Sometimes lawyers get a bad rap. People can think that lawyers are just money hungry pricks that will lie and deceive people and bend the laws to get their way, but there are many that are practicing law for the right reasons. It can be quite difficult preparing everything needed for a case and requires a vast knowledge of the laws so when they are a client messes up in court, it can lead to some huge "Uh Oh" moments. Lawyers tell their stories of some of their biggest "Uh Oh" moments in the courtroom. Content has been edited for clarity.
Even The Judge Facepalmed
“A friend of mine is a lawyer and he was defending a guy in court, but don’t remember what he was charged with.
The main witness for the prosecution was on the stand and was asked if she could identify the defendant. She was scanning the courtroom and seemed confused. My friend was already silently celebrating because if she couldn’t identify him, he could probably get all of the charges dropped.
As he was mentally adding this case to the ‘win’ file, he happened to glance over at his client, who had just helpfully raised his hand to make it easier for her to identify him.
Even the judge facepalmed on that one.”
“A lawyer I used to know was in court on a work injury case.
The judge asked his client, ‘Just what is the nature of your injury?’
His client replied, ‘I can’t raise my arm this high any more,’ while she raised her arm up to show just how high she couldn’t raise it.
The judge looked at her, astonished. ‘Case dismissed.'”
A Sleazy Lawyer
“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:
Defendant’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 and 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 messed up so royally.
That stuff was mind blowing on multiple levels.
So you might be thinking: did he basically admit on court record that he didn’t do his job?
More or less, yeah.
Did he get disbarred?
I have no idea, but I doubt it would go anywhere near that far. Disbarment normally only happens when you mess up really badly often, or meddle with client funds.”
The Retirement Settlement
“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 ‘uh oh’ 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.”
I Was The Idiot
“I was the idiot that almost messed everything up for themself. I had 2 charges in 2 different courts. I accepted the first plea which almost always carries probation but my plea didn’t have that condition.
When it came time to accept the second plea, the prosecutor didn’t include probation because she assumed my first charge put me on probation. She said as much to the judge and me being a big dummy almost corrected her. My lawyer grabbed my shoulder and, I kid you not, told me to ‘Shut the eff up, she doesn’t know,’ so I closed my mouth and said absolutely nothing. I got off alright.”
Hire A Lawyer
“I had a case recently where the defendant came to a hearing without a lawyer. He proceeded to misrepresent to the judge what exhibits had been entered, stating that I had copies of all of the exhibits he wanted to use and that I had already filed them (I hadn’t, because they were his exhibits, not mine). I listened quietly as he dug himself deeper into a hole misrepresenting these facts to the judge. I could have stopped and corrected him, but I wanted the judge to know what an idiot he was. So I let him finish and then it was my turn, and I stood up and told the judge he was completely wrong and walked her through the exhibits. The judge asked him the equivalent of ‘what the frick?’ and he said, ‘I’ll agree with whatever she says,’ meaning ME. The attorney suing him. Yeah, we won.
Here’s a lesson: don’t go to court without a lawyer if you don’t know the the heck you are doing and there is a lot of money on the line.”
“I Never Did It Again”
“I may or may not have done somethings early in life that were against the law.
When time came to face the music, I admitted to what I might have or might not have done. There was a planned ‘arrest’ meaning I would come in and get fingerprinted, and spend a while in holding before my case. The detective on my case did not show up that day. I did not get fingerprinted or arrested.
Since the court was out of town, I was using a lawyer on referral. I sat in the courtroom and waited as the docket was worked. My referral lawyer never showed up. When it was my turn, I went to the bench podium, alone, as a 18 year old kid.
The judge said, ‘These are your charges, how do you plea?’
I said, ‘Well, my attorney said he was going to recommend diversion and community service, but he’s not here.’
The judge looked at me, then looked at her sheet, then looked at me again. She said, ‘Take a pamphlet from the bailiff and call the probation office about your diversion. And I don’t want to see you in my court again without a lawyer.’
I took the pamphlet. I never called the probation office. I never got called back or arrested. The situation has never appeared on any background check for any job in the last 20 years.
I have no freaking idea what happened with my case. The important thing is I NEVER DID IT AGAIN.”
“I About Pooped My Pants”
“The person I was representing was on trial for Assault in the Third Degree and for driving under the influence. In my state, A3 means you’ve assaulted an aid worker or police officer and is a felony. The allegations are that he was very verbally abusive to the officers and, at one point, kicked one in the face.
We’re sitting at the defendant’s table and the officer is testifying about the statements my guy made to him, including some pretty horrific name calling. Out of nowhere, my client screams ‘You’re an effing liar! Eff you, you son of a B-word!’
We lost that trial.
Another time, the judge asked a client whether anyone had coerced him into pleading guilty, and he said ‘Yeah, my attorney.’ I about pooped my pants, but he laughed and said, ‘I’m joking. No.'”
“I was at a hearing arguing that my client was wrongfully terminated because the employer failed to abide by the proper procedures. During the hearing, a witness for the employer tried to offer documents that were fraudulently altered in order to make it look like the proper procedure was followed. I noticed the alteration. The opposing counsel quickly got that witness out of the room, and after a quick adjournment, my client got a large settlement.
It was an age discrimination case. It wasn’t a very strong case, but one of our arguments was that my client’s supervisor railroaded him by terminating him without following the proper procedures.
This employer (a government entity) is supposed to give its employees certain number of days of advanced-notice before a termination. During discovery, the employer disclosed documents that indicated that they they didn’t give the client proper advanced-notice. During the hearing, the witness shows up with the same paperwork, but with completely different dates – indicating that they did give him the proper notice.
The alteration was obvious to me because I was going to examine that witness as to the date. So once I looked at the document she was giving me, it was obvious that something was wrong. Their lawyer had earlier given me an entirely different set of documents.
I should mention that this was a hearing before a civil service commission and not an ‘Article III’ court, so discovery was a little less rigid.
Anyways, their forgery turned a weak case into a very, very strong case.”
“Sitting in court, doing some plea paperwork for with a defense attorney for a go home plea agreement (where person is released from custody and doesn’t have to do jail time), we hear this ‘Ksssssssstt- shhooooo’ to our left and we look to see his guy sitting in the galley all by himself, sitting in the cloud of a biggest vape hit I have ever seen, then has the audacity to tell the judge it ‘went off in his hand.’ It was honestly hilarious, but kinda sad as well.
Do not pass go, do not go free that day.”
An Unfortunate Delay
“I had a pre-trial conference at 9am at a court about 2 hours away. So I wake up super early to drive in bad weather to the conference. I get there and we’re waiting for the other (in town) attorney. All the while, I’m grumbling to myself about how I’m from out of town and I can still make it on time. Finally the court calls the other attorney’s office and gets a receptionist who tells us through tears that the other attorney passed away the night before. Needless to say I was just happy to still be alive and we rescheduled for a few months later.”
Triple Life Sentence
“I’m not an attorney, but a reporter whose beat is the county courthouse, so I’ve had plenty of these moments happen in front of me.
A guy was convicted of attempting to murder several police officers.
At his sentencing, the prosecutor revealed the defendant got a prison tattoo while he was awaiting sentencing of a tombstone with the names of all the cops he attempted to kill. But the defendant still had the audacity to beg for a lenient sentence.
He got a few hundred years in jail.”
A Little Off
“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. 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 offense, 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.
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…”
“I was called for jury duty. We were 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 shoot.’
Commotion and a wait while they looked up records. Yep; verified. Whole jury was now ‘tainted.’
Everyone goes home, and they start over. Great freaking day.”
A Big Uh Oh
“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 wasn’t 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 go do something to himself. This seriously ticked the judge off. The judge went off on this guy and the guy gave everything right back to him, ticking 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 Marshals who would transport him to the jail.
My name gets called. The judge is looking at me like I’m fresh meat and he is a Great White shark. I’m already thinking to myself, ‘OK, if this judge puts you in jail, run over and beat the snot out of the guy that ticked the judge off so badly. He’s why you’re going to jail.’
The judge looks down at his paperwork and back at me and says ‘You’re Mr _?’
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 shouldn’t 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, ‘Don’t worry about him, he won’t be seeing anything that isn’t behind bars for about 90 days,’ and laughed.
‘Uh oh,’ I thought to myself before getting the heck out of there.”
Doing His Job For Him
“The best ‘Uh oh’ moments are when your opposing counsel or opposing client says or does something that wins the case for you. True, in civil cases you usually know what will happen ahead of time, but in my state, discovery in smaller civil cases is more limited, and clients don’t always want to spend $30K when we can get the same result for $10K.
In an adverse possession case, the witness only needed to say, ‘I used that area as my backyard,’ and I fully expected him to say this. It would harm my case, but I knew I could get around it. When asked about his use of the area, he said, ‘No, I never really went back there, didn’t use it at all.’ Lost the case for the other side, and I could barely keep a straight face. It was completely opposite of what the witness had told opposing counsel off the record; apparently the ‘under penalty of perjury’ made him change his story.
I had another case about losing multi-unit dwelling insurance because a guy’s place was a fire hazard. I asked him if his personal insurer knew about the fire hazard. ‘Yeah, and the pricks canceled my policy!’
I also love it when I have a difficult party on the other side and the judge rips them a new one. I had a convoluted case with a lot of parties about nothing at all. The plaintiff was heinous. The six or seven attorneys were working out calendars with the judge when the plaintiff starts yelling at her attorney from across the courtroom because she didn’t like that he had conceded some little non-issue. Judge told her to sit down and shut up. I was sad that the case settled because she would’ve been amazing on the stand.”