Small Claims Court 4: Resolution

On March 27, at 9:30 a.m., I went to the Small Claims courtroom for the trial in my case.

A few days earlier, I made copies of all my file documents, hand-scribbled page numbers on each page, and typed up a table of contents. I put this package into a soft binder, for the judge. (I was envisioning how the whole trial thing would work and realized that verbally reporting on my case’s history — and flicking through my own file as I reported — was not going to be as effective or as expedient as handing the judge his own copy of the file, so he could flick pages along with me.)

The night before, I read through my case binder to reacquaint myself with the whole soppy story. (It’s all about numerous leaks over a period of several years, my damaged ceilings, how I had to pay for the repairs myself, blah blah blah.)

That morning in the courtroom, I again greeted Larry, the lawyer who has been representing the defendants. We reported to the courtroom deputy that we were ready for trial, and returned to our seats in the rear pew.

After a short time, a lovely young woman introduced herself to us as the court attorney. She asked briefly about the case. I flicked my pages, showed her the proof of my $3097 payments for the repairs, Larry said some stuff … and then she asked whether we’d consider settling.

An odd wave washed over me. There I was, determined to go to trial because I had all the evidence and knew I would win. Sure, yeah yeah, you never know what’s going to happen when you go to trial but hey, sometimes you do. And I did.

But right then I trifurcated into separate Naomis. Naomi One was a plaintiff with a grievance, and the combination of emotional and intellectual components that a plaintiff carries around with her, along with the file containing her top-of-the-line, utterly proven case. Naomi Two was all intellect and detached observer. That Naomi was curious about the settlement process.

And at the same time all of this was going on, I was fully aware of those two Naomis: so Naomi Three was the part of my brain standing outside the negotiation, tracking the psychological technique of the settlement process.

Here’s what the court attorney did: first she talked to Larry and me together, learning the basics of the case and arguments. Then she asked if she could talk to Larry alone, outside the courtroom. I said sure and they went outside. Then she came back and collected me.  Larry was prepared to settle the $3097 for $2000. I said, absolutely not, I was owed the full amount, let’s go to trial. And I wasn’t playing a game: I meant it. I wanted to go to trial, I wanted to win a decision.

The court attorney separated us again and talked to me alone. “What would you accept to settle this case?” Naomi One wanted to say, “Three thousand ninety-seven dollars and change,” but one of those Naomis said, “Twenty-seven hundred” and maybe I added on fifty.

She went back to Larry, and then back to me, and after a short time we arrived at $2500. Larry called his clients for approval, got it, and that was it.

I settled. Me. And I didn’t mind at all. Although I did argue a bit when Larry said he wanted Chaz Skush-O’Brien, whom I had named as a defendant along with the coop, dropped from the settlement. But he said he wouldn’t settle without dropping Chaz and for a few seconds I thought, OK, let’s go to trial, but I did agree.

Larry filled out an official printed form reading Stipulation of Settlement and Affidavit Upon Default. The court attorney reviewed it. I told her she was terrific.

I did get confirmation that there was an actual date by which the coop had to pay me that $2500 — it’s inscribed on the Stipulation — and also asked what would happen if they failed and got an answer to that, too.

Larry signed for Respondents/Defendants, I signed for Claimant/Plaintiff, the multiform Stipulation was pulled apart, I got a yellow copy, tucked it into my binder, said goodbye to Larry and mentioned that I was sure I’d see him soon.

Why was I willing to settle? Because at that point Larry did not know that we would be seeing each other really soon: I lugged my (unusually) heavy tote bag down to the second floor, entered the Housing Court clerk’s office, took out of my heavy tote bag what I had brought with me and…

Next: What I filed in Housing Court.

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