Housing Court 18 / Contempt 3

So what happened when I traveled down to Housing Court on April 16, the appointed day my Order to Show Cause to Punish for Contempt was supposed to be heard?

The day before, I emailed my lawyer that either it would be an explosion or an adjournment.

Adjournment. Of course. I’m getting into the rhythm now, the rhythm that certain lawyers have — the rhythm of postponements and stalling, a rhythm so pervasive the New York Times’s terrific legal journalist, William Glaberson, just published a telling series on legal stalling in the Bronx court system, capped off with a powerful editorial.

Truth is, all lawyers do it because they must: only a lawyer who’s handling one or two cases — which would mean he’s an abject failure as a lawyer — can always show up in court on time, fully prepared.

But lawyers do use certain excuses, excuses which I’m sure judges see right through. But there’s a limit to the argument a judge or plaintiff, like me, can produce against the lawyer’s usual explanation: “Actually engaged.” That’s supposed to mean that the lawyer is in another courtroom, before another judge. “Actually engaged” is not supposed to mean, “Gee, I haven’t really read the motion yet,” or “Gee, I’m currently interviewing at another law firm,” or “Gee, I can’t get my client to talk to me about this because he’s actually engaged in avoiding my phone calls.”

Occasionally, a judge will challenge a lawyer to produce evidence that he is in another courtroom, on another case. But most often a judge doesn’t have time or punitive interest in showing up a lawyer as a prevaricator because then what? I don’t know, in fact. I guess a judge can sanction a lawyer in some way, hold him in contempt … but that brings me back to Contempt and my appearance in Housing Court on April 16.

Larry, the lawyer who has been representing the coop in Housing Court and Small Claims Court, did not appear on April 16. A pretty young woman found me, introduced herself as a lawyer from Larry’s office and said Gee, she didn’t know anything about the case, but that Larry had sent her to ask for an adjournment because he was …. wait wait wait … ACTUALLY ENGAGED on another matter.

I smiled. I think I gave a good pretense of believing the excuse. Which I didn’t. Indeed, I had a good idea what was going on at Larry’s office. And I had an even better idea of what this young woman had been told to do, and told how she should behave while doing it: her sole appointed task was to get an adjournment.

I told her why I wasn’t going to consent to an adjournment (the time, the stips, the orders, the broken sworn-to promises). This of course meant that instead of signing off on another consent to adjourn, we would go before the judge.

And we did. The young lady launched herself into the same explanation she’d given me, about why she was requesting an adjournment. The judge asked if I consented. I said, “No.” The judge asked why. I went through the excuses, the stips, the stuff, etc.

The judge was riffling through a rather fat motion on her bench. I realized, hey, that’s my rather fat motion. Then the judge looked down on the young lady and said, “Are you going to be opposing this motion?” The young lady said, “Yes.” And the judge, flipping through more of my pages, said, with a soupçon of sarcasm, “So where is it? Where’s your answer?”

The young lady seemed a bit taken aback but did her bit about “Needing to consult with the clients,” blah blah. The judge looked annoyed but reluctantly turned to the court calendar to give us a new date: April 30.

So that’s what happened in Housing Court on April 16.

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