Let me tell you about the worst thing I ever saw another attorney do: Put one over on a blind judge.
My client leased a truck which turned out to be defective. During the transaction at the dealer, some of the numbers danced around on the paperwork and $2,000 of his money disappeared. For our purposes, you do not need a mathematical exposition on it. It's just important to know that my client believed he had a separate cause of action against the dealer which had nothing to do with the manufacturer.
At the time, the manufacturer had a litigation prevention program which allowed us to settle cases without filing suit. We utilized that process and reached a settlement. Except for one item: The manufacturer, when buying a vehicle back under the lemon law, often seeks a universal release to resolve all claims against itself and the dealer for any wrong doing. My client still wanted to chase the dealer for the missing $2,000.
I discussed it at length with the attorney for the manufacturer and we finally agreed to include language to allow my client to do just that. Our settlement resolved claims against the manufacturer but did not settle "causes of action against the leasing dealer arising from the lease transaction itself, including but not limited to fraud, misrepresentation, theft or conversion by the leasing dealer."
My client got his truck lease unwound. He then filed a small claims action against the leasing dealer. The dealer attorney answered the complaint by filing a blurry unsigned copy of the release with the court – we are not even sure how he got it since the dealer was not a party to our lemon law claim – and told the court that my client had signed a release which barred him from pursuing his claim against the dealer.
This would be open and shut, based on the language which said it did not protect the dealer, right? Oh wait, the judge was blind. BLIND. Keep in mind that I was not at this hearing to help my client but I later ordered a transcript of it. When my client tried to point out that the release being presented to the court was too blurry to read, even for sighted people, the judge asked the attorney what it said. He told the judge it was a release of all claims. The judge asked my client if he had signed it. My client rightly pointed out that the dealership was not a party to the release, and a readable copy showed he was allowed to pursue this claim even though he had signed it. He offered the court a legible copy. The judge said it wasn't necessary and dismissed the case.
When my client told me this I was amazed. I explained to him the process for seeking a reconsideration of the ruling, assuming that the court would do the right thing. At that hearing, the dealer attorney did not bother showing up and the judge berated my client for filing a frivolous action after signing the release – which the judge still had not read even though my client had attached a pristine copy with his filings.
The process at this point called for us to appeal and yes, I jumped back in and started handing this action for my client. At the first hearing in front of a different judge, we were called into chambers. It was clear to everyone what had happened and this judge was angry. "We're here because someone submitted a document to a blind judge – and no one ever told him what it said."
"My client tried to tell him, your honor."
The judge wasn't looking at me. "I'm sending this back with instructions for the court to make note of the language in the release you brought up in your brief."
You'd think that would end it but the first judge was not happy to hear he had been found "wrong" by another judge. I would have thought he could chalk it up to having been misled by the dealer attorney but he went nuts when we showed up in his court.
"Well, I have to say I'm just pretty damn angry about what's happened with this case, all the way around, and, so, I guess I can be fair. Apparently, I dislike everybody equally, and I'll just give everybody a warning straight-out. I want no screwin' around. I don't have time to mess around like with what I'm messing around with in this case. Now, you speak, you speak quick, it'll get decided."
He wasn't just mad at the attorney who introduced the blurry release, he was mad at everybody. Why was he mad at me? I had hinted in my brief that the case might be better off in front of a judge who could read the document and see what my client had been trying to say (at least, if the current judge refused to ask a member of his staff to read the document to him). Later, he did the right thing and sent the case to another judge. One who was less "damn angry." And shortly after, the case settled. The release, which had nothing to do with this case, was no longer an issue and my client got his money.
In sum: attorney handed a blind judge an irrelevant document to get a case dismissed. The dismissal was overturned. The blind judge lashed out at everyone because he had been misled and/or embarrassed. And, this simple matter took 4 separate court hearings to resolve.
I'd like to tell you that this story really shocks other attorneys when they hear it. It doesn't. And yes, this is one of the reasons people don't like attorneys. And for the sake of trivia I will tell you that when this took place, Michigan had at least two blind judges on the bench. One was exceptionally good. The other one was the one you just read about. [Bolded phrases above are verbatim, from the release and from the court transcript.]
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Steve Lehto has been practicing consumer protection and lemon law for 23 years in Michigan. He taught Consumer Protection at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law for ten years and wrote The Lemon Law Bible. He also wrote Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation and The Great American Jet Pack: The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device.