When I first started practicing law, I worked at a firm where 1/3 to 1/2 of my practice at any given time was family law. One of the cases I got was a post-secondary educational support motion. In the state of Washington, we embrace the fiction that going to college makes people smart and employable, so even if a non-custodial parent pays their child support until their kid is 18, they can still be forced under some circumstances to contribute to their children’s college education. One of those conditions is that the child achieves and maintains a certain grade point average.
My client was the non-custodial parent, and had been unemployed for a long period, despite having gone through job retraining. The ex-spouse, who brought the motion for contribution, was a teacher. The kid, despite being the spawn of an educator, was dramatically underachieving at the local community college. We tried to get the transcript, but were not having any luck. Finally my client got the kid’s password, and printed off the transcript that proved the kid was NOT making the grade. I had my defense.
We showed up on the date of the hearing, and we walked into a packed court room. The Commissioner that day was a pro tem (meaning that it was a practicing attorney who was substituting). I wasn’t alarmed, because I had argued motions before him before, and believed him to be fair. What I hadn’t considered is that when the adjudicator is also an advocate, sometimes the advocate wins.
We were the second case to be heard, so the court room was still packed. My adversary made his case, and then it was my turn. I reminded the court of the GPA requirement, and passed a copy of the transcript to the Commissioner and opposing counsel, pointing out that the “student” wasn’t a good student, and that perhaps their time might be better spent asking “Do you want fries with that?” My adversary looked deflated. I watched from the corner of my eye as he kept stealing glances at the transcript. I finished my argument, convinced that my client was going to prevail. My opponent said nothing.
It was quiet as the Commissioner looked down at me over his glasses and addressed me. “Counselor,” he said, “I notice here at the bottom of this transcript that it says “Unofficial Copy”. Do we have a hearsay problem here?”
My opponent perked up, his case revived by the person who was there to judge it, not argue it for him. “Your honor, I OBJECT! Hearsay!”
I looked around the courtroom. My client did the same. The child was not present, so I couldn’t get their testimony to authenticate it. I was trapped. My opponent had won.
As I packed up my folio, one of the old-timers sitting immediately behind the bar leaned forward and said “Tough Break, Kid.”
I looked at him and replied “What the hell was I supposed to say? Gee, your honor, thanks for making my opponent’s argument for him.”? He just chuckled and said “Sometimes, there’s nothing you can say.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.