Home > jobs, transformation, Uncategorized > Priest vs. Bus Driver… Ethics and Power

Priest vs. Bus Driver… Ethics and Power

OK so when I left off with my saga–and my loyal followers of small numbers– I had just changed several lives by sorting out a no insurance personal injury case in way that was–dare I say it? Healing.

I have a vivid memory of another case where I did something very creative—and it had a less happy ending. No healing… a settlement that left me feeling I had done something bad. Dishonest. But, perhaps… required ethically. (You can be the judge.)

The case was another of the dog cases only this quirky trio would have taken. We had a Workers Comp case of an LA County bus driver, and they drag on forever. At some point during this case (which I was not handling) the driver (also Hispanic but I have forgotten his name) came to and said he was being sued. The girls—the partners—took the case with a lien on his Worker’s Comp settlement. Then they gave it to me.

It was the case of  the Priest vs. the Bus driver. Priest has sued, alleging a loan made and not repaid—involving the purchase of a house, or some land. Something like $20,000, which was a year’s salary back then.

Our guy admits he borrowed the money. There is no note. I get the case before and answer has been filed—and I remember there is this little thing called the Statute of Frauds. Now the response to a pleading which is insufficient is a thing called a demurrer. It makes the plaintiff’s pleading stand or fall as it is. It gets almost always gets them a “do-over” if the demurrer is sustained (and ups their attorney’s fees.) I always through demurrers were a BAD idea—why educate your opponent if s/he is a dummy? But according to Bernie Witkin, then still alive and one of the leading authorities in California law,  the Statute of Frauds, if  not asserted in a demurrer, could be waived. And this was one risk I could not take—this was a land deal and there was no writing. That might be fatal to the priest’s case… So I demurred (instead of filing and Answer to the complaint. The matter was set for a hearing. I am a new attorney so hearings are a pretty big deal for me, still.) Drum roll, please! The day arrives.

I think opposing course had a broken leg—but that’s fuzzy. But what is clear as a bell is all parties appearing by telephone for the one and only time in my legal career. I remember it was really hard to know when the judge was about to talk, with no visual. And I remember we won. Given that there was nothing in writing, it was not clear the complaint could be amended to state a case. The other attorney, whom I never did meet, seemed a tad lame.

Meanwhile, I am thinking “what the heck is a priest doing with this kind of money?” I ask my client “does the Bishop know about this?” Well, my client brings this to the attention of the Bishop (at my suggestion) and I hear back that the Bishop has said that in no uncertain terms this case is NOT going to court. Oops!

Now. this is a very unusual circumstance. I have enormous power—I can dictate terms to this guy who had already looked like a TOTAL jerk in the demurrer… hemmed and hawed and clearly had NO clue. So (to the best of my recollection) I settle with him, verbally, on the amount my guy says he owes. Not a dime more. On my own—no consult with the boss. I am stern—Mr. Lost-the-demurrer asks “what about interest?” I say, “take it or leave it.” No matter what he asks, I just say “take it or leave it. I am a TOTAL bitch. He caves.

Then I tell Sandy about this great thing I did.  Except… she is not pleased! Rather, she sternly admonished me—“You didn’t get the best deal for your client.” No praise for my VERY CLEVER resolution… no praise for settling a case with not even an answer filed. I was chided! Scolded! Ashamed, and required to do it all over.

You see, I had these eedjits by the gonads. Ergo, I could take advantage of this and settle for LESS than my guy owed. So I did. I called Mr. Notsosmart back the next day, and I had to say: “You remember that deal we had yesterday? Well, it’s gone.” I do not recall what he said or what the amount finally was—I just remember how wrong it felt. How dishonorable.

Was I ethically obligated by the duty of zealous advocacy to take advantage of a situation that will never again happen to me—or, maybe ANYONE–and cut a “better” deal than my client asked for? God only knows. I don’t.

But that’s what I did. And that I will never ever forget.

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  1. leslie I'mKar'n
    April 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Ouch! Ouch all the way around – except for your guy of course! Lol..no good deed goes unpunished, eh, Carroll?

    • April 2, 2012 at 7:13 am

      I may never know if I was within bounds. if I had not had the INTUITION to send my guy to the bishop he’d have had more attorneys fees PLUS a judgement against him. He did not ASK for the better deal. ON balance I think I sud have asked him what HE wanted-but if I had not done what Sandy ordered, I do not know what she might have done.

      At NO TIME have I ever been acknowledged for these effing BRILLIANT moves. NEVER. And there are more.

  1. May 15, 2013 at 2:29 am

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