Legally Speaking: Summertime Silliness in the Courts

John G. Browning Jul. 23, 2009, 3:42am

I'm not sure what it is about summertime – maybe it's the relaxed pace with people enjoying vacations, or perhaps the heat driving people a little batty – but there always seems to be an upsurge in silly lawsuits, oddball motions, and just plain wackiness in the courts during this time of year.

If you don't believe me, then consider some of the following recent cases.

Magdalena Kwiatkowska of Poland is suing a hotel chain, claiming that her teenage daughter got pregnant by swimming in the pool at an Egyptian resort. According to this irate mother, her 13 year old didn't "meet any boys" during her stay, and so must have conceived after coming into contact with "stray sperm" in the hotel's swimming pool.

I guess for Mrs. Kwiatkowska, "denial" isn't just a river in Egypt.

Confirming the international nature of this summertime silliness, a family in Saudi Arabia has sued a genie (or "djinni") in court, claiming theft and harassment. In Islamic cultures, a belief in genies is fairly common, and the lawsuit is pending in a Sharia (religious) court.

In the suit, a family living nearby the holy city of Medina alleges that for the past two years, they have heard strange noises, had possessions mysteriously stolen and had rocks thrown at them when they left the house.

But don't think for a minute that this is an "old school" genie straight out of Disney's "Aladdin" – oh no. According to the lawsuit, the genie plaguing the hapless family is up on modern technology, stealing their cell phones and even leaving them threatening voicemails (query: does he sound like Robin Williams?).

According to the presiding head of the court, Sheikh Amr Al Salmi, "We have to verify the truthfulness of this case despite the difficulty of doing so."

My advice to the family is to settle out of court for three wishes and a nice new lamp, even if it rubs them the wrong way.

Back in the United States, it's nice to see that taking responsibility for oneself still seems to be optional, at least if you're the family of Alexa Longueira, age 15.

The Staten Island, N.Y., teenager tried to walk and text-message at the same time, completely oblivious to the wide open sewer manhole into which she fell.

In a scene straight out of a cartoon, the teen was texting when she "felt this big drop" of 4 or 5 feet, resulting in some scraped and bruised arms, back, and dignity.

Her parents intend to file a lawsuit against the city, claiming that whether Alexa was texting or not shouldn't make any difference, since sewer workers shouldn't have left the manhole unattended.

I have to disagree – watching out for gaping holes in the ground doesn't sound like a lot to ask – but I'm nonetheless curious about the text she was sending. Maybe it was "OMGGGGGGG."

I don't know about the rest of you, but my reaction to cases like this is LOLZ.

The downturn in the economy has also led to some silly court filings.

In Hillsborough County, Fla.,, Wells Fargo Bank N.A. filed a civil complaint against itself in a mortgage foreclosure case.

Wells Fargo holds the first and second mortgages on a condominium there, so it hired a Tampa law firm to pursue foreclosure. That firm named as defendants anyone holding a lien on the property.

Unfortunately, that includes Wells Fargo Bank as well, so the bank hired another Tampa law firm to defend them – from the lawsuit Wells Fargo itself had filed!

The attorney for the beleaguered condo owner calls the case of "Wells Fargo Bank N.A. vs. Wells Fargo Bank N.A." "ridiculous," "a waste of paper," and "a bastardization of the legal process."

Admittedly, I'm no foreclosure expert, but I imagine that there must have been some other method, including exploring some internal accounting solution, to address the situation.

In any event, boneheaded moves like this help me understand the questionable lending practices that got us into this whole mess in the first place.

Judges aren't immune to a little silliness themselves.

Celebrity heiress and sometime actress Paris Hilton is being sued in a Miami federal court for allegedly breaching a contract to do promotional work for a movie she appeared in, "Pledge This!"

The 2006 movie bombed at the box office, and receivers appointed on behalf of the now-defunct Worldwide Entertainment Group (producers of the film), are blaming Ms. Hilton for not doing her all to promote it.

While her acting skills may not win her any awards, the blonde temptress proved she is a world class flirt. Wearing a sundress and 5-inch heels, Ms. Hilton tried to explain to the judge that filming for her reality TV show "My New BFF" kept her schedule fairly full.

Judge Federico Mereno asked what "BFF" meant. After explaining that the acronym stood for "best friend forever," Judge Moreno blurted, "This will be my best case forever."

Paris Hilton (whose previous interactions with judges usually involved guilty pleas) flirted right back, stating "You're my best judge forever."

Get a room, already!

Meanwhile, over in state court in Palm Beach, Fla., plaintiff's lawyer Bill Bone had weighty subjects on his mind. Not the millions of dollars he was seeking on behalf of his clients in the personal injury lawsuit of Lenkersdorf v. Sorrentino, mind you, but an important issue nonetheless: the footwear of his opposing counsel.

Mr. Bone filed a "Motion to Compel Defense Counsel to Wear Appropriate Shoes at Trial," claiming that his adversary Michael Robb wears shoes with holes in the soles when he's in trial "as a ruse to impress the jury and make them believe that Mr. Robb is humble and simple without sophistication."

According to Mr. Bone, this was part of a calculated strategy by defense attorney Robb to come across as "a simple lawyer" and "to attack the credibility of the Plaintiff… by suggesting that Plaintiff is faking his injuries… and demanding more compensation than he deserves because Plaintiff is greedy."

The "shoe motion" prompted a Palm Beach Post newspaper columnist to write a story about it (hey, I can't be the only one out there noticing such off the wall filings).

Unfortunately, a juror on the case read the column, thought it was funny, and brought it into the jury room to read to others.

Although a $2.2 million verdict was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge learned of the discussion and declared a mistrial.

Mr. Robb – he of the hole-y shoes – actually had persuaded the judge that his footwear didn't matter and that plaintiff's counsel was a heel for filing the motion. And after the juror misconduct came to light, he convinced the judge to give the $2.2 million verdict the boot.

For my money, that's pretty good lawyering, whether you're a "sole" practitioner or not. Michael Robb is certainly no loafer.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

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