Off With His Head!

I think that Judges do indeed have a difficult and taxing job. The balance between making decisions based on the law and equity, while avoiding foisting ones’ personal opinion is difficult. I will never remark on this delicate task. However, I have found one particular situation, and one particular Judge, who has seem to forget what it was like to be an attorney, and essentially, seems to be completely irrational towards any attorney.

We sued a pro se Defendant, (let’s call her “Alice”) for a medical bill. As is common practice in New York, the Court automatically set the matter down for a conference. On that date, we appeared in Court, along with Alice. Alice made a plea of financial hardship, and since we represent a not-for-profit hospital, we were armed and ready with the financial hardship application. The presiding Judge adjourned the matter pending the Defendant’s qualification for charity care.

A week later, we received a demand for discovery from Alice, asking for all the statements, account agreement, assignments of debt, and a whole host of other completely misguided discovery demands, clearly taken from the internet, or some other highly reputable source. I sent a letter to Alice, explaining that our client was the original creditor, that it was the hospital bill, and she should provide us her hardship documents, so we can potentially have the entire file closed.

Shortly thereafter, before the next scheduled Court conference date, we received a motion from Alice to compel a discovery response, returnable a week before the conference. I obviously opposed the motion.

On the return date of the motion, Alice appeared, and requested time to reply, stating that she wanted sanctions against us for our “frivolous use of process”. A different Judge, whom I shall refer to as “The Queen of Hearts” was sitting that day, and she instantly took Alice’s side, accusing my office of failing to plead a proper assignment of debt in our initial complaint. “Off with his head!”

We argued that the motion was moot and irrelevant, and that we represented the original creditor, so there was no need for an assignment. The Queen of Hearts, in her infinite wisdom, granted the adjournment, and warned our office to beware of sanctions. We asked that the motion be made returnable on the same day as the trial conference, which was scheduled for the following Tuesday. She declined, and made the motion returnable on the following Wednesday. I guess we really did step into Wonderland.

On the date of the trial conference, and the motion return date, The Queen of Hearts was not the Judge, and she wasn’t there. And we didn’t see Alice, either. Maybe she ate one of those “makes you smaller” pills.

Timothy Wan never saw the Johnny Depp re-make, but recently realized that his two-year-old daughter doesn’t understand Disney’s cartoon at all.

(Originally published in Debt3 Magazine, November 2010)