A Day Like This

“Ah, discovery court…”, I thought to myself, “where the dreams of baby lawyers go to die.” Discovery court is a funny animal. It is a giant courtroom packed with about a hundred other lawyers, most wearing suits from JC Penny or with holes in them. The actual hearing usually lasts about 10 seconds, and the judge usually accuses both sides of acting like children. It always smells faintly of cigarette smoke and cheap cologne, with a just hint of booze in there.

If you have any delusions that law is prestigious, spend a day in discovery court and you’ll quickly learn otherwise.

Today it was about 35 degrees out and rainy, and I had left my umbrella at the office. Fine Philadelphia weather, just warm enough that it’s not snowing, but cold enough to make the rain feel downright miserable. And, of course, the only way to get to the courthouse is to walk a few blocks in the weather.

I reached the courtroom cold and wet. I must have been in this courtroom a thousand times; it felt routine at this point. But discovery court is always the same. Show up at 8:45am, sign in, and then wait for your case to be called, hopefully quickly. Sometimes you are there for 20 minutes, sometimes you are there well into the afternoon watching petty discovery disputes. The issues are always the same, too… “I asked for documents and they didn’t give them to me” or “She noticed a deposition but didn’t ask me for convenient dates.” I could probably argue a discovery motion in my sleep – my wife tells me that often I do.

Finally, Judge Marshall was looked up from his crossword puzzles and told the bailiff to call my case. I couldn’t blame the judge for being uninterested – I wanted documents but the other side didn’t give them to me. Judge Marshall probably hears this problem fifty times a day. Hopefully I’d be home in time to grab soup from my favorite soup place. They were usually out of soup by 2pm. And today was a soup day.

Although the issues in my motion were simple, we had exchanged a lot of correspondence. The motion, with exhibits, totaled over two-thousand pages. I decided to print out the motion itself and the relevant exhibits. If the judge wanted to see more, the rest was stored on my iPad. I don’t see why he would need them, though. This also keeps my costs down, as it gets expensive to constantly be printing out documents.

Thankfully, technology had moved forward. There is no need to waste money on unnecessary printing costs in the digital age.

But as I’d soon learn, maybe the courts haven’t caught up yet…

“Mr. Rushie, you’ve got 5 seconds to tell me what this is about…”
“Well, Your Honor, I served discovery on the other side about two months ago. I’ve made several efforts to get it… as you can see from my…”
“Hold on a second. This motion isn’t complete. Where are the rest of the exhibits?”
“Your Honor, the motion would have been over 2000 pages with all the exhibits. If Your Honor wants to see the additional exhibits, I have them here on my iPad. May I approach?”

Dead silence. Judge Marshall looked pissed. My more experienced opposing counsel tried to conceal the smirk on his face. He didn’t do a good job.

“Is this a joke?”
“No, Your Honor. I am simply trying to make the court’s life easier. You have my assurance that the exhibits are not relevant to what we will be discussing today. But if Your Honor wishes to see them, I have them on my iPad. I filed the motion electronically, so I’m sure the Court…”
“Mr. Rushie, this all sounds very… modern. And stupid. See, in my courtroom you always have paper copies of the motion. The ENTIRE motion. And I don’t care about your iPods, iPads, your iPhones, or whatever else you call those toys. My kids think they are like, so cool, but me, not so much. And this is my courtroom. My courtroom does not revolve around you and what you find convenient. And you might think I’m an old fogie, and you’re probably right, but I want paper copies of everything. That’s how courts have done it for hundreds of years, and we’re not going to bend to your whim because it’s inconvenient or not as ‘modern’ as you would like. You got that?”
“Understood, Your Honor.”
“You have 15 minutes to bring me the ENTIRE motion. Otherwise, I am dismissing it without prejudice and you can come back here next week.”

I could see people grinning in the courtroom. At this point in my career, I’d been benchslapped enough times that I didn’t really care. I dashed out of the courtroom like a crazy person, finding the nearest Kinkos. Thankfully there was one across the street.

“I need this printed out, stat.” I yelled at the poor store clerk.
“That will be $45.”
“Whatever.” Guess I didn’t save any money in printing costs.

Exactly fourteen minutes later I got back into the courtroom, drenched in sweat and rain, looking more like a homeless person than a lawyer. The courtroom was empty, and opposing counsel was nowhere to be found. I pulled the bailiff aside, who I knew pretty well at this point. “Hey Mark, is Judge Marshall gonna hear my motion after lunch?” Mark looked at me, grinning, “Sorry Jordan. Judge Marshall went home. He dismissed your motion without prejudice. I’ll re-list it for next week. You look like shit, by the way…”

Fuck. The client is going to love this. Plus, it all meant a second trip to discovery court that I couldn’t bill the client for. Maybe I had saved a few dollars on printing out that motion, but by now whatever I’d saved was in the hole and then some…

Next week the story was the same in discovery court. I showed up at 8:45 and waited until about 11:30 for the judge to take the bench. Why does it rain every time that I have to be in discovery court?

This time it wasn’t Judge Marshall – it was Judge Green. Judge Green called my motion. I was prepared and had the entire motion, all 2000 pages, ready to go. Judge Green didn’t look so pleased.

“Mr. Rushie, this motion is quite… voluminous. I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
“I know, Your Honor. There has been a lot of correspondence exchanged between the parties, and I wanted the court to have the entire motion.”
“Well, you electronically filed the motion so we have it. Why didn’t you just attach the last three exhibits? It’s all we’re talking about today, right?”

I thought of My Cousin Vinny wearing the red suit, thinking, “I printed this ridiculous thing for you.”

To no great surprise, my motion was denied and I was told to work it out with opposing counsel. Surprise, surprise. The client was going to be pissed – two trips to court for nothing. I couldn’t blame her.

Papers in hand, I hopped on the subway, cold and wet, destroyed but not defeated…

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6 Responses to A Day Like This

  1. keithrl says:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Mostly it reminds me of a conversation I was having with some other lawyers this morning on the importance of knowing your judges.

  2. I’m so sorry… that must be frustrating. I used to live in Philly, so I fully understand your frustration of walking to the court in wet, freezing weather. The sun is nice down here in Texas… even in December.

    • They’re doing construction on Dillworth Plaza so there is only about one entrance to City Hall. It’s almost a mile from where I park on Arch Street by the time I get to discovery court.

  3. Discovery court is always a surprise. One thing: I believe it should say “suits from JC Penny and/or with holes in them.” My suits are usually both.

  4. Ancel De Lambert says:

    When my math teacher tells me he doesn’t like using the computers they supply the college with, it’s cute. When a judge sighs and says he doesn’t care for new technology, it’s empathetic. When a judge actively punishes you and condemns advancement in one breath, it’s an embarrassment. Yes, you are an old fogey, now step down before you go completely senile and tell the council to “get off my lawn!”
    “That’s how courts have done it for hundreds of years,” yeah, right around the time the PRINTING PRESS was invented you Luddite! Get some cerebral plasticity and grow up!

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