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Articles Posted in Law- General

twitter-300x198In the last few years, the use of social media has increasingly become an issue in the legal field. We are seeing social media being used as evidence in civil and criminal trials. There have been recent Maryland appellate opinions on how to admit evidence of social media use.

Social media is a good place for juror conduct that completely screws up a trial. In the good ole days, jurors who communicated inappropriately during a trial did so verbally.  Of course, this was hard to trace and prove.  Improper verbal communications could lead to a mistrial.  But it was so hard to make this case from an evidentiary standpoint.   You needed live testimony from witnesses.  With social media, you can just wave the tweets and posts in front of the judge.

There have also been cases involving social media use by jurors. Here in Baltimore, there was an issue in the sensational Sheila Dixon trial about jurors becoming Facebook “friends” with one another. It has now become commonplace for jurors to be instructed that they are not to discuss their jury service on social media during the trial.

Two weeks ago I had a trial scheduled to begin on a Monday.

It was a jury trial that was set for a car accident trial to begin on an agreed date that had been selected 8 months earlier.  My client and his three witnesses — two of them experts — all cleared their schedules to make sure they were available.  I had blocked off the time on my calendar, and so did the two lawyers involved on the defense side.

The Friday before the trial was supposed to start, I received a call from the court’s assignment office.  We wouldn’t be able to begin our trial as scheduled because there was no judge available.  This put us on standby.  That meant that I could be called anytime before 1:30 p.m., and I would have an hour to get to court with my client and my witnesses, ready to begin the trial.  If I wasn’t called by 1:30, I was instructed to call back at 3:30 to see if we would be assigned the next morning.  I called my client and all of his witnesses and let them know of this development.  They were not exactly pleased.

Although this blog is focused on topics related to personal injury litigation, every once in a while I see something off-topic that I feel compelled to address.

This is one of those times. The ABA Journal has a photo gallery of law-related vanity license plates (HT to Kristi Tousignant of the Daily Record). A sampling: ICNVCTU, ISUE4U, SUYAL8R, SUEYATOO, LITIG8R, the list goes on and on.

With all due respect (and yes, I mean that exactly as Ricky Bobby said it) to those who think these plates are cool, you are wrong. I feel comfortable saying this. My first reaction when I see one of these is “Haha, tool.” I do not believe I am the only person who thinks this. My research reveals that 98.76% of all people think law-related vanity plates are totally not cool. Although I made that up, I have never met a single person who thought vanity plates were cool that did not have one.

Md-reporterLitigation is a deadline-centric business. There are deadlines for just about everything lawyers must do in a court case. The statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing the complaint. There are deadlines for filing expert witness designations, for the close of discovery, and for filing pleadings, motions and appellate briefs. Nearly everything a trial lawyer does has a deadline imposed by the law, the rules of court, or a by court order.

You know who is in the litigation business but is not constrained by deadlines? Judges.

I think every lawyer has had the experience of filing something and it vanishes into the abyss, only to be heard from again when somebody finally gets around to it.

I just reached a settlement in a case that was set for trial next week. Obviously that is great news for my client, who now has some closure on a difficult period in his life.

But memorializing the agreement and having the clerk remove the case from the docket doesn’t mean the end of my job when it comes to settlement.

I had subpoenaed three witnesses to appear for trial: an independent “bystander” witness, a traffic engineer from the State Highway Administration, and a police officer. I made sure to contact each of these witnesses as soon as the case resolved to let them know they would not need to appear. They really appreciated that I let them know. The traffic engineer in particular made it a point to let me know how often attorneys subpoena witnesses from his office and then do not let them know when the case settles. Then they travel to court for nothing.

The Legal Profession Blog has a post linking to a lawyer discipline case from New York where an attorney was suspended for two years after being sanctioned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Even after the two years is up, he can only practice again after the entry of a court order allowing it.

This is a pretty serious sanction. What did he do? Steal from a client? Miss a filing deadline? Get a criminal conviction? Was he a tax cheat? Nope. He got suspended for being a terrible lawyer. The court noted that on multiple occasions he had submitted briefs of “shockingly poor quality.” Things like getting the names of his clients wrong, including irrelevant boilerplate, referencing evidence that was never submitted, and filing the work of a paralegal without reviewing it.

I am so happy to see a court take a stand like this. My practice is 100% litigation, and you would not believe the astonishingly poor quality of some of the written material I see submitted to both trial and appellate courts. I’m not talking about proofreading or citation errors. Everybody makes a mistake sometimes. I mean stuff so appalling that it is clear that no attempt was made to edit or even read it before filing.

One thing we all know is that we aren’t as sharp when we are tired as we are when we are well-rested.

That’s why some occupations have rules about on-duty hours, truck drivers for example. There are federal regulations governing how many hours professional drivers can work. Working in violation of these limitations could be considered evidence of negligence in many circumstances.

Even in the private sector, the Maryland Depatment of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration requires drivers to inform the MVA’s Medical Advisory Board when they are diagnosed with certain sleep-related medical disorders, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy. “The objective of the MAB is to assess medical fitness to drive of individuals who have medical conditions that can impact on their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.” I think we can all agree that sleep deprivation can be a major factor affecting the abilty to drive a car or truck, or operate heavy machinery.

If you have been injured in a car or truck accident in Maryland, it is easy to find a lawyer to take your case. Just about every general practice lawyer in the state handles auto accident cases to some extent, and can usually do a good job. But sometimes these lawyers get involved in cases that can’t be settled, and they may not have the experience or resources to take the case to trial.

That’s where we come in. We get involved in a lot of cases as referrals from other lawyers under Rule 1.5 fee-sharing agreements. The referring lawyer can stay as involved in the case as they wish- it can be a straight referral, or they can stay in the case through trial.

The best way for you to find out about what co-counseling with M&Z is like is directly from one of our referring lawyers. Here’s what one of our referring lawyers had to say about a case that we got involved in about 60 days before trial:

In the past, I have written about alternative dispute resolution as a means for resolving personal injury cases before trial. Well, there is a new article out in the Maryland Bar Journal about how mediation is being used to resolve cases on appeal in the Court of Special Appeals.
I never thought that mediation would be useful on appeal, because an appeal by its very nature involves two parties with entrenched positions on opposite sides of a legal issue. I guess I was wrong, because according to the article, 69% of the cases that go through the Court’s appellate mediation program settle.
I have only had one of my appeals go through the mediation program. My case didn’t settle, but I thought it was a useful process. They use two mediators, a retired judge and an attorney mediator from the Court’s mediation office. In my case, they were both well prepared and up-to-speed on the law involved. The process wasn’t the reason my case didn’t settle. But the plus side is that now I et to argue the appeal, which I really enjoy doing!

A few months ago, I tried a case in Montgomery County Circuit court and got a great verdict. Shortly afterward, I received the defendant’s motion for a new trial. I read the motion, and discussed it with a few of the other lawyers in my office. None of us thought it was a strong motion, and we all believed it was likely to be denied. Until I got a hearing notice in the mail.

Well, I live in Baltimore County, near Towson. I have to be in the car by 7:30 if I hope to be in Rockville by 9 a.m., and I need to make alternative arrangements to get my daughter to daycare since they don’t open early enough to drop her off and still get to Rockville in time.

So the day of the hearing arrives, I make my arrangements, leave early, and drive the 1.5 hours to Rockville. Shortly before 9 a.m., I am sitting in the lobby outside the courtroom when our judge’s law clerk come out and lets me know that our judge was out sick, and the hearing would need to be rescheduled. Bummer, but O.K., everybody gets sick. I have had hearings rescheduled before because I got sick. It’s part of life. So we reschedule the hearing for the following Monday and I drive an hour back to my office.

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