I’m going to go ahead and keep my fingers crossed that I never have to go to court for any reason because some of these stories from lawyers on AskReddit are downright terrifying.
But since you’re not the one on the stand, it’s much easier to enjoy reading about the craziest things lawyers have seen in court.
Frankly, all I can say is, “Wow”…
1. Got thrown out
“I was the defendant, representing a nonprofit that I volunteered for. The plaintiff was a 60 something Grandma who was looking for a retirement settlement after falling out of her jacked up pick up truck in our parking lot. The premise of her case was that our parking lot was in bad shape (it was) and that she fell into a pothole and broke her leg, which resulted in her having to take Coumadin and diminished her enjoyment of salads at the Friday night fish fry (no, really).
It was going along fine, until my lawyer put up a photo of the pothole, taken the day of the incident, filled to the brim with water, after a recent rain. He asked the lady if she had gotten her foot wet, to which she replied that she couldn’t recall.
He talked a little more about how perhaps if her foot wasn’t wet, it might have been because she fell out of the truck and didn’t really fall into the pothole. He asked again if her foot was wet, and she affirmed that yes, her foot was wet.
The “oh sh*t” moment came when he went back to his desk, flipped through her deposition and read the part where she was extremely adamant that her foot wasn’t wet. Then he did some fancy legal stuff, the case was thrown out and I went back to work.”
“Bench trial of complicated commercial litigation case. We have up on the courtroom monitor a spreadsheet setting forth how much the Defendant owes us and our expert is going through it line by line. Defense attorney objects, stating that he was never provided with this spreadsheet in discovery, it wasn’t on our exhibit list, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, leaning against the wall at DEFENSE table is a posterboard blow-up of said spreadsheet.
Judge looks at the spreadsheet on the screen, looks at the blow-up, looks back at the screen, looks back at the blow-up and says pointing to the posterboard.
Judge: Counsel, is that your exhibit there sitting at counsel table?
Attorney: Yes, your honor.
Judge: Isn’t it exactly the same as the spreadsheet up on the screen?
Counsel: Well, they’ve got an electronic version on the screen, the one on the posterboard is from a PDF. Judge, shaking his head in annoyance: Overruled.
This idiot attorney objected to lots of exhibits in a similar way, some of which we pointed out were on his own exhibit list. We won, btw.”
3. DUI trial
“Two moments in a DUI trial:
1) Passenger is testifying for driver’s sobriety when the DA asks her, “you keep saying he was sober, but are you even TIPS certified (a course for bartenders so they can recognize drunk patrons)?” She was.
2) The head of the county’s blood lab accidentally admitted he cranked the sensitivity of his machines way up because he “was experimenting” “
4. Well played
“UK – Bear with me on this one. I was in court listening to the most boring old defence lawyer you’ve ever seen, he was questioning the arresting officer in the case. It was drugs or something like that.
Anyway, he’s droning on about every little detail and the magistrate was constantly telling him to hurry along. The arresting officer was getting noticeably annoyed and the room became empty pretty quick. Everyone was very bored and annoyed. He was droning about details that I’m not sure anyone was really listening to or cared about.
He went over arrest times and the likes with the officer, time he admitted the suspect and released him. He had bored the officer to the point were he was barely paying attention.
“So he was admitted in at 21:45 on the night in question…?”
“…and released the night after…”
“…and that was what? Just after 10pm?…”
“What time after 10?”
“I don’t know, quarter past 10 maybe”
“so my client was detained for more than 24 hours”
The penny dropped. The officer let his guard down and had revealed he kept the defendant for more than 24 hours, which is the max time for detention in the UK. The defence rested and the magistrate threw the case out immediately. Well played sir, well played.”
5. Somewhat legendary
“This story is actually somewhat legendary despite having happened fairly recently. Just because of how much this guy sucks and how entertaining of an L this was.
So, our protagonist is an attorney of Eastern European descent. He has thinning, slicked back grey hair, which he occasionally dyes ludicrously unnatural shades of brown and then allows the bad dye job to grow out. Kinda like a sideways Cruella de Vil, if you will. He is known for doing shady stuff, like – not sending notice of hearings or sending incorrect notice and then failing to fix it, making bad faith arguments, and creating purposeful delays. A real pain in the ass, especially for lawyers – people generally known to be sticklers for rules and order. He’s also made some off color comments to younger women attorneys. Just generally a very unlikeable guy.
Our unlikeable protagonist is going through a very nasty custody battle. Accusations are being thrown back and forth, they’ve lost the family home, it’s a whole ordeal. Mr. Unpopular, in one of his pleadings, alleges that his wife uses drugs. Said allegation is made in an affidavit, which is considered evidence. But is that enough evidence for him? NO, obviously, because nothing is interesting about an affidavit.
Here I need to make a quick aside and say that in many courtrooms in my state, attorneys may procure a special ID card that allows them to bypass security measures that average people have to go through – a metal detector and your bag gets X-rayed.
So our dude attends a hearing regarding his allegations that his ex wife uses drugs. He uses his attorney ID to bypass security, and then in court he pulled an Altoid’s tin full of weed out of his pocket and declared that it belonged to his wife.
Obviously, that didn’t fly. He was immediately detained and the drugs seized. The sheriff also ordered him to surrender his special ID, but he claimed he “didn’t know where it was.” I don’t know what he said, but they let him leave.
He was arrested shortly thereafter for attempting to use the same ID he claimed he lost and he knew was supposed to be confiscated. He was mid argument when several deputies arrived in the courtroom. They allowed him to finish what he was saying and hear the judge’s ruling. Then he was marched out in cuffs. :D”
6. A romantic relationship
“Represented a woman charged with multiple very serious felonies. She insisted that in the months before the offense, she’d been seriously dating one of the detectives who ultimately wound up investigating and testifying in her case. For a variety of reasons, I trusted this client and believed her, even though the detective never disclosed the relationship in his report.
So, during his testimony, I ask “Detective Smith, you had a romantic relationship with Ms. Defendant, correct?” He goes “What? No!” and is visibly offended. The judge Iooks at me like I’ve lost my mind, the commonwealth attorney audibly says “what?”, I’m freaking out because a large part of my cross and argument was focused on the bias formed by the prior relationship, and now I’ve got nothing and I’ve lost all credibility.
I try again, “Detective Smith, have you had a sexual relationship with Ms. Defendant?”. As the Commonwealth rises to object and the Judge starts to scold me, the detective goes “Oh, yea. We’ve had sex, it just wasn’t very…romantic.”
Update: State is Virginia. The jury acquitted my client of the relatively minor charge that the detective in my story was involved with, but convicted of the other, much more serious charges that detective had nothing to do with. There was a confession and video on the serious charges, so it was kind of a no-brainer. Sorry I’m being kind of intentionally vague, there are no confidentiality concerns (since this all happened in open court), but its distasteful to give out too much information about a client.
The detective was not “disqualified”, his testimony was not thrown out. Impeachment, no matter how good, doesn’t result in you getting to throw out a witness’s testimony entirely. By the way, it wasn’t really the sex that was the issue, it was that he didn’t disclose it to anyone and his repeated insistence under questioning that he didn’t disclose it because it was irrelevant.
Like Watergate, its not the crime, its the coverup that gets you. But I don’t get to demand the judge throw out the testimony or that charge just because the cop failed to disclose a prior relationship with the defendant. I just get to point it out, argue it in closing, and then hope the jury also sees the relevance.”
“I was a baby lawyer in my first year representing the 19 year old child of some rich people in San Mateo County CA. My client had gone on a bit of a shoplifting spree and we were cleaning all her cases up with a global plea (meaning we handled them all at once).
Being new, I filled out the plea form wrong swapping the counts she was charged with for the counts she was pleading to. It’s an easy mistake to make. Every court has their own unique form and I was unfamiliar with San Mateo’s.
The judge calls my line, starts reading off the plea form, notices the mistake and then starts screaming at the top of his lungs “COUNSEL! WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS?! IS THIS YOUR FIRST DAY ON THE JOB? THIS IS A COURT IF LAW AND WE DO NOT ACCEPT MISTAKES! FILL THIS PLEA FORM OIT CORRECTLY OR I WILL HAVE YOU TAKEN INTO CUSTODY FOR CONTEMPT!”
I did not expect a reaction like that. My client, who had clearly just taken a huge bong rip at 8 AM and who was wearing an all-pink velvet track suit was looking at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world.
I corrected the plea form. The judge made me wait until the very end of the calendar to take my plea. Afterward, he called me up to the bench. In private he told me, “Sorry to ream you like that. Everyone messes the plea form up so I always pick the youngest lawyer to yell at. The older guys will grumble and complain, but if you noticed they all fixed their own forms and we didn’t have any more problems. Keeps the calendar running smooth. Where did you go to law school?” After that he invited me into his office for coffee and gave me some really good life/work advice. Turns out he likes talking to new lawyers.
Tl;dr: Judge losses it in court over a simple mistake, turns out it was all a show for the other lawyers and I have one of the worst/best court experiences of my early career.”
“I was prosecuting a contempt action in family court (something that basically never works) and everyone in the room could tell I was winning. The other side was unprepared (out of arrogance) and I was basically ripping this guy to shreds on cross examination (which his lawyer didn’t even think would happen, because he expected the case to be dismissed.)
At the end of the trial, the judge ruled for me and stated that she found the defendant’s testimony to be untrustworthy. I was shocked at winning a contempt trial to begin with, but then this exchange happened:
Defendent’s attorney: “Your honor, now that you have found my client’s testimony to be untrustworthy, I am requesting a continuance in order to prepare further witnesses.” (This concept is shocking in an of itself, because to even think you can bring more witnesses after you rest your case is laughable)
Judge: “You had your shot and you missed, counsel.”
Defendant’s attorney: “Your honor, there was no way I could have anticipated that you’d find my client’s testimony untrustworthy and as such, I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare other witnesses in support of his position”.
Judge: “That may be an argument for your carrier, counsel, but it holds no water with me. See you this afternoon for sentencing.”
For those who didn’t pick up on it, the judge basically told the lawyer ON THE RECORD IN FRONT OF HIS CLIENT that she expects him to get sued for malpractice because he f***ed up so royally.
That was mindblowing on multiple levels.”
9. No bail for you
“Represented a pro bono client that had just turned 18 and was charged with serious property damage. I walk in to his bail hearing and the judge looks at him and goes “I knew you’d be back as an adult.” The judge then turns to me and says “Counselor, you may want to learn about your client’s history.” No bail.
To answer some of the questions I’ve been asked:
1. I considered it to be extremely inappropriate and objected to it. Juvenile records are sealed for a reason. The judge overruled the objection but made sure to articulate that his denial of bail was for reasons related to the instant case.
2. The firm I was at had a pro bono program and worked with the public defender service in the area.
3. The judge at the bail hearing wasn’t the judge for all other hearings in the case. He just happened to be the one handling bail hearings that afternoon.”
10. Not 30 years
“I was interning during law school prosecuting domestic violence cases. The Deputy DA asked me to talk for the first time during a guy’s arraignment, for beating his wife. An arraignment is when the Defendant hears the charges against them and pleads guilty or not guilty basically. When the judge calls on me to speak, I got insanely nervous. And told the Defendant that his charge carried a maximum penalty of 30 YEARS, when it was actually 30 DAYS.
He freaks out, the crowd (some in the gallery were his family and friends) gasps. The judge basically stops me and says “I think you mean 30 days counselor…” After which everyone, including the defendant, laughed at me…
Because a lot of people are worried about this: the evidence was pretty weak and the facts did not bear charging anything other than the lowest level misdemeanor, which, in conjunction with this being a first offence meant that we were seeking two things primarily: counseling/ anger management classes, and probation. The intent being that any future problems can hopefully be avoided, and if not, we could stick the Defendant with a harsh punishment the next time when we’d hopefully have better facts/ evidence.”
11. Jury duty
“I think this qualifies, though it wasn’t me that was the lawyer.
Got called for jury duty.
Was at the jury selection phase, and they asked if “anyone here thinks they should not…” blah blah. Defendant was in the room.
I raised my hand.
The defending lawyer looked at me like “oh this oughta be good” and asked me to explain.
I suggested I tell them in private.
He insisted I tell the courtroom.
“OK…I probably shouldn’t be on this jury because I was on a previous jury for this man which returned a guilty verdict”.
Lawyer’s face went “oh sh*t”.
Commotion and a wait while they looked up records.
Whole jury was now “tainted”.
Everyone goes home, and they start over.”
“Not a lawyer, but I got in enough trouble in my teens to know what a judge does/doesn’t like.
Uncles/father decide they’re going to conserve my grandmother and put her in a secured perimeter memory facility. In reality, they just wanted to piss away her $20m estate. We end up in court with our lawyers.
One thing I know about most judges/courtrooms. They want to be revered like a church. No talk back, no talking out of turn, wear a suit, even if it’s a $20 goodwill suit.
Father, uncles all show up. All of them spend about an hour badmouthing me. I’m keeping my mouth shut, looking at my feet. One of my uncles tries to examine me, I just keep my mouth shut until the judge tells him he’s not a lawyer, and I’m not examination. None of them are well dressed, sneakers, dirty sweatpants.
My uncle (who’s the ringleader) decides to start talking over his own lawyers. My lawyer makes some comment, the judge starts talking to her and my uncles lawyer says something like, “Now hold on ladies!”
All they had to do was keep their mouths shut, and not tell their lawyers how to do their job and they would have won. They pretty much handed grandma and I the win.”
13. Closing argument
“It’s hard to call stuff in court “oh sh*t” moments most of the time because generally you know what’s coming. Even in criminal defense. I had some flubs early in my solo practice that more boiled down to lack of experience.
But going for things that actually happened in court, I will go a little lighter than some of my fellow practitioners here.
Closing argument in an assault case. I’ve learned to grow comfortable with my speaking style, and part of that is to cut loose a bit when it is appropriate. So I make light of some of the states’ allegations given the testimony by the prosecuting witness. There is one guy on the jury panel that thinks I’m just hilarious. I had to wait for him to stop laughing.
The oh sh*t moment? When the jurors came back to return a verdict, the same ROTFLWTFBBQ guy was elected foreman by the other jurors.
Verdict was not guilty.”
14. Don’t mess with the judge
“Not a lawyer but I had a big “Oh sh*t” moment.
I was in court for driving while suspended in a county and in front of a judge that were both notorious for putting people who did that in jail. My license wasnt supposed to be suspended, a pencil pusher forgot to press a button or something and it never got un-suspended after the time was up. I had proof of this, but I was still really nervous.
The guy who went up to the judge before me walked to the table where we were supposed to stand, sat down, and put his feet up on the table. The judge asked him what he was doing and he gave a flippant answer and basically told the judge to get f***ed. This seriously pissed the judge off. The judge went off on this guy and the guy gave everything right back to him, pissing him off more and more. The judge ended up jailing him for contempt and had the bailiff cuff the guy and put him in a chair off to the side to await the marshalls who would transport him to the jail.
My name gets called. The judge is looking at me like Im fresh meat and he is a Great White shark. Im already thinking to myself “OK, if this judge puts you in jail, run over and beat the sh*t out of the guy that pissed the judge off so badly. He’s why youre going to jail.”
The judge looks down at his paperwork and back at me and says “You’re Mr *my last name*”? I said “Yes sir.” He said “Yeah, we were talking about you earlier, Im going to void your arrest and dismiss this case, your license was supposed to be valid and you shouldnt be here.”
I let out a huge sigh. The judge asked me if I was OK and I said I had been a bit worried, especially given the guy that was right before me in line. The judge said “Dont worry about him, he wont be seeing anything that isnt behind bars for about 90 days.” and laughed.”
15. Big sigh
“Was in court for a directions hearing. The judge was already in a bad mood and asked why we were here for such a seemingly pointless litigation (without giving details, he was right.)
The barrister starts to make our case, and I am taking notes about areas we need to further explore when I hear
“EXCUSE ME, WHY WERE YOU SO RUUUUUUDE TO ME?”
The client, who had been told to NOT COME, had come to court that day and was evidently incensed by the judge questioning the merit of their case.
They berated the judge for about 3 minutes, with me and my cocounsel first stunned and then trying to shut them up, before he adjourned the hearing.
The case did not go very well, to my client’s surprise and fury. Big sigh.”