I was involved with breaking a human being. I think it disturbed me more that I had forgotten this story until recently. In my own defense, there was no way to know what was happening at the time. I think it says more about the profession in general that no one at his firm noticed until it was too late.
I was working on a fatality case. There were big numbers involved based on how the ‘client’ had died. There were also about 6 different corporations being sued. Each of the corporations had hired their own defense firm in one relatively small town. This also meant that the last person to the party got last pick of the defense firms in town, and therefore most likely the better / larger firms had already been hired by the co-defendants. The last corporation joined in this particular case hired a mid-small defense firm of about a dozen attorneys.
Well, at a certain point in the case, as seemingly with any case with multiple defendants, there came the winnowing. Everyone decided it was time to try to MSJ themselves out. And one by one, the various defendants dropped out. Except one; in particular the last one joined to the case. They didn’t file an MSJ at all.
In fact, it turned out they had not filed a single motion on their own behalf during the entire case. The attorney who had been representing this corp. had gotten his name ‘signed with authorization’ onto all the motions filed by the other corporations’ higher priced firms. When the dust had settled, that one attorney and his client were the only ones left in the suit. Every other co-defendant had taken the opportunity when they filed their MSJ to point their collective finger at the one remaining defendant on their way out the door.
Deadlines were gone, motions had not been adopted by this counsel, his name had been signed on things but nothing of great consequence. In short, he was screwed. The winnowing of defendants also mean that a plaintiff no longer has to use the shotgun method of going after multiple targets. Now we had a single target with a bullseye painted on them courtesy of their co-defendants, and I started sending out our usual ramped up (and trumped up) motions now that we were getting closer to the trial setting.
For those not in the know about shady plaintiff’s work, one of the pre-trial tactics used is to file fast and furious motions. And file lots of them. The more the better; file to strike anyone and anything that supports the other side’s contention. File motions to compel to get the attorneys baby pictures from his mother. File requests for sanctions because you heard a rumor opposing counsel might have possibly have been related to Hitler. It really doesn’t matter what the content is, it is more important that you are sending a lot of them. And make sure to send lots and lots of seemingly levelheaded emails to opposing counsel too… because then you can print them out and attach them to your motions too. Especially when opposing counsel starts sending back emails ranting at you because you are emailing and calling their cell phone constantly (seriously… and a pro-tip for any aspiring attorneys… never, ever ever ever hand out your personal cell phone to another attorney if you can possibly help it).
Well, we started doing just that to Opposing counsel. We realized early on that he was screwed since he had filed no motions during the whole case. Our office was nothing if not efficient at sending these types of crap motions at a breakneck speed.
And then it happened. Opposing counsel replied with 2 motions of his own. They were incomprehensible rantings interspersed with legal argument that wouldn’t be made by a first year law student with a complete lack of knowledge of civil procedure. We immediately set a hearing for our motions at the soonest date possible. I had started to respond to his replies for the hearing. But the hearing never happened.
Two days prior to the hearing, we got a call from one of the partners at this law firm. The partner who had this case had a mental breakdown and was taken by ambulance from his office. He was removed from the firm / partnership. He had been forcibly retired. A partner from the firm took over and tried their best to salvage what they could from the case. I am quite certain the firm had a fucking ridiculous malpractice case against them after the dust settled, but I never did find out. To my boss’ credit, he reined everything in and told us to stop. The litigation machine was put on hold until they could pick up the pieces of what used to be someone’s life.
In all likelihood if it hadn’t been the case I was working on, it would have just been someone else’s case that pushed this guy over the edge. But it wasn’t. It was me working at the direction of my boss and the firm. And without meaning to, I took part in irreparably breaking another human being. It’s sorta a fucked up feeling to realize that.