With some friends and family members, starting a phone conversation with something like:
would get me a response like:
“Um, good afternoon, Autumn, so nice of you to call and start such a polite conversation.”
“Jesus. Who peed in your Wheaties?”
“No speak English.” (That one courtesy of soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.)
My Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister was, thankfully, not one of those people. She was one of these people:
“I know! It’s fucking crazy, right? But still technically legal. Don’t be confusing an auto insurance settlement with a legal settlement.”
“But shouldn’t my auto insurance company handle this?”
Lawyer Sis: “Is he suing you for $$$$, or more than $$$$$?”
Me: “Only $$$$. That’s good, right?”
Lawyer Sis: “That’s bad.”
My head hurt. “How can being sued for less money be better than being sued for more money?!”
Lawyer Sis: “If he sued you for more than $$$$$, your auto insurance would be liable and their lawyers could handle it. But he’s taking you to Small Claims Court. It’s a damned loophole. The guy’s clearly a lawyer.”
Me: “Of course he is.”
Lawyer Sis: “Seriously. Only you would get hit by an unethical dickhead lawyer.”
Me: “Was there just a TINY bit of redundancy in description ‘unethical dickhead lawyer?’”
Lawyer Sis: “So did you not want my advice?”
Me: “Throwing myself on your mercy and foreswearing all lawyer jokes for a year.”
Lawyer Sis: “Two years.”
Me: “OH MY GOD! How can I possibly resist lawyer jokes when you are negotiating a settlement OVER lawyer jokes?! This is why people make lawyer jokes in the first place.”
Lawyer Sis: “No, Mr. Asshole Lawyer is why they make jokes. And he’s going to pay for it. Let’s countersue!”
Me, whimpering: “I don’t want to countersue! Countersuing means I have to take time off work and, like, file documents, right?”
Lawyer Sis: “Absolutely, but it would be so worth it, I’ll walk you through it, and in the end, you can nail him for the hours of work lost…” My eyes glazed over as Lawyer Sis detailed the steps to take.
When she finally finished talking, I said, “No thanks, I just want it to go away. I hate this.”
Lawyer Sis: “You are really missing out. I would be all over this and the guy would rue the day he fucked with me.”
Me: “And this is why YOU are the lawyer. Just tell me how I win.”
Lawyer Sis: “Fine. I suppose not countersuing will probably increase your chances of looking like a poor, pathetic victim.”
Me: “Is looking like a poor pathetic victim good?”
Lawyer Sis: “Yep. First rule. Those Anne Taylor and Talbots suits you wear to film markets?”
Me: “I should wear those, right? Look professional.”
Lawyer Sis: “Absolutely not. You need a flowing, girly dress.”
Me: “I haven’t got one.”
Lawyer Sis: “A skirt and fluffy blouse, then. Hair down.”
Me: “Girly crap. Great. Heels?”
Lawyer Sis: “God, no. It’s hard enough to make someone of your size look like a sweet, innocent victim. Wear flats.”
Lawyer Sister – as always – reveled in telling me exactly how to behave. She gave me strict instructions, and wrapped it up with, “And no arguing, no pointing, and no lecturing Mr. Asshole or the judge on the law, okay?”
Me: “I’m not THAT stupid.”
Lawyer Sis: “Remember when you argued with the New Jersey Sate Trooper who pulled you over for littering?”
Me: “It was an APPLE! It’s biodegradable!”
Me: “I’ve learned a lot since then.”
Lawyer Sis: “Clearly.”
Normally, I’m five minutes early to everything. Sometimes ten. It’s a legacy of growing up in a Type A household on the East Coast. But on my day in court, I got delayed by a disaster at work (Boss B’s weekly tennis match in Beverly Hills had to be moved at the last minute). I skidded into the courtroom after everyone else took their oath, hoping that my tardy arrival made me look like a stressed out victim trying to cram in court on an early lunch break. (Which was only the truth, actually).
Mr. Asshole was there, with a three-inch color-coded binder in his lap. He glared at me while various plaintiffs complained about broken cameras, unpaid rent, and a neighbor’s tree dumping leaves on their property. The judge was a woman in her thirties, which I thought was a hopeful sign. Maybe an educated woman on the judicial fast track would see through the Good Ol’ Boy’s shenanigans.
The judge was impressive, if only because she managed not to laugh at the man suing his neighbor for compensation over the hours he spent raking up leaves from a liquid amber tree. Even when the exasperated neighbor explained that the tree was by the street and had been planted by the city, the judge did not so much as crack a smile. She told the plaintiff she would consider the case carefully and her judgment would be mailed to them.
My case was last. The judge had me swear my oath. Mr. Asshole spoke first, presenting the judge with his giant rainbow binder, which he insisted would show her that his light had to have been green because otherwise his car couldn’t have arrived at that light at the particular moment we crashed. Or something like that. I didn’t see it, so I couldn’t say.
My big exhibit was a single piece of paper with the California Vehicular Code, Section 22100:
a) Right Turns. Both the approach for a right-hand turn and a right-hand turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
I told the judge that I’d had a green arrow and a clear, unobstructed view of the road. I had seen the plaintiff make a right turn on red without stopping and cross three lanes of traffic before hitting my car. I gave my little piece of paper to the bailiff, who passed it to the judge.
Then I made the one statement Lawyer Sis had scripted out for me: “Your Honor, I don’t really know why I am here. My insurance company and the plaintiff’s insurance company found the plaintiff at fault months ago. My car has been repaired and paid for. I’ve been reimbursed for my deductible. I thought this matter was over.”
The judge nodded, turned from me to the plaintiff, and asked, “Perhaps you could answer that question?”
Mr. Asshole harrumphed about how California law still gave him the right to sue. The judge nodded one last time, thanked us for being so well prepared, and said we would have her decision in a few weeks.
One week later, I received a very small, thin piece of mail from the state of California. It had lots of names and stamps and dates on it, but only one sentence:
“The defendant does not owe the plaintiff any money.”
I whooped, called Lawyer Sis, and whooped some more. She whooped and then said, “See? You should have countersued. You’d totally have won.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Vengeance in monetary form would have been nice. But also, maybe if I had, he wouldn’t do it again.”
“Oh, I don’t think he’ll do it again,” Lawyer Sis said. “I did a little research. Mr. Asshole IS a lawyer. For now. But what he did is not only a dick move, it’s a reportable action. So I wrote up a complaint and submitted it to the California State Bar. And now he gets to face a formal inquiry where he will have to explain why he used his lawyerly skills for evil.”
Which works for me.
I’d rather have justice than money.