21 October 2008 by Published in: General musings 11 comments

I usually try not to bore you with war stories from the practice of law, and I have, for the most part, succeeded in keeping them out of this blog. I figure that you’re mostly not interested and that reading about my law practice is not what brings you here each day. However, something happened today that I just had to pass along. It’s not often that something leaves me completely flabbergasted and largely speechless, but it happened today.

Background: In the spring of 2007, a lawyer friend called me. His client had been sued, but had blown it off until it was too late. Because he’d been served with process and had not responded to the law suit within the time limits established by the Rules of Civil Procedure, judgment by default was taken against him, and a damages hearing was set. The case involves consumer fraud claims, and by statute, a successful plaintiff can be awarded treble damages and attorney’s fees in such cases. Thus, there was a substantial sum of money at stake. My friend had a scheduling conflict, so he asked me if I would handle this case for his client. I said sure, provided that the client understood that, under the circumstances, there wasn’t going to be a whole lot I could do for him. My friend said he’d explained that to the client, and that the client wanted to dispute the case in spite of the fact that his own negligence had resulted in the default judgment being taken against him.

The client retained me. He signed my fee agreement and paid my retainer. I attended the damages hearing and did the best I could. I managed to knock out some of the requested damages, which was good. However, the court still awarded the plaintiff treble damages and set a hearing to determine the amount of her award of attorney’s fees, as permitted by the statute. I filed a motion to vacate the default judgment. I contested the hearing on attorney’s fees. I did all that I could. Not surprisingly, it was not enough. The court denied the motion to vacate the default judgment, and the damages awards became final. At that point, there was little I could do, so I negotiated a deal with plaintiff’s counsel for my guy to make payments. The client made the first payment and then defaulted on the payment arrangement.

By September, the guy was second-guessing me to the lawyer who had originally referred him to me about the hopelessness of the case that had been royally screwed up by his own negligence in not timely responding to the law suit. That created some tension between me and an old friend whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, which I most assuredly did not appreciate. Fortunately, after hearing the whole story, my old friend backed me up on this, which finally put an end to the second-guessing. Then, unhappy with a problem of his own creation, he stiffed me on the last $2500 of his bill. I have not heard from him since the end of September of 2007. After it became obvious that he wasn’t going to pay me, I decided to sit on the thing for a year or so and then turn it over for collection. I wrote the obligation off this summer when my computer was stolen.

That now brings you up to speed to today’s events.

This morning, I get a call from the client. Not surprisingly, plaintiff’s counsel had taken action to execute on his judgment and had sent the sheriff out to padlock the guy’s business, which is a sure way to get someone’s attention. The client actually had the gall to call me to ask whether I would help him. And he actually had the nerve to be surprised when I told him that until he pays me what I’ve been owed for the last 13 months, I will not do anything to help him. Supposedly, he’s bringing me money today, but I’ve heard this before from him, and I will believe it when I see it.

“Chutzpah” is one of those very useful and wonderful Yiddish words that has made its way into common usage in the United States. According to The Joy of Yiddish, chutzpah is defined as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts,’ presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to.” This client is the walking, breathing, definition of chutzpah, calling me like that and asking me to help, knowing that he owes me a substantial sum of money after second-guessing me and then refusing to communicate with me or pay me for more than a year. It’s absolutely astonishing.

I’ve been sitting here, just shaking my head in disbelief since that call came in. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

UPDATE, 10:30 P.M.: Not surprisingly, the guy didn’t show up with money today, and he at least was smart enough not to call me to ask me for help again. My guess is that until I sue him for the fees he owes me, I’ve heard the last I’m going to hear from this deadbeat. Good riddance.

Scridb filter


  1. Sam Elliott
    Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I believe it.

  2. Wayne Fielder
    Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Heh. Spend a week working for a Higher Education coordinating board. You might just change your mind. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I feel your pain…in spades.

  3. dan
    Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Yiddish is an extremely expressive, and often very funny language. I remember using the term “putz” at my aunt’s house when I was a kid. She was so offended she kicked me out of her house! hehehe.
    But, the reason I write is to suggest that the hapless fellow in the story you relate is best described by another yiddish word, “shmuck”.

  4. Scott
    Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Isn’t it amazing the lengths some people will go to, to prevent you from helping them?

  5. G.E.
    Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Tell me, tell me, weary soldier from the rude and stirring wars —
    Was that a crass Gen-Xer who gave you all those battle scars?
    He is just the kind of dimwit that I find here in my class,
    And I can only say I hope you kick his chutzpah —.

    Well, I know that you are valiant and your courage never fails
    While contending for the honor of your practice and your bails.
    Weary soldier, let’s just hope here that he never comes again
    With excuses and no money and his chutzpah in his train!

    With apologies to Stephen Foster —


    P.S. And if it wasn’t a Gen-Xer, I expect it was likely Parent-of-Same. Sheesh, what we do to make a living.

  6. Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 10:24 pm


    I knew that you, of all of my readers, would get it.


  7. Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 10:24 pm


    Indeed. ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. Tue 21st Oct 2008 at 10:25 pm


    Very nice. I’m impressed.

    This guy is about 50, and he owns a business.


  9. Jeff Anderson
    Thu 23rd Oct 2008 at 7:22 pm

    I have practiced law for more than 30 years, and your story does not suprise me at all. I do think I know why you decided to wait “a year or so” before turning this over to collections.
    The real definition of Chutzpah is when that same client files a complaint with the Bar Associaton, and accuses you of not filing an Answer to the Compliant on time (before you ever met this fellow and before you were ever hired).
    I once had a client tell me that the other attorney in a case has paid me a cash payment to throw a case – the other attorney was just leaving the practice to become a judge -not a ikely tme to take a bribe, even if you wanted to take a bribe.

  10. Thu 23rd Oct 2008 at 8:07 pm


    True enough.

    No surprise: no money, no more contact from the deadbeat.


  11. G.E.
    Thu 06th Nov 2008 at 12:44 am

    Glad you enjoyed it. Yup, sounds like the folks I deal with here — parents of nonperforming students.

    I have to say I’ve heard of worse things happening. I worked once for an attorney who was shot by a client over a $3,000.00 legal bill. He won his case, but couldn’t collect the judgment because his former partners declared bankruptcy. He killed one of his former partners and then showed up in the attorney’s office with his handgun. Never did figure out why there weren’t metal detectors at the front door!


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