Vail Law: Why do court proceedings take so long to play out? (column)
“Is this normal?”
My client, who was standing on 4-inch heels in the courthouse hallway fired this at me, half in relief and half in exasperation.
“Yeah,” I said. “This stuff usually takes some time.”
We had just emerged from what was supposed to be a “readiness” conference but, instead of being ready, the other side asked for just a wee bit more time. “Could we, your honor,” the attorney on the other side meekly asked, “push back the trial date back just a trice?”
The judge asked why. Then he took off on a flyer for a moment expressing his clear exasperation.
“Well, your honor,” opposing counsel said, “It’s not our fault. Our expert witness is suddenly unavailable.”
The judge gave him a long, appraising look and then asked, “Because?” He drew the word out like he was stretching putty.
“He had knee surgery, your honor. His doctor says he can’t travel for six weeks.”
The judge leaned forward on the elbows of this robe. “This expert is key?” he asked.
“Can’t you find another expert?”
“Not in sufficient time.”
“Have you tried?”
“It’s a complex matter, your honor. There are only so many …”
“How did he injure himself?” the judge broke in.
“Well,” opposing counsel answered sheepishly. “It wasn’t exactly an injury. It …”
The judge drew up his eyebrows. “How so?”
“Well, he’s needed surgery for some time. And there was an opening. And he took it.”
The judge exploded: “Didn’t you have him under subpoena?”
“We did, your honor.”
“He is defying the court!”
“He didn’t consult with us, your honor.”
The judged huffed and puffed but at last he said that circumstances — however infuriating they may be — warranted a brief “continuance” — legal mumbo-jumbo for an extension of time. Earnestly, he scoured his calendar which was blocked as heavily as a colossal Lego set. Although I couldn’t see his calendar, I could imagine what it looked like; blocks of green and blue and yellow color coding all the different legal stuff that filled his days. I imagined that it looked something like a game of Tetris.
After a long look, a bunch of key tapping, and a responsive exchange with his law clerk, the judge finally looked up and said, “I’ve got (these dates) available.”
After swallowing his Adam’s apple, opposing counsel said, “Unfortunately, sir, I have a conflict with …”
“Your expert was under subpoena! I could … What is your conflict?”
“I have another trial that date, your hon …”
The judge went back to searching his calendar. “I’ve got four days in …”
My client tugged my sleeve. “That’s four more months,” she said.
I came to my feet. I protested. The judge was on my side but the fair administration of justice was on the other party’s side. Grumblingly, the judge re-set the date.
I had no better explanation to offer my client than, “Stuff happens. I told you early — when you first came to me — that his law stuff can be frustrating, that it usually takes longer than you wish, that it will drain and exasperate you.”
She balanced on her heels and nodded, wrenched the hem of her skirt. Indeed, she had to grudgingly agree, I had warned her of precisely that. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, mindless of the lipstick that flaked on them.
There are about a zillion reasons why things can drag on in court proceedings but the bottom lines is this: usually they do. And it can be exasperating beyond any reasonable measure. Sometimes, you simply have to buck up.
Wishing all the gift of patience in the new year.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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