Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Personal war story re-discovered about a case in Kentucky

The other day, I went to see the new Bristol, TN offices of the Penn Stuart law firm, and one of the lawyers there reminded me of the tall tales I used to tell about a case I had in Kentucky, and I told him that I had written some of them down a couple of years ago and posted them on a list serv, and that I would send them to him.

Today I found the stories, and here they are:

Some years ago I tried a case in Kentucky with local counsel. The judge
has since passed away.

When I appeared before him to be admitted to practice pro hac vice, the
judge said that my partner was ok but he'd have to hear oral argument on
whether I should be allowed to appear in the case, and started asking
questions. He asked where I went to law school and was told William and
Mary. The judge commented, "That must be a co-ed school." We were
bewildered at the counsel table. The judge explained, "well, you've got
both your William and your Mary, that makes it co-ed."

Later on, recalling that I was from out of town but not that I was also
from out of state, the judge asked me with which of the Lexington firms
did I work. Lexington is the "big city" in Eastern Kentucky. When I
reminded him that I was not from Lexington at all, he said it was all
right then. After he made the connection that we were from a town with a
popular NASCAR track, he told us how much he liked going to the races

En route to a motion hearing in the case, I was running late and got
stopped for speeding, and called ahead telling them to try to move us
back in the docket until I got there. As it turns out, I got there in
plenty of time, but someone had already told the judge that I had been
ticketed. When I rose to argue the motion, the judge said, "Mr. Minor, in
light of your recent brush with the law, have your civil rights been
restored to where you are able to argue this motion?" "Judge," I said,
"I'm innocent until proven guilty."

Our client was a company in the food business. At trial, one of the
essential company witnesses, a nice woman who worked in the bakery/deli,
was very shy and nervous and I wanted to get her on and off the stand as
quickly as possible. After a minimal cross-examination by plaintiff's
counsel, I jumped up and declared the witness was free to go. Detecting
my anxiety, the judge said "Not so fast, the Court has some questions."
My heart sank. The judge turned to the witness and said, "Are you the
woman who makes those fried chicken livers on Saturdays? I go up there
every weekend and spend all my money there." When the woman left the
courtroom and went out where the other witnesses were waiting, she
exclaimed, "He asked me about my chicken livers!"

In the same trial I tried to question another witness, who was a licensed
attorney working in-house for the company, about what he heard the
plaintiff say at the earlier hearing on her claim for unemployment
benefits. We expected some arguments about the admissibility of this
evidence, but no one mentioned the statute I had in mind. Instead, the
lawyer on the other side objected on the inscrutable grounds that the
witness "was going to testify about something he heard while he was a
lawyer." Before I could say anything in response, the judge ruled, even
more inscrutably, "Objection sustained, the witness can answer." I told
the judge I didn't understand his ruling. He pointed back to the table
where our local counsel was still seated and said, "go back over there
and find out." I thought he meant I could get the answer from local
counsel, who of course had no idea what the judge meant. As it turns out,
the judge meant for me to ask more questions, that the witness could say
what he heard but that the unemployment hearing transcript (which we had
not yet tried to introduce, but the witness held in his hands) would not
be allowed into the case as an exhibit.

Eventually, the judge grew tired of our evidence. The claim was about
hostile environment sexual harassment. After several of the plaintiff's
co-workers recounted incidents in which she was the one telling detailed
and unusual stories in the workplace about sexual matters, the judge
called me to the bench and let me know that no more such evidence would
be allowed. "This is a court of law," the judge said, "and we're not
going to have any more of that kind of talk in here."

When the jury retired, immediately upon the closing of the door to the
jury room, all of them laughed together so loudly we could hear them as
we were packing up in the courtroom. Some minutes later, the jury brought
back a the defense verdict, so we can laugh when these stories are
retold. As the day was fine, the local lawyer and I retired to the golf
course, and got in about 15 holes before dark, then I left to drive back
to Virginia.

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