Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hubris is Dangerous.

"And so hubris turns to false certainties, everyone expects to be a winner, and each morning is a mind-blowing surprise."
--Stephen Vizinczey

I seem to get more than my share of civil (as opposed to criminal) trials. Last year, I tried and won three. This year, I tried one a couple of weeks ago (and answered ready for another on September 6). This year's trial was a "specific performance" and fraud case pertaining to the sale of a commercial/industrial building, where the sellers purported to "cancel" a written purchase agreement.

This case resulted in trial because the defendants, a limited liability company, a limited partnership and an individual, rejected every attempt to resolve it informally. I guess they thought they had a "slam dunk". I thought then they failed to evaluate the case properly. Now I know they did.

I'll spare the details of the trial, but there was a "Perry Mason" moment when I elicited a damaging admission on cross-examination from the key witness on the other side (which he had previously denied in an earlier deposition). Keeping a poker face, I quickly moved on to an innocuous question.

Because of the type of relief sought, this matter was tried before a judge instead of jury. The judge told us to return for his decision one morning last week.

When we arrived, I suspected the other attorney thought he was going to win. He brought his wife, all of his clients and the individual defendant's father to the proceedings. I guessed he thought he was going to take a victory lap.

My client was out of town, so I was there alone with my legal pad.

The attorney did not jog that victory lap.

Instead, the court ordered that defendants complete the transaction at the contract price (entered into two years ago). The judge further found that the defendants, including the individual, committed fraud. Not surprisingly, the court quoted the exact admission I knew was the defendants' case killer (the "Perry Mason" moment). As a coup de grace, the court further deemed my client the prevailing party for purposes of recovering attorneys' fees on our complaint.

If that weren't enough, the Court used the following language to describe defendants: "they were hoisted on their own petard" (a phrase I did not use in my closing arguments), and "they played fast and loose with the facts", among other gems. All in front of his entourage.

As I said, hubris is dangerous.