Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nervous father-to-be brings back memories

The young insurance adjuster was clearly nervous about something. He whispered to his attorney who nodded, and nodded, and finally spoke.

We were at a mandatory arbitration hearing recently, a proceeding that is supposed to reduce the docket in the Municipal Division of our Circuit Court (that's the division that hears our smaller cases, where less than $30,000 is at stake). A mandatory arbitration hearing is like a trial, only a lot of the evidence can be pre-admitted if served on all parties more than 30 days before, and the hearing is not in front of a judge, it's in front of a panel of three lawyers. (Whether that really is the proper ratio -- three lawyers = one judge -- has not been adequately researched, in my opinion.)

And the mandatory arbitration hearing is run on the clock, too. Like a baseball game, a real trial can take all the time it needs to get the evidence heard (assuming the jurors can stay awake -- see, U.S. v. Clemens), but a 'mandatory arb' hearing must fit within a two hour time slot.

Usually, that's not a problem.

But the young insurance adjuster was leaving nothing to chance. "Mr. Chairman," said the lawyer, addressing the panel chair, as we were getting our pre-hearing housekeeping matters attended to, "my witness wanted the panel to know that his wife is heavily pregnant --"

"Mazel tov," someone interrupted.

"Thank you," said the witness.

"-- and she could go into labor at any time. My witness wants to leave his phone on during the hearing --"

"It's on vibrate," the anxious witness offered helpfully.

"-- just in case," said the lawyer as quickly as he could, determined to get in the last word.

"I assume this is your first child," I said. I wasn't asking.

"Why, yes," said the witness, looking surprised. "How did you know?"

Everyone in the room above a certain age -- and that was most of us -- laughed.

"Experience," I said, and all of us who'd laughed before laughed again. We weren't mocking the young man. Maybe we were a little envious that he was just starting down a path that, for each of us, was well-trod. I'm sure we all had a story or two we might have told at that point.

Here's one of mine.

Long Suffering Spouse was just about due with Oldest Son. We weren't past her due date yet (Oldest Son was the only one, I think, who actually came early) but all the signs and portents indicated that my wife's time was near.

I had a doctor's deposition that afternoon. It wasn't going to take that long; the depositions of treating physicians generally don't. There might be some notes that need deciphering and there's always some fluff and nonsense about background, training, and education, but all these other questions are asked usually just to camouflage the real purpose, which is, generally, to determine whether some present complaint really is, in the good doctor's opinion, related to the accident that gives rise to the suit and, if so, how firm the doctor is in that belief.

I think the deposition was set for 3:00pm; the doctor was coming downtown from Hyde Park (unusual in itself -- usually doctors make us come out to them -- perhaps this was on the doctor's way home). I got a call from the attorney who was producing the doctor shortly before I would have set out for his office. "The doctor's running late," I was told. "He got tied up in surgery. Come over around 4:00."

I checked in at home, advising my bride I'd be a little later than expected.

"Well, alright," she said, "but don't make it too late. I think something's going on."

"You're in labor?"

"Well, maybe. We'll see."

I went to the other attorney's office.

Four o'clock came and went, but the doctor did not arrive. I cooled my heels in the waiting room. This was 1985 and I'm pretty certain that I had no cell phone way back then. But the firm's waiting room may have been equipped with a telephone. They often were, in those days.

Around 5:00, however I did it, I called home. "The doctor's not here yet," I told Long Suffering Spouse.

"No?" she said. And she was quiet for a moment. Too quiet.

"It's definitely started, hasn't it?" I asked.

"It might stop at any time," she said. "It's nothing much yet, but, yes, I'm in labor."

"I'll play it by ear here," I said. "I'll get home as soon as I can."

At this point I thought to clue in the receptionist about my dilemma. (Can you imagine a receptionist working overtime because of a deposition? What a strange world it must have been in 1985, but that's how I remember it.) "So," I concluded, "do you have any idea of the doctor's ETA?"

"I'll call," she said, and I assume she did because, a few minutes later, she called me back to the window (her work station had a window, like a large teller's window, complete with little round hole for sound and a wide slot above a narrow ledge through which mail and most packages might fit, but which no person could squeeze through). "He's just about ready to leave now," she said, "he can be here by 6:00."

I thought about it for a moment. It had been tough to get a date for the doctor's deposition in the first place and I was reluctant to lose this chance. But then I thought some more. "You know," I said, "maybe we should reschedule." She called out the other lawyer, who readily agreed to cancel that day's attempt. We picked a new date. I thanked the receptionist for her courtesy as I wrote the tentative new date for the deposition in my office diary.

"This isn't your first child," the receptionist said. And she wasn't asking either.

"No, it's our second," I said.

"I could tell."

"Really?" I was genuinely surprised, just like the nervous insurance adjuster the other day.

"For one thing," she said, "you're speaking in complete sentences."

Oldest Son was born about 12 hours later.

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