea. The builder got poured out in the arbitration award and slapped with sizable punitive damages on top of it. Five minutes of testimony sunk his case because he volunteered information without being prompted.
10. So What Are We Discussing?
Not the lawyer, but this happened to my father-in-law. He had a lucrative commercial construction business and was ready to retire and sell it. He got a buyer and part of the deal was receiving a portion of the profits for several years. Somehow, the company had no profits. But there was all sorts of evidence of wealth: new cars, etc. The new owner’s slip up: he kept on the head secretary, who loved my father-in-law. She gave Dad the information he needed.
At trial, the new owner was on the stand. “Nope, we’re really just struggling to break even …” Dad’s attorney asked, “What is XYZ Corporation?” Before there was an answer, the buyer’s attorney literally jumped up and said: “Your honor, we would like to discuss a settlement.” It turns out the buyer started a second company. Dad’s company was buying the supplies, and the new company was getting paid. It’s called “cooking the books.”
9. Cell Problems
I had a problem with my cell provider and my cell phone wasn’t receiving a signal where my cottage is located even though it was clearly marked as an area that would receive a full signal on their map. I went back to the provider and told them of my problem and they gave me a different phone with the same results. I then took back the phone and charger because they were useless to me at the time (this was over 20 years ago.) They then sued me (for non-payment of the bill).
In court, I had a picture of the phone screen showing no bars while standing on my dock. Their lawyer argued that the picture could have been taken anywhere. Then the judge piped up, “I know where your cottage is; I have a cottage nearby. I switched providers because I could hardly get a signal where I am; there’s no way you’ll get a signal from (X provider).” Then the judge ripped into the representative from the cell company and their lawyer. It was a good day.
8. That’s Some Good Justice
While doing SSA disability hearings a few years ago I represented a guy in a case that was back on remand from federal court. Long story short, the original Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) didn’t follow the correct procedure and denied the guy because he “could return to his last work (Step 4). Basically, he was granted a partially favorable decision that gave him $700 a month, rather than the $2,100 he should have received. The ALJs are notoriously jerks, and try to scare people out of pursuing claims. This judge apparently thought he could intimidate me and my client into withdrawing the appeal by threatening to take away all the guys benefits. Little did he know I’m not a moron, and I hate bullies. He started the hearing by asking my client if he was aware that he could take all his benefits away. Asking if “your counsel has informed you that by continuing this hearing, you may lose all benefits and owe all amounts back to the agency as an overpayment.” This was completely impossible, because six years had gone by since the original decision, and the judge could only reopen the decision within two years. Also, the job he previously did (computer system installer) was completely obsolete and physically impossible since his physical problems prevented him from lifting more than 20 lbs, and the computers he was installing during the 1980s were 50-150 lbs. The judge didn’t think about that, and clearly didn’t read the federal court remand notice.
So, long story short, the judge says to me, “Counsel, have you done your ethical duty and advised your client that he could lose all his benefits today?” To which I responded by looking at my client, and in a full voice saying, “He can’t do that.” Then, without missing a beat looked back at the judge and said, “Your honor, I have advised my client that you cannot take his benefits away.” I told the judge we would waive all other procedural portions of the hearings and proceed directly to vocational expert testimony. I asked the vocational expert two questions: “Would the prior job require lifting more than 20 lbs?” And “has the prior job existed as performed since 1999?” She quickly answered “no” to both questions and then on her own elaborated all the reasons why. The total hearing was six minutes long. The judge had no choice but the grant the original application, and the guy got $158,000 in unpaid benefits. And $1,400 a month more than he had been receiving. He broke down into tears and said he could finally keep the promise to his wife to return her ashes to the beach they got married on in Hawaii. A dream he had years ago decided would be impossible. The best day of my career, so far.
7. A “Perry Mason” Moment
I was defending this guy against a faulty order of protection petition. It was a first setting so I made what I thought was a tactically good decision to force the hearing, thinking the other attorney wouldn’t be ready to go on the first setting with witnesses. Well, my tactical decision turned out to be a potential mistake when he had his client, her boyfriend, and a farmhand, who supposedly witnessed the incident, ready to testify. My client’s wife was a complete psychopath. My guy was a really good dude, so I strongly suspected it was all fiction. Their story: Boyfriend and wife were near the front porch of this house when a sniper shot lodged itself into the wall beside the boyfriend’s head. The shot supposedly came from about 500 yards away. They supposedly saw my guy and his truck drive off … from 500 yards away. Whatever. The order of their witnesses was the wife, the boyfriend and then the farmhand. The wife’s story was obviously a bunch of crap from the get-go. But then the boyfriend took the stand and his story was very similar to the wife’s, lending it some credibility. I made the decision at that point, knowing that they had a third witness, to have the boyfriend draw a map of exactly what happened and where the shot came from. I had thought the farmhand would be in on the deception and maybe I might be able to trip him up on the details of a fabricated story (the third party witnesses were not in the courtroom when the others testified). When the farmhand took the stand, I found his testimony to be extremely credible. Obviously, whatever they had done to construct the fiction they had done so to also fool the farmhand so he could eventually be a witness. So I had the farmhand draw a map as well. His map completely contradicted the wife and boyfriend. It was obvious the shots came from the other side of the house. The only person that could have fired the shots would have been somebody directly on the property right beside where the boyfriend and the wife claimed they were sitting.
After the farmhand testified, I asked for an involuntary dismissal of the petition. This meant my client would not even have to testify. Basically you never get involuntary dismissals unless the case is just utter nonsense. The judge gave it to me immediately. She was fuming. I thought she was going to throw the wife and boyfriend in jail. But unfortunately, she didn’t have enough evidence to find anyone in contempt. But I did get my attorney’s fees and I walked away feeling I might actually be a competent attorney.
6. Where Are The Chips?
Not my story but a mentor’s. He worked in personal injury and accidents. The accident was between two very expensive cars, his client’s being new and the opposing side’s being a vintage collectible. The case was only in regards to damages and what each side owed each other. The opposing side tried to claim the paint damage on the front where there was a collision, claiming that the cost of the paint job was no longer made and had to be custom made, mixed, and applied especially and made a big deal over paint.
My mentor had the keen eyesight and pointed out if the paint was damaged, where were the paint chips, as they were missing yet not on the ground or embedded in his client’s obviously contrasting car? This was brought up in cross, and was met with a dumbfounded look and quiet. This bore a huge hole in the credibility of the opposing counsel and eventually led to the very expensive case going in his favor.
5. Not Guilty
I had a DUI case that seemed pretty standard. The police report said that they saw a car with a headlight out leaving a Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot; he stopped him, and the guy failed roadsides and blew a .09. I have a meeting with the kid to get his side of the story. My client was drinking in a BWW watching some MMA fight — so it was super packed. Sometimes for events like this, police officers hang out inside to make sure no one gets in fights, steals stuff, etc. Anyway, my client was flirting with the bartender, and she asked him to go home with her when she got off. He, being a man of about 25, says yes. She says she’ll drive him, and he tells her okay, but that he had to grab his cell phone charger out of his car. He walks out of BWW to do so and the cop followed him out. It was pouring, so instead of just opening his door and reaching for his charger, the client gets in the car to rummage through his glove box for it. When he steps out, the cop is standing there and demands for him to do roadsides, then hits him with a DUI. We set for trial.
At the motions hearing, I asked the cop if he’d followed my client out of BWW. He said no, that he’d been patrolling in his car. He said he had no idea who was in the car when he approached it. He swore the car was on. So at trial, I let him tell his story. I made him confirm to the jury that he was in his car doing routine patrol. He was never inside BWW. He didn’t follow my client to his car to entrap him into a DUI. Then I played the video from inside BWW CLEARLY SHOWING the cop watch my client get up from the bar and follow him out. Not. Guilty.
4. Gotcha Times Three!
I had a middle-aged client who was arrested for driving under the influence charge based solely off of the testimony of his stepdad and the neighbors. My client was arrested in his house, while sleeping in bed, for impaired driving. No police officers saw him driving, no FSTs were conducted, and no BAC was recorded. The stepdad had a falling out with the guy and was really pushing the DAs office to press charges. Like REALLY pushing it. For whatever reason, they took it to trial. Some back story to this: my client was about 5’5 and close to 350 lbs. I am about as opposite as I can be from him, completely different color hair, height, build, etc. The state calls their first witness and asks them to identify who they saw driving wasted the day my client was arrested. The witness pointed to me. Yes, me. The guy in the suit and definitely not the short fat guy in a tank top and shorts. DA re-asked the question, and got the same answer. Needless to say, direct didn’t last very long. State brought on a second witness, the wife of the first witness. DA asked them to identify the person they saw driving impaired. Again, the witness points to me. I had to stifle a laugh; it was hilarious. The DA kind of pushes back asking questions like, “Are you SURE that is who you saw? Have you ever seen them before?” and the woman started going on and on and on saying things like, “I see him all the time getting the mail, and of course I know it is him because he is SO TALL I always have to look up to talk to him!”
When I stood up for cross, she spoke to me as if I was the defendant, even going so far as to say, “SHAME ON YOU for driving impaired in our neighborhood!” Sheesh. The state calls the THIRD witness and asks them to identify the defendant. The THIRD, completely unrelated witness identified me AGAIN as the defendant. So, at this point, the state had no offered any BAC, FSTs, no police observations, and only three witnesses that had identified the wrong defendant when they had a 50% chance of guessing who was the defendant. So yeah, it was really three “gotcha” moments, but the “gotcha”-ness of each statement crescendoing to bigger and better “GOTCHAs.” The DAs office where I was at during that trial was very reasonable and fair, I think I just got stuck with a bad DA. They let her go shortly after that for unrelated things.
3. Picture Perfect
Perhaps not my best but it was recent and pretty good. I represented a guy whose car died in the middle of the freeway at 4 a.m. He put his hazard lights and called 911 for help. At the same time an LAPD cop, heading to work around the same time in a police unmarked car was driving around 87 – 92 mph (per our deconstructionist). He doesn’t see our guy, strikes him and causes a major six car collision, including overturning an 18 wheeler truck. The police arrive and take photos. The LAPD officer claimed our guy did not have his hazard lights on and he was only driving 60 mph. He was trying to put some of the faults on our guy.
At the deposition of the investigating officer, she doesn’t remember if our guy’s hazard lights were on or not. The attorney brings photos from the scene. One of the photos showed my guy’s hazard lights on. We were dismissed shortly thereafter.
2. You Picked The Wrong House, Fool!
Not a lawyer, but when I was in the military I was accused of something I didn’t do. And I had to go to court over it. And during court, the prosecutor started to detail this investigation and how they had staked my apartment out for months. They entered into evidence a picture of “my apartment.” And when they put it up I looked shocked at my lawyer because it wasn’t a picture of my place. It was my ex-wife’s apartment. A place I had NEVER lived (never even spent a single night there). I lived in a house; she lived in an apartment. And when my lawyer was asked if she objected to the picture being entered into evidence she replied: “I don’t mind them entering it into evidence as long as they change the listing of it.” And when one of the members of the panel (no judge, three member board) asked what was wrong with the listing, she looked at him and said: “That’s not his apartment.”
On top of this, the witness they used against me described going to my house on the night in question and she named the subdivision where she had visited me, except that wasn’t where I lived either (also wasn’t where the picture they had was either). The case was dismissed and I was told they requested the witness to return to answer questions about perjury.
1. Jack And John Smith
I sat in on a criminal trial, and the defense basically had no defense other than “There were documents lying around with the name Jack Smith and our client’s name is John Smith so there might have been someone else living in the house hiding the illegal substances.”
In the very last minute of closing arguments, the prosecutor stood up and said, “I’m really tired of you spending all week pretending you don’t know who Jack is when you know very well. Your trial binders which have been sat on your desk all week say Jack Smith, because that’s what he goes by.”