How do you get someone to leave you alone without causing a scene? Here's something that worked for me once. I can't guarantee it will work for you.
36th District Court is in downtown Detroit and the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit me from really telling you my opinion of it. Just suffice it to say that it is one of the most inefficient operations of any sort in the Western world. The court routinely loses documents and files, and judges sometimes don't bother showing up for work. Before 9/11, homeless people would come in from the cold to sleep in the hallways.
One day I had a case set to be heard at 8:30 a.m. and the judge didn't unlock the doors to her courtroom until 11:30. Luckily, mine was one of the three cases she called before noon – telling everyone else to come back "later." This made me late for an important meeting a few miles north in Oakland County so I hurried toward the elevators. As I was rushing down the hall, I saw a man out of the corner of my eye attempt to make eye contact with me. It was not uncommon to be hit up for handouts here at the time, but something told me this was different. The man fell in beside me and matched his pace to mine.
"Let me ask you something," he said, rather curtly, putting his hand in front of me to stop me.
I waved my hand as if to indicate I was in too much of a hurry to talk. I was, and I had no idea what he was going to ask. I don't think he was homeless. He was looking for some free legal advice. I kept walking, around his outstretched hand.
I made it to the elevator and a door opened. It was empty, I stepped in and punched the button for the ground floor. He stepped in and stood too close to me.
"I got a legal problem." He said it as if that explained why I could smell his breath.
I did my best to remain stone-faced. It's something I am actually pretty good at. I've been accused of having the male-equivalent of bitchy resting face. (Contemporaneous photo above for reference.)
The elevator inched down, floot-to-floor, not stopping at any.
He pointed at my tie. "Ain't you an attorney?" He leaned forward, as if he was going to touch it.
I ran through my options.
What would get this guy to leave me alone? What other excuse might I have to be in this building wearing an expensive suit?
I looked him in the eye and said as authoritatively as possible, "No, I am a drug lord."
His eyes widened as the doors to the elevator opened. He took a quick step back and then scurried into the mass of humanity on the ground floor. I never saw him again.
I made it to my meeting, albeit a bit late. And don't get me wrong. I have helped strangers before. I was approached in this same court by a crying woman who wanted her grandson to have an attorney and he hadn't hired one. After talking to her for a few minutes I agreed to help. She put a small wad of cash in my hand and said she'd pay me more later. I told her not to bother. When I counted the crumpled bills they added up to a hundred dollars. I wasn't even expecting that. A couple of times, I have also told people to skip sending me anything.
If the guy in the hall had at least approached me politely, I would have talked to him briefly. But, "Let me ask you something," with a hand in the face is not a proper greeting. Not even in Detroit.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation. His podcast, Lehto's Law, is on iTunes here.
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