I visited the city of White Plains yesterday to go to the United States Courthouse on Quarropas Street. I have been through Westchester County, but it was my first visit to the area, I think, ever.
The bottom line is that I have to file an amended complaint–the so-called “first amended complaint” that you see so much of on web searches. Lawyers never know what the judge is going to consider to be significant in the pleadings, and that must go the same for pro se lawyers.
I had always wondered what White Plains, New York was like. I guessed that it was a Morristown. (If you know New Jersey, then you know Morristown is a small city that is the county seat of Morris County, one up from Somerset. If you don’t know that part of New Jersey, none of this makes sense.)
The hotel I stayed at was about half a mile from the courthouse. I was coming from southcentral Pennsylvania, so I left here the evening before and drove up. Surprisingly the only tolls were a $5 one at the Tappan Zee going east, and $1 at the Delaware River (Pennsylvania side) coming west. That’s for a 180 mile drive [each way], where the alternative was mostly toll highways!
The gentlemen who were the guards/greeters at the courthouse metal detector were very friendly. I was about 90 minutes early for an 11:30 am conference in the court room, so I set in the public section and watched the action. I like to watch lawyers at work, because even though each one is his or her own unique person, they all kind-of act the same once you see enough. I hate to think I have adopt that. It’s not as bad as Luke having to go over to the Dark Side, but I have mostly been an accountant since my law school days 20 years ago. Call me Dr. Jeckyl, maybe.
The judge, who will remain nameless [because I have business before her], paid attention to every detail of the four or five matters that came up in the 90 minutes. There was a contract matter where the lawyers said the parties couldn’t settle on an amount between $5,000 versus $30,000—something like that. There was a class action suit where a company sells gift cards that have a $50 value, but you pay $55 for them. It turns out though, that it’s almost impossible to get the last $3 off the card. I think it had something to do with where the card could be used. As a result, the firm that offers the gift card reaps millions. Someone has figured out that there is litigation in this.
One final one, that went on a bit, had to do with a criminal case where it’s been found out that some lying was done to the grand jury. The wrong defendant may have been convicted. It had to do with drunk guys being stabbed by someone, and maybe not realizing they were stabbed. (Yes, that drunk.)
So, after all this comes my pro se Title VII civil rights case with the Japanese labor law claim attached. I was nervous because that’s just my nature. I had studied and studied the relevant cases mentioned, so I wasn’t worried about that. It’s just that, things that are not in your control, you can never really know how it’s going to turn out. You know?
Even though we were there because of defendants’ objections, I ended up doing a lot of the talking. I figured there was going to have to be some amending going on with the complaint. I knew that going in. The concern I had was having to respond to 11 objections, several of which overlapped. All the judge’s inquiries, though, went to the key points that I have to tighten up.
Once I had read a graybeard’s advice about federal motion practice. He said that 12(b)(6) objections were often dangerous to make, because the overwhelming result was that the plaintiff gets to tighten their argument—the federal rules allow for amendments when the interests of justice so require. So he saw them as maneuvers that more than likely backfire.
Maybe the recent plausibility emphasis from the Twombley and Iqbal decisions is changing that dynamic. But it indeed doesn’t make much sense to give a gift over like that. So I have something to wonder about. Maybe attorneys get to bill more hours that way–especially if it’s a big corporate client where the entity just needs you there to put up as many roadblocks as possible.
[Update: I forgot to mention, and wanted to, that I was really impressed with judge’s courtroom, especially the nice glass silhouette of a Revolutionary Minute Man behind the judge. The room is designed to let light come in from an antechamber behind the main court room. When whey were refurbishing the (now) Charles L. Brieant, Jr. Courthouse, they definitely did a nice job.]