Legally Speaking: Still Litigating In The Twilight Zone

John G. Browning Nov. 18, 2009, 7:25pm

I've never been the biggest fan of legal shows on television.

Cases that might take years to reach a real courtroom are resolved in less than an hour (minus commercial breaks), witnesses can always be counted on to blurt out devastating admissions from the stand, the "smoking gun" piece of evidence never fails to turn up at a dramatic moment, and of course the lawyers are usually far better-looking than they are in real life.

But there's one criticism that you'll never hear from me, and that's the protest that "this could never happen in real life."

Why? Because if there is one thing I've learned in over 20 years of trying lawsuits, it's that reality is often stranger than anything concocted by a Tinseltown screenwriter.

For example, we have people who are conscientious about the criminal charges that they're facing and then we have those who are really conscientious about such charges. Take Samuel George Botchvaroff of Oakland, Calif.

He needed to get to Vallejo, Calif., for his arraignment in an auto theft case, and because the 24 year-old's car had been impounded during an arrest, he had no personal transportation. So Samuel did what any accused car thief would do: he, uh, stole another car (allegedly) and drove it to the courthouse.

California Highway Patrol officers were alerted to the theft, and tracked the car to the Vallejo courthouse thanks to the vehicle's LoJack device. When Samuel got in the car, officers arrested him on suspicion of auto theft and possession of stolen property.

Botchvaroff was almost as conscientious as Mary Strey of Wisconsin. She dialed 911 on Oct. 24 to report that "somebody's really drunk driving down Granton Road."

When the dispatcher asked Ms. Strey if she was following the intoxicated driver, she said she was the drunk driver!

Strey explained she was calling 911 because "I don't want to hurt anybody, I'm drunk."

After the dispatcher convinced her to stop driving, Ms. Strey was arrested by responding officers and charged with drunk driving; she had a blood alcohol level of about twice the legal limit. She's due back in court on Dec. 10.

We've all heard the phrase, "the devil made me do it." But for at least one criminal defendant, his alibi originated with a higher authority.

After police in Lexington, Ky., arrested 36-year-old David Silva for smashing a window at a car dealership, he offered up a rather novel defense for his actions. According to Mr. Silva, God wanted him to steal a Dodge Charger.

Silva faces a number of charges, including criminal mischief. I doubt that the Almighty will be appearing as a character witness, even though I'm pretty sure he has better taste in cars than Mr. Silva believes.

Most people who visit a plaintiff's personal injury attorney expect to find a sympathetic ear and a champion to take up their cause, not a basis for another lawsuit. At least one person arriving at the Palm Beach, Fla., law offices of Fetterman and Associates in response to an ad proclaiming "If you are the victim of injuries... please contact us for a free consultation" didn't have far to go.

Robert Friedrich visited the law firm in 2003 to discuss suing someone as a result of a car accident nine days previously. During his consultation, however, he gained a whole new cause of action when the chair he was sitting in collapsed and he struck his head on another piece of furniture in the firm's conference room.

Friedrich then sued the law firm as well as the company that sold the allegedly defective chair, claiming serious neck injuries. In May a Palm Beach County found both defendants liable for the chair collapse, and awarded over $2.2 million in damages.

For a "free" consultation, this turned out to be pretty expensive indeed for the Fetterman law firm.

If a personal injury attorney getting sued by his own client for personal injuries isn't odd enough for you, then how about a most unusual conviction for noise pollution?

Caroline and Steve Cartwright of Washington on Wearside in England found themselves on the defensive in front of the local magistrates for violating a noise nuisance ordinance.

The sounds, which were recorded at 47 decibels, were described by the court as "intrusive," "a statutory nuisance" and "of a very disturbing nature."

Magistrates also found that this noisy nuisance complained of by neighbors "was compounded by the duration" (it went on for hours at a time) and "by the frequency" (it occurred virtually every night).

The source of this noise pollution? It was Mrs. Cartwright during lovemaking.

Although magistrates rejected her claims that she couldn't help making such loud noises during sex, and that she had a right to "respect for her private and family life," she will have an appeal heard in December in Newcastle Crown Court. I don't know how the case will ultimately turn out, but Mr. Cartwright – you're my hero.

Straight out of the "life imitating art" department, we have crime novelist Lisa Reardon. In a scenario that could have come directly from one of her books, the 46-year-old writer is accused of shooting her father in late August in an alleged murder attempt.

Instead of writing about courtroom drama, Reardon is living it as she faces charges of assault with intent to kill and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. She is being held in Michigan's Washtenaw County Jail, where she's probably hoping for a plot twist.

Finally, we come to something I found harder to believe than any of the foregoing legal oddities. If you ever wondered how disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (a.k.a. "Client No. 9") is keeping himself occupied these days, then wonder no more.

The ex-governor with a taste for high-priced call girls has a steady gig lecturing on "law and public policy" at City College of New York, and on Thursday, Nov. 12, gave a lecture at Harvard University's Edmund J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at the invitation of Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.

That's right – an ethics center at a prestigious university has turned to Eliot Spitzer, a man who resigned as governor when his dalliances with prostitutes was unveiled, as a guest speaker.

Now I've seen everything. What's the matter, Harvard – was Bernie Madoff unavailable?

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons LLP. He may be contacted at:

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