Monday, September 28, 2009

The opening arguments

So there I was with my gang raisin’ the courthouse roof with our holla and fightin’ the establishment.

Um, what I meant to say is that there I was with the other 11 jurors picked for a trial.

*If you missed the first part, then just scroll down one. If you happened across this post when doing a web search, then don’t you have a court case to research for right now? Er, I mean that you can click on this link to read the previous story and I plead The Fifth if you use any of it as evidence against your own conviction*

So there the lucky 12 filed into the elevator with an officer as he led us toward the courtroom that would be our new home for the next three days (it would have only taken two days if one witness . . . well, I’ll get to that part later). They told nothing about the case to the jurors before we entered. We sat in our padded leather chairs (I had to get the squeaky one - bad karma struck again), then bounced back up when the cute judge entered.

Wow, he was a looker! Our judge had short-cropped hair, maybe in his 30's, and had a quick smile that made everyone relaxed in his presence. He introduced himself and explained how much of the court process would proceed concerning opening arguments, deliberation, evidence, and the ilk. Then he introduced the lawyers (who looked to be the epitome of Laurel and Hardy) and their puppets . . .

Clients! Yeah, this was what they were called. Clients.

Really, the suing people weren’t at the heart of this case. Their lawyers’ bumbling methods on presenting their sides became showcased to us. Boy, did they stink up the joint. In fact, I think I’ll refer to the lawyers as Laurel and Hardy, because both looked like them (without the black bowler hats and moustaches) and they converted a simple, everyday court case into a disastrous tangle of stupidity.

The skinny lawyer (Laurel) represented his client, which I shall call Garage Man. He owned a small car repair garage next to where the main incident took place.

The fat lawyer (Hardy) represented his client, who will have the name Cast Lady. She was the suer in this for pain and suffering due to a slip-n-fall accident that placed her arm in a cast.

Anyway, the trial commenced. Both lawyers had their say in the opening arguments. There wasn’t any buildup to this case. It was as plain as day and everyone agreed to the circumstances, which only made things more confusing on why this even came to trial. Hardy stood up, approached the juror box, and began.

Cast Lady lived at an apartment complex at the top of the hill. Every day she walked down and crossed the street to stand at the bus stop right by the car repair shop so she could head to work. Next to the garage was a house with a large wooden fence between the two properties. There had been some work done and a pile of debris sat on the sidewalk right at the property line. Most of this debris (the lawyers were adamant in calling it DEBRIS) consisted of small stones and a few large chunks of cement in about a three-foot long area and about shin-high.

The debris had sat there for months and was still sitting there when this trial started. Cast Lady saw it was there. So did Garage Man, but he didn’t care because it wasn’t his debris. It belonged to the owner of the property and was his responsibility to clean it up, or so this was the normal impression everyone should have.

(I should also mention now that the house owner never appeared in court. His testimony consisted of a signed affidavit shown to us with the use of a slide show. I’m not sure what the circumstances were for him not to be there since the whole case involved him. Perhaps a medical situation prevented the man from coming. Perhaps he died before the trial date. Everybody appeared somber on both sides when it came to presenting his written testimony.)

Anyway, Cast Lady knew the pile of debris was there for as long as Garage Man did. One night, after attending a celebration that involved consuming large amounts of alcohol, Cast Lady was the backseat passenger in her friend’s car. At 2am, the car pulled up to the bus stop to let out Cast Lady so she could walk the rest of the way home. She opened the door, placed her foot onto the pile of debris, and promptly fell on her side. Her friends helped her up where they discovered she had broken her right forearm in multiple fractures. They took her to the hospital. A week later, she contacted a lawyer to sue Garage Man.

This was Hardy’s entire case. Cast Lady broke arm due to house owner’s DEBRIS on sidewalk and was suing Garage Man for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering in the amount of $10,000 dollars (including lawyer’s fees). Yeah . . . makes you want to dope slap every single person in the court case, including both lawyers.

But wait, it got even better.

The reason Garage Man was being sued was because a little of the house owner’s DEBRIS had shifted due to wind, rain, and acts of God to trespass on his part of the sidewalk. How much debris was it? Lift both of your hands and cup them together. Now imagine your hands filled with pebbles. THAT’S how much went onto Garage Man’s property.

Here’s an interesting fact everybody might not be aware of concerning Pittsburgh city law: if any type of hazard that might cause bodily injury to an individual is on your property, even if that hazard does not belong to you or was originally placed on your property, YOU can be sued for damages. So, in essence, if the neighbor’s boy takes out a stick of gum and tosses the wrapper on his property where later the wind blows it onto your property and someone comes along and slips on it, breaking their leg, that person can now sue you for their pain and suffering.

This was the reason Garage Man was in court. It was his responsibility to clean up the bit of shifted debris that would only fill up to the halfway point inside a bowler hat.

Now that Hardy had his say in the matter, trying to get the jury to have a tearjerker moment for his poor client, he sat as lawyer Laurel rose. By this time, we were still getting over the shock of the city law concerning safety hazards. A few of the people had even grunted in their surprise (I’m sure a few had called their spouses during our lunch break to yell at their neighbors to clean up the crap from yards so they don’t get sued). Laurel began his convoluted defense of his client by smack-talking on Cast Lady.

He first brought up Cast Lady’s questionable past, including a job where she had been fined and later fired for stealing money from the account books. The amount, not surprisingly, was $10,000 - the same being sought in this trial. Then he brought up her drunkenness on that night and the discrepancies from Hardy’s retelling versus the time the hospital forms indicated when she arrived there for treatment. Laurel’s last argument dealt with saying he would establish during the proceedings that NONE of the debris sat on Garage Man’s property so his client shouldn’t be held liable. In closing, he said Cast Lady was a moneygrubbing con artist. Thank you.

So closing arguments were done. The judge released us for the day to go home while bemused, befuddled, and flabbergasted. Yet we were in even more of a treat the coming day.

Laurel and Hardy would be calling up their clients and witnesses to testify. One character witness would raise the courthouse roof with his holla.


  1. Classic 'deep-pockets' lawyering. . .

    A drunken lady slips and falls on some junk some guy left by his curb, so she sues THE BUSINESS NEXT DOOR, who had nothing to do with the situation, except for his property having been there when the wind blew. But he's got more money than the guy who left the junk there in the first place, and besides, it's a business, which magically invokes all the 'robin-hood-ish' 'FREE-MONEY!' instincts of a certain segment of society. . .

    But, I should just shut up, and let you finish your story, shouldn't I? . . .

  2. Desmond: Ahhh... someone sees it, but let's not taint the evidence which is to come...

  3. You just keep coming up with superb bits of stuff lately. I'm truly loving your recent output.

  4. Excellent!! You should be published - are you??? Great writing.


    Holli in Ghana

  5. Pale observer: I'm not published... yet. But I'm trying to be. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Great storytelling, Michelle. And don't dare not tell us how it ends!

  7. I have never done jury duty and I am happy as I would hate it.;)

  8. Judith: Thanks! I won't spoil the ending because... well, you'll see.

    Protege: I think you'd be a swell juror. You have that analytical mind to see things beyond the scope of the evidence presented. :-)

  9. Great post, Michelle. No inadvertent nudity (like so many of your previous posts), but still good stuff. LOL. Okay, I really couldn't maintain a straight face putting this down, but it just had to be said.

    Oh, and this story is really compelling me to tell my own jury tale. Not sure if I can relate the story as well as you do, but hmmm...

  10. Eric: Well, inadvertent nudity doesn't seem like a big selling point to my readers, so I cut it out. Figured no one would miss it since I wasn't getting any requests for stories and pics...

    Do please tell your adventures in jury duty... and include naked photos, why don'tcha? Hah!

  11. Jeez. The insanity. And coincidentally, I have jury duty starting tomorrow so we'll see if I get picked.

    I hope not . . .

  12. How long are you keeping us hanging on for the next edition?!

  13. Dk: I hope you get picked... MWHAHAHAHA! (How's that for insanity?)

    Jinksy: Longer than I expected. I figured this was a two-post series. Arrggghh!

  14. Too bad that city didn't have a good code enforcement department (haha). Anyway, debris is the right word. Debris meaning, anything being stored outside that should be stored inside or creates blight...ain't I a smartun'? And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a sidewalk "public" property. Shouldn't the city be liable?

  15. Theresa: You are a smartun! I didn't know this was how debris was classified by the code book.

    I thought the sidewalk was considered "public property" too, which surprised all the jurors to hear it isn't when it comes to lawsuits.


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