Friday, April 21, 2006

It was a splendid victory?

I was on trial last week. Not a big trial, not a high profile matter, not important, really, except to the parties and to the 14 people (12 jurors and two alternates) hailed in off the street to decide the controversy. It's nothing you'd ordinarily read about, even here in the blogosphere.

But it was a jury trial. And civil jury trials are rare beasts: Most civil cases settle or are otherwise disposed of before trial -- on the order of 99%. (Of course, when quoting those kinds of lop-sided statistics, I can't help but recall what a judge once told me about the pre-trial section he supervised: He had a 99.6% success rate, he told me, because 99.6% of the cases assigned to the "Fast Track" Pre-Trial Section were either settled, dismissed, or returned to the trial call. There will be a brief delay while you process that data.... Can you think of any other possible dispositions? So what the heck happened to the other .4%? I didn't have the heart to ask.)

Anyway, I've always liked being on trial. It certainly beats getting ready for trial all to heck: Before you start, you're trying to commit your entire case to memory, trying to anticipate every possible scenario, trying to avoid thinking about all of the million things that can go wrong. What if the witness gets lost on the way to the courthouse? What if the judge doesn't accept your argument on the admissibility of the key testimony or piece of evidence? What if you catch a cold?

I did catch a cold this past week -- spent Easter with bronchitis and on antibiotics. All from trying to get ready for trial and make it to baseball practice (to Youngest Son's eternal chagrin, I've been his coach for the past several years) and keep up with the other things that must be done in a solo law practice.

But when you're on trial, those things all go by the boards: You are immersed. You are committed. You are locked in. As I was this past week.

And for all this commitment, what was the result?

Well, it was what we call a Pyrrhic victory: The jury gave us something. It was therefore a victory -- but many more such victories and we are bankrupt. As I told the attorney who referred the case to me, we swung for the fences... and popped out to the second baseman.

I've long held the belief that trials only happen when someone is unreasonable; that's why they're so rare. It may be the party. It may be the attorney. It may sometimes be the judge. Of course, I'm working on an explanation as to why the rule doesn't apply in this case....

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