#195 – Home Court Advantage

I got the news today that I lost a case. I’m almost positive “home court” bias is to blame too, even if I’ll never be able to prove it. To be honest, the result didn’t surprise me, since defeat has seemed a foregone conclusion for some time.

Two months ago, I traveled to a rural county far from Atlanta to defend a summary judgment motion. The courthouse appeared much sleepier than its metro area counterparts, and the judge hearing my case had no other activity scheduled. On arriving, I expected to find an incestuous atmosphere typical of most backwater locations, with every local attorney on a first name basis with the judges and staff, and every ruling weighted heavily against outsiders like me. I’ve been on the receiving end of such decisions before, and it’s never been pleasant.

Surprisingly, I saw no evidence of good ole’ boys at play during my stint in the courtroom. The Judge, his law clerk, and my adversary all followed proper decorum. No one was on a first name basis; I heard only “Your Honor” and “Mr. Robertson” between the Judge and my opponent. At the hearing, the Judge questioned both of us equally and at times nodded thoughtfully at my points. I already knew the law favored my positions, and I thought the facts helped too. Since I more than held my own during oral argument, I left the courthouse feeling pretty good about my client’s chances.

By the time I finished lunch, I felt a lot less confident. Facing a long drive home, I’d decided to grab a bite to eat first. I walked to the nearby eatery recommended by a helpful sheriff’s officer. Moments after my food arrived, I spotted an all-too-recognizable trio entering the establishment. But neither the Judge, his clerk, nor my adversary saw me before the hostess seated the three of them at the booth behind mine.

The decorum I’d observed in the courtroom proved noticeably absent in the café. Gone were “Your Honor” and “Mr. Robertson.” In their place, I heard “Tommy” and “Jimmy,” as well as a couple of pithy nicknames typically reserved for bosom buddies. As if their familiarity alone didn’t spell sufficient trouble, I nearly choked on my sandwich when Tommy and Jimmy began discussing the provisions they’d need for their upcoming fishing trip together!

I already feared the worst after leaving the eatery that afternoon; but I didn’t see defeat as a fait accompli until last week. At my client’s urging, I telephoned the Judge’s chambers for an ETA on his ruling. A secretary handed me over to the law clerk, who apologized for the delay and admitted that things had been crazy since he’d given notice. Obviously, I hadn’t known he’d taken new employment. To be polite, I asked him what he planned to do next. He told me he was entering private practice. In fact, he’d already secured a position with a local law firm … Mr. Robertson’s firm, naturally.

Tommy and Jimmy probably looked like this during their fishing weekend together.

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