- Quoting someone else’s words, for any reason, under any circumstances, is hearsay and therefore inadmissible in small-claims court.
Once or twice a year, just to confuse us, Her Honor applies the “hearsay“ concept correctly. But then it’s back to normal for another six months. In one especially priceless episode, she snapped “Don’t tell me what you said to him”—and only just caught herself before going on to say that, presumably, that would be hearsay.
- If the judge hasn’t heard of it, it doesn’t exist.
If you require medical treatment as a result of a motor vehicle accident, better make sure the doctor writes the words out in full. The judge has never seen the abbreviation “MVA”.
Do not waste your time bringing out a map to demonstrate that Vancouver, Washington is a suburb of Portland, Oregon. If it sounds as if it’s next to Canada, it is next to Canada.
- In the United States, you are innocent until arraigned.
If your case goes to trial, it doesn’t matter if the jury finds you not guilty by a unanimous vote after five minutes’ token discussion. “Not guilty” doesn’t mean innocent. It just means the DA couldn’t prove it. If you hadn’t been guilty as sin, you would never have been arraigned.
- The judge in a civil case is legally bound by the findings of any preceding criminal case. If there has been a conviction or even a plea bargain, your job is done.
You gotta wonder where she gets this stuff. Possibly that family court in New York had its own unique set of rules, and Her Honor assumes the same rules apply everywhere.
- The statute of limitations is six weeks, except in personal-injury cases, where it is three days.
- Inability to pay is a valid legal defense. “I’ll pay you back when I can” or “. . . when I get back on my feet” is a legally meaningful utterance.
There is no requirement of proof. Unlike all other defenses, claims of inability to pay are always true.
And, finally: These claims remain valid even when uttered on TV shows that pay the judgement, so the loser would not be out of pocket anyway.
- If the judge doesn’t know the applicable law—or is not aware that there is an applicable law—the litigants are bound by anything the judge chooses to make up.
Do not waste your time trying to explain the concept of a pre-emptively suspended drivers’ license.
Do not waste your time trying to explain that thirty days’ notice is mandated by state law, so there was no need to put it in the contract.
Do not waste your time trying to explain the concept of an “unmarked crosswalk at an intersection” as defined in most states’ vehicle codes.
- If the judge does know the applicable law, but doesn’t like what it says, the litigants are—et cetera, as above. This is binding arbitration, not a courtroom.
- If the judge knows the relevant law, and agrees with it, then she must do what it says. It’s the law.
- The bailiff can sometimes be your friend.
My favorite to date: In a case involving damage to a valuable bicycle, Her Honor turns to the bailiff and asks what is the most expensive bike he has ever seen. Clearly he is expected to say something like $500. Instead he says $10,000, supplying helpfully “It was baaad”. I wonder if the plaintiff realizes how lucky he was.
- A “no contest“ plea is legally the same as a “guilty” plea.
Guess where the difference is significant. When the criminal case is followed by a civil case. Like the one you’re watching on TV right now.
- No one in the United States has ever pled guilty to a crime they did not commit.
If they tried, the judge would speedily detect the fraud and put a stop to it.
- A salaried public defender will represent you just as well as a privately retained attorney.
Arcane legal point that appears to have escaped the judge’s notice: Unlike attorneys in private practice—and unlike prosecutors—public defenders do not have the option of turning down a case. And their day has the same 24 hours as yours and mine.
- The judge in a civil hearing can demand that you prove your innocence of a criminal charge, even if nobody has ever raised the charge.
Fortunately your average TV litigant does not know this, or Her Honor‘s follicle-testing lab would be out of business.
Come to think of it, some litigant somewhere must have got wise. I haven’t heard much talk of on-the-spot drug testing in recent years.
- The “clean hands” doctrine means that if you have done anything wrong at any time in any way with respect to the defendant, you have waived your right to bring suit.
If you spill a drop of paint, you cannot sue the homeowner who didn’t pay you for remodeling the whole structure.
If you are one day late paying rent, you cannot sue the landlord for changing the locks and putting your property in the street.
- Courts don’t address anticipatory breaches of contract.
Drat! There go several thousand attorneys’ paychecks. Flown off to Aruba along with the guy who owed you six weeks’ salary.
- Plaintiffs in a civil case are not allowed to amend the dollar amount they are asking for, because the defendant has had no chance to prepare a reply.
Need I spell it out? If the defense against a charge of first-degree murder is different from the defense against a charge of manslaughter, then obviously the defense against a $750 damage claim must be different from that against a $600 claim for the same damage.