Dream of: 01 January 1998 "What About My Case?"
Standing in the middle of a room, I was gripping some typewritten papers in my right hand – a legal Motion (for a hearing) which I had received from an attorney in one of my bankruptcy cases. In this particular case I was representing eight bankruptcy debtors, apparently all in the same family. The Motion was challenging the information which my clients had provided to the court regarding their income; the opposing attorney claimed my clients earned more than they had claimed.
I was more than vexed by the Motion. I pulled out the original document which I had filed regarding the clients' incomes. Each client had claimed an income of less than $8,800.00 per year, an amount which was within the allowed limit. As far as I knew, there was no reason to believe my clients' claims had been untrue. Apparently the opposing attorney was simply trying to harass us with this irritating Motion. I ranted to someone else in the room that I wasn't going to tolerate it.
I had arrived in the courtroom of bankruptcy judge McGuire, where the hearing on the Motion was scheduled to be heard. The pews were crowded with spectators, while the black-robed judge presided from his bench at the front of the room. I now realized my opponent was Holladay (a Dallas attorney who represented creditors in bankruptcy cases), whom I had previously faced many times; I thought her first name was "Elizabeth."
When the judge called our case, Elizabeth stood and hastened up to the judge. Although I also rose, I preferred to remain standing in front of the pews. I wasn't going to say anything unless it was absolutely necessary. I planned to let the other attorney present her case first, and I would only respond to what she said. If my suspicions were correct, the attorney would have no case. I figured that she had invented her allegations and that she had hoped I wouldn't show up so she would be able to obtain a default judgment. As she now stood nervously next to the judge, I could see how worried she appeared, as if she knew she had been caught in her own trap.
When Elizabeth finally walked around behind the bench and began talking with the judge, I noticed the judge persistently glancing at me as if he wanted me to also approach the bench and participate. Finally I decided I should do as the judge wanted and I walked up toward the bench. Contemplating what I would say, I was having trouble remembering how to refer to the other attorney. At first I thought I would call her the "prosecutor", but then I realized that this wasn't a criminal case and that she wasn't a prosecutor. But I couldn't remember what to call her. How could I have forgotten such a basic concept? Finally it came to me I would call her the "plaintiff's attorney." The appellation still didn't seem exactly correct, but it was the best I could do.
The judge indicated I should also walk around behind the bench with him and the other attorney. As soon as I had done so, the judge said he was thinking of postponing the case to give the other attorney more time to gather her evidence. This was exactly what I had expected would happen: clearly the other attorney had no case and she was just stalling for time. As she stepped back behind the judge I aggressively began my argument. I quickly pointed out that this case was scheduled for a hearing today, and that I had gone to trouble and expense to be there. The other attorney had been afforded ample opportunity to prepare her case and assemble her witnesses. Since she had failed to do so, it should be abundantly clear that she had no case and that the entire matter should be dismissed. I also wanted the judge to know I was experienced with bankruptcy cases. I told him I had handled over 1,000 bankruptcy cases and I had never had a Motion like this filed against any of my clients.
As I spoke, Elizabeth was standing and meekly smiling behind the judge. The nuances of her body language and figure (but not her face) were almost identical to those of Elaine Benes (the character played by the actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the television sitcom "Seinfeld"). I immediately pointed out the attorney's smirking face to the judge. I debated whether to say she was "smirking" or "simpering." "Simpering" was a word which I had only recently begun using, and the word didn't seem appropriate in this context. So I told the judge she was "smirking." Immediately she wiped the smile from her face, and pasted on a somber expression.
The judge, who now instead of judge McGuire resembled a judge whom I had never seen before, seemed to be agreeing with me. He apparently was going to dismiss the case and he said as much. Immediately Elizabeth walked away from behind the bench and disappeared among the spectators. Even though she had lost, she was obviously relieved that the matter was concluded and she wanted to leave as quickly as possible.
Suddenly, however, I remembered I had another important point to make – I thought the other attorney should be punished and should have to pay my attorney fees. I immediately began whining to the judge that I had driven all the way to Dallas from Fort Worth, and that I had spent two or three hours dealing with this hearing. The judge obviously didn't want to delve into the matter any further, but he told me if I wanted to discuss it, I would have to call the other attorney back to the bench. I walked to the front of the bench and looked out at the throng of spectators. Unable to spot the other attorney among them, I finally called out, "Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" But she was no longer in the room.
I turned back to the judge, who was now yet a different man, much older than the first two judges had been. Obviously he was impatient to conclude the matter, and I was feeling less inclined to continue importuning for attorney's fees. Besides, I was feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my attire: I wasn't wearing any shoes, only socks, and I was walking on my dark blue pants, which were too long. Plus I heard someone in the background whisper that I hadn't even called the other attorney before coming to court. This was true. Only now did I begin to understand my motives: I had intended to embarrass the other attorney. I had known she didn't have a case, and I had been so miffed with her filing the Motion, I had decided to ridicule her in front of the judge. But my tactic had somewhat backfired, because I sensed the judge was now disinclined to award me attorney's fees because I had never contacted the other attorney. So as I stood before him, when he sensed I had nothing more to say, he finally pronounced, "Case dismissed."
As he looked straight at me, I could tell he was satisfied with the way I had presented my case, although he was slightly perturbed I hadn't first contacted the other attorney. Even though the entire matter had been the fault of the other attorney, he clearly thought I could've avoided wasting the court's time by simply speaking with the other attorney before coming to court.
I turned and walked out of the court room and out of the court house, relieved that the matter was finished. It didn't really matter to me that I hadn't received the attorney's fees – I was just glad I'd won the case. This was one of my last bankruptcy clients; I had quit taking on new clients some time ago and soon would have no more clients. But as I walked down the stairs of the courthouse, in a way I regretted I would no longer be going to court. I had always gotten along well with the bankruptcy judges, especially judge Schwille, whom I especially liked. The prospect of no longer practicing law in front of them somewhat saddened me.
I pulled up in a car in front of the Gay Street House. I noticed the grass needed mowing. I had previously mowed about half of it, but some tall weeds still needed to be cut or pulled. I parked on the Eighth Street side of the house, in front of the small green house where my grandmother Mabel had lived next door during her last couple years of life. The grass also needed cut there. Tall spindly brown plants covered about half the lawn.
I walked into the sparsely furnished middle front room of the Gay Street House. I had recently arranged the few pieces of furniture in the room, a blue couch, an armchair, and a small table at one end of the couch. My father was sitting at the end of the couch next to the table, looking at the bright red phone which belonged to me and which I had hooked up and set on the table when I had arranged the furniture.
My brother Chris, crippled with muscular dystrophy, was either sitting or lying on the couch. I didn't actually see him, but I was aware of his presence. I heard him ask, "What about my case?"
Only now did I realize the case which I had been handling in bankruptcy court had been Chris's case – I had been defending him. I told him that he didn't have to worry, that the case had been dismissed. The matter no longer held much importance for me.
As I sat down on the couch, my father asked me if I knew anything about the fire department having called. He was looking at the little device hooked to the phone which recorded the names and numbers of anyone who had phoned. I vaguely remembered having looked at the device earlier, so I knew what he was talking about. It seemed that my sister was working as a reporter for a newspaper or television station, and that she was frequently receiving messages like this from fire and police departments.
My father quickly picked up the phone and dialed the number. I overheard him talking with someone about a fire which had broken out in a school. Apparently there had been a great deal of smoke, but it sounded as if no one had been injured. My father seemed mostly interested in determining who owned the school. It sounded as if the ownership of the school were tied up in probate court; my father talked about the various heirs now claiming title to the school.
I finally stood up and picked up a paper-back novel lying on the floor. I had already read approximately half the novel. I intended to simply ensconce myself in the armchair and continue reading; I had nothing else to do at the moment. It was about noon in the middle of the week. I might just spend the rest of the week reading. There was something more important which I needed to be doing; but it seemed it could wait for the moment.
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