Fear and Honesty

The municipal officials looked just like little Hitlers as they strutted into the hearing room. They refused to look at us. The first one on the stand stated my client should camp out in his tenants’ yard to make sure the tenants behaved.

I can’t say I felt fear before the hearing, but I did feel tension. I was not primarily a litigator, this was not my usual territory, and I wasn’t familiar with the procedures or personalities of that particular municipality before I stepped into the hearing room.

I had, however, prepared both law and facts thoroughly. As the hearing progressed, it became obvious that the municipal officials were familiar with neither.

I knew the police chief’s list of violations was inconsistent with the notices he had sent my client. After he haughtily read his opening testimony listing all the violations of which my client was guilty, I simply asked him to show me where my client had received notice of the violations. He spent a full two minutes looking through his file. Every eye in the hearing room was on him.

Both my client and I sat respectfully silent while he looked, but we were both chuckling inside. Finally, he had to admit on the record that my client had never received notice. The police chief’s arrogance suddenly evaporated.

The Code Enforcement Official, hands trembling, testified that the last time he had viewed my client’s property was over four months ago. He nevertheless adamantly stated that the property did not meet the Code requirements as of the hearing date. Did I hear that right?

When I asked him how he could possibly testify that my client’s property didn’t meet Code requirements today when he hadn’t viewed it for four months, he backed down, retracted his statement, and suddenly started testifying honestly. Interestingly enough, his hands also stopped shaking.

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