by Andy McNeil
One truism is that fact is funnier than fiction, and there is no greater proving ground for that adage than the situations that come to light through law enforcement, attorney and client relationships and courtroom situations. Every lawyer will have his personal stock of stories and incidents that have happened to him (a “thing” that comes with the turf and there is no avoiding it).
These are mine. I witnessed many of the following circumstances as an attorney and as a judge. Some were related to me by the parties and attorneys involved or other close reliable sources. In all cases the identity of the parties will necessarily be concealed.
The stories are true and have been told and retold without embellishment because none is needed.
To understand each situation, readers need to consider the stress the parties are in, the circumstance and the mindset of the individuals involved, the hostility brought about by divorces and family disputes and both the cunning and the stupidity of the criminal mind. No one can ever know what to expect in any given situation.
Most people think that the large clerk’s files serve only the purpose of holding a volume of papers and documents, but any Judge will tell you that they serve the additional purpose of giving the Judge “cover” to hold in front of his face so that the people in the courtroom cannot see him laughing when the funny events occur.
The plights that follow are not listed in any particular order and most of them occurred over a period of thirty years. Enjoy them, laugh at other people’s problems, marvel at the stupidity and wonder if, had the circumstances been right, they could have happened to you.
CASE # 1 A financially secure couple had been granted a divorce after many years of marriage and had successfully divided their business interest, disposed of their home and had managed to divide all the real and personal property with the exception of a cast iron skillet that each contended was brought into the marriage from their side of the family thus making the skillet individually owned and not marital property.
The presiding judge held a hearing on the issue and could not determine by a preponderance of the evidence that either party brought the skillet into the marriage. He then decreed that the skillet was marital property and ordered it sold at a clerk’s auction so that the proceeds could be divided.
The matter became a local joke among the coffeehouse group and the sale was well attended by a number of curious onlookers.
On the day of the sale, and after the clerk opened the bidding, the former wife offered the sum of one dollar. The former husband immediately countered with the sum of one hundred dollars. After some consideration, the former wife then raised the offer to one hundred and one dollars and the former husband immediately offered two hundred dollars. The bidding continued with the former wife raising the former husband’s bid by one dollar and the former husband raising the former wife’s bid by ninety nine dollars.
The sale drew out with the former wife appearing to think long and hard about each raise and the air growing tense as the attorneys for both parties quietly encouraged their clients to cease the foolish bidding. At one point, after being admonished by her attorney to consider what she was doing, the former wife, in turn, whispered into her attorney’s ear, “He will go higher.”
At long last the former wife countered the husband’s offer with her bid of fifteen hundred and one dollar. The former husband immediately raised her bid to sixteen hundred dollars.
There was what seemed to be a lengthy pause while everyone looked at the former wife and anxiously awaited her next move. The former wife smiled, looked at the gathered crowd, looked the former husband in the eye with a “gotcha” look and calmly said, “It’s all yours.” It was all the clerk and the onlookers could do to hold back their snickering.
CASE # 2 In a temporary hearing, pending a divorce, the attorney for the wife advised the judge that his client was pregnant and they did not expect the divorce to be finalized until after the birth of the child. It appeared both parties wanted the divorce, and, before any testimony was offered, the Judge attempted to determine what issues would be involved in the hearing.
When the judge asked the wife’s attorney if there would be a request for “lying in” expenses during the pregnancy, the attorney acted as if he had never considered the matter. The attorney turned, left the podium, walked several steps back to the table where his client was seated, looked down at her stomach, and without moving from the table, looked up toward the bench and said, “Nawh, Judge, she ain’t too pregnant yet.”
CASE # 3 Some witnesses have heard legal terms and try to impress those listening by using the terms when testifying. They may have some idea as to what a word, phrase, or term is supposed to mean, but frequently fail in the attempt to use it properly.
In the sentencing phase after a criminal trial, the Prosecuting Attorney asked the Defendant if he had been convicted of the crime of theft in a certain county and in a specified year. Theft charges had been lodged against the Defendant but were dismissed because the Defendant had voluntarily taken and passed a polygraph (lie detector) test. The Defendant responded to the question by stating that he had been arrested on the theft but the charges had been “dropped” because he had passed the Sheriff’s “polyester” test.
In the sentencing phase of another criminal matter, the Defendant was asked about criminal charges that had been brought against him years earlier. The Defendant proudly proclaimed that he was innocent of the charges and “futhermore, the stature of liberty had already run.”
The wife’s attorney contended that sexual relations could not have taken place because a third party had entered their bedroom before possible copulation and questioned the Defendant strongly on that point. The Defendant became irate and after raising himself upright in the witness chair, stated, “I did so have sex with her because I had an organism.”
CASE #5 While on the stand in a divorce hearing, a businessman testified that he had suspected his wife was going to file for divorce long before she did. When asked why he may have felt his wife wanted to terminate their marriage, the witness stated that for several weeks his wife had kept his suitcases packed and near the front door. He went on to testify that when his suits and shirts would come back from the laundry, the wife would not put them in the closet or chest of drawers, but would place them in his already packed suit cases.
CASE #6 During the husband’s testimony in a divorce proceeding, he stated he was so afraid of the possibility of his wife’s attacking him at night while he was asleep that he slept on the floor of his teenage son’s room with the door deadbolt locked and his feet firmly against the door so he would be alerted if she attempted to enter the room.
CASE # 7 During the temporary hearing of a young, newly married college couple, the wife complained that her husband of two weeks had taken his inflatable life size doll on their honeymoon and, upon returning, took daily showers with it. As the wife’s attorney was pulling the decompressed doll from a bag and was about to attach a portable air compressor, the judge threatened the attorney with ten days in jail if he made any further attempt to inflate the doll in the courtroom.
CASE #8 A young female attorney was allowed a break during her long bench trial to breast feed her newborn infant.
CASE #9 In another divorce case, the husband was prepared to testify that he and his wife had only had sexual relations one time during their twenty years of marriage.
CASE #10 One of the first things a trial court attorney learns is never to ask a question he/she does not know the entire answer to before asking. Most attorneys learn this rule the hard way.
One prime example of this was in a situation where the wife’s attorney calmly presented her case for divorce. The husband and his attorney were determined to paint the wife as a “fallen woman” who was not worthy of the court’s granting to her the divorce she sought.
On cross examination by the husband’s attorney, the wife calmly admitted to having had many sexual affairs during their marriage. Not being satisfied with her simple straight forward answers, and in an attempt to paint the wife as an unsavory character, the attorney continued his cross examination. The wife was finally asked why her sexual appetite could not be satisfied by the man she had chosen as a husband.
The witness did not hesitate and went into detail describing the smallness of the husband’s male member and his inept practices during their sexual relations.
Recognizing the embarrassing forthcoming testimony, the husband’s attorney immediately objected and asked that the witness be instructed to refrain from continuing her answer.
The judge, having successfully managed to keep the grin off his face, overruled the objection stating that the question had been asked and she was entitled to answer it.
The ruling was followed by the husband’s attorney’s immediate request for a recess which was granted. After the recess, the husband’s attorney announced that his client was withdrawing his contest of the divorce and that the matter could proceed as an uncontested hearing.
CASE #11 The courtroom dress code for attorneys has always been a conservative suit and tie, but the same code does not apply to litigants. Attorneys will normally advise their clients as to the proper dress for the particular matter involving their appearance in court. Sometimes there is a failure to communicate.
Most attorneys will advise their clients to remove and conceal any expensive jewelry when seeking damages from their opponents. Usually they will also be instructed to dress conservatively.
It is unadvisable for a mother seeking an increase in child support from the father of her children to wear expensive clothing and jewelry during the hearings.
In another situation before a criminal jury trial, the attorney advised his client to wear a suit to impress the jury. When the client stated he did not own a suit, he was told it would be in his best interest to buy, borrow or rent one. On the day of the trial, the client appeared in a tuxedo complete with black tie and tails and explained to his attorney that he had been unable to borrow or buy a suit and that this was the only suit he could find to rent.
CASE #12 Just before Chancery Court opened one morning, an attorney rushed into the judge’s chambers to advise the judge that his not-too-bright female client had shown up for her hearing in a veiled headdress, wearing a mini-skirted wedding dress, carrying a bouquet and wearing a large pink ribbon in her hair. The understanding judge conducted the hearing and granted the relief sought. Later, while all of the attorneys were in the judge’s chambers scheduling the remainder of the day, the offending attorney felt the need to renew his apology for his client’s improper dress. The judge graciously accepted the second apology and commented on the fact that the mini-skirt was so short he had noticed that the color of the client’s panties was a prefect match with the ribbon in her hair.
Click here to read page 2 of Andy McNeil’s “Halls of Justice”!
And don't miss Andy's fascinating stories about his service in the Korean War.
Andy McNeil served as Chancery Judge for the Twentieth Arkansas Judicial District and now acts as a Retired Judge on Assignment. He is a Life Member of the Arkansas Judicial Council.
Please visit our Message Board
or write Ye Editor at email@example.com.
Back to USADEEPSOUTH - I index page
Back to USADEEPSOUTH - II index page