2.24.2012

in which we kick peel's butt!

Win? That doesn't even begin to describe it. This was a rout. When the smoke cleared, we were celebrating and they were gasping for air.

$429 and change that we should never have been charged? Check.

$175 in court costs? Check.

But wait, there's more...

$100 for our preparation time,

plus

$400 for our inconvenience, for a grand total of $1104.47 plus interest. Not credits on our account, either. Cold cash, baby!

The judge said, "Frankly, I'm surprised that Peel's legal department would have let this go this far. You could have offered a settlement just to expedite this." You know, the settlement that Allan would have been happy to take, the one he regrets not bargaining for?!

It was a little hairy to start. We were very well prepared, but we weren't aware of certain requirements, thinking, for example, that the exhibits in our initial pleading would be the exhibits at trial. So there was some scurrying about, photocopying and highlighting. The judge was annoyed, and I was under pressure to make my evidence as succinct as possible to compensate for the time we had wasted. This was discouraging, and I worried that the judge might penalize us. But to his credit, he moved on, and decided the case on its merits.

I could tell from the judge's questions that he was leaning in our direction. But during the closing arguments, it became obvious.

I did not have a closing prepared. The judge left the courtroom, giving both sides 15 minutes to gather their arguments, and admonishing us not to read anything, just to speak to him. I grabbed a piece of paper and furiously wrote notes. I was able to incorporate responses to their specious arguments, and recap our main points.

The judge returned, and I spoke uninterrupted.

Then Peel's counsel - an articling student (the equivalent of a summer associate in the US) - began her closing arguments. She couldn't get two sentences out without an interruption. The judge questioned everything she said. Allan wrote on my paper, "He's our best witness!" The judge was not badgering her, he was merely driving an 18-wheeler through the massive holes in Peel's case.

At one point, the law student got so flustered that she actually said, "I acknowledge that the Plaintiffs have made a convincing case that they possibly did not use the water..."

The judge's head shot up. "What did you just say? Could you repeat that?"

She stammered, "I mean, there are reasons to show that it was possible, but they have not shown that it was probable."

Before you feel too sorry for her, I'm sure by that time, he had already decided the case.

The judge said this was a case of "balance of probability," and common sense said that it must be decided in our favour. If the meter reading had been twice as high as normal, or three times as high, or perhaps even four or five times as high as normal, the balance of probability would go to Peel. But a bill this outlandish, nearly 10 times higher than typical usage, and usage returning to normal immediately afterwards, must be the result of some kind of error. None of the conditions Peel's inspectors found in the house could have resulted in the crazy bill, since the subsequent bills - which take in the time of those inspections - were completely normal.

What's more, he said, it is not incumbent on the customer to discover what caused the erroneous bill. We cannot be expected to do so (which we pointed out both in our pleadings and at trial). That we cannot say what condition caused the billing error does not mean we should be forced to pay a bill for water we did not use.

We haven't stopped dancing and laughing. Now I must go, my next glass of red wine awaits.

19 comments:

allan said...

Courtroom picture of Laura finishing her closing statement.

When the judge closes by telling the other side that they had a "lousy case", you know utter decimation has taken place.

Amy said...

Love it!! The whole thing. And, of course, the picture!! All smiles back here in MA.

johngoldfine said...

Holy shit! It's a Sign!

If you can win your case, the Red Sox can win 100 games!

You've got some celebrating to do! Justice is no whore tonight!

johngoldfine said...

I'm still smiling--I'm excited for you! This is better than getting a replacement backpack!

Stephanie said...

Fantastic news!! I am so happy for you both.

James Redekop said...

Very nice! Well done.

impudent strumpet said...

Congrats! I had no idea this sort of thing was even winnable, at all, ever!

I do feel sorry for the poor articling student sent to do Peel's dirty work though.

Northern Girl said...

Excellent news, congratulations!

"I acknowledge that the Plaintiffs have made a convincing case that they possibly did not use the water..."

Ya think??!

And the $100 prep and $400 for your time - love it!

allan said...

I did not have a closing prepared. ... I grabbed a piece of paper and furiously wrote notes. ... The judge returned, and I spoke uninterrupted.

And - forgive another baseball analogy - but then she went off like she was Pedro, and it was 1999!

Last night, we were practicing and I felt that Peel would be given the benefit of all doubts and we would have to be perfect. To be quite honest, I was nervous and acting like a dick.

The first 2/3 of the trial today went pretty good and I felt like it could go either way - the judge was likely on our side by then though - and Laura just slammed the everloving shit out of that closing argument.

Scratch out the notes, and then no hesitation, no pauses, no equivication, just point after point after point, succinct and logical and in perfect order. As as she said the judge listened to the entire goddamn thing without uttering a sound. It was a thing of fuckin' beauty.

allan said...

I had no idea this sort of thing was even winnable, at all, ever!

You and me, both.

laura k said...

Thanks, everyone!! We are still in happy shock.

I really didn't know this was winnable, either. I was just willing to try. It seemed worth the fight.

And waaaaay better than a replacement backpack! :) :)

laura k said...

Oh sheesh, thank you, sweetie.

And btw, the judge singled out Allan's cross-examination as particularly impressive for someone without legal training.

allan said...

And btw, the judge singled out Allan's cross-examination as particularly impressive for someone without legal training.

That's just my love of arguing with someone I know is dead wrong.

Laura was far better today than I was.

Amy said...

So proud of you both. The profession could really use both of you. But I know you are happier not being lawyers.

Kathryn said...

This is a great story! I LOVE IT. And the closing statement pic...priceless!

Well done!

laura k said...

About the articling student, the judge said to her, You did a fine job, you just got a bad case, it happens.

She was put in an impossible position. Peel was so convinced it was a slam-dunk, they didn't want to waste money on legal counsel. My friend AWE, who is a prosecutor in LA, said this:

And your description of the last-minute scurry with the proper paperwork hit a familiar nerve. It's never the case, but the paper, that trips you up.

It made my stomach churn almost as much as your description of that POOR ARTICLING STUDENT who got THROWN UNDER THE BUS BY PEEL


And it's really true.

But I'll tell you when I really felt sorry for her: when she was cross-examining me. It was like, sorry, sister, you don't know who you're up against here. ;)

laura k said...

Thanks, Kathryn! See you soon on a gamethread! (Yay!)

allan said...

The student was also warned that she was giving evidence when she was supposed to be asking questions of her witnesses. That's not allowed. We each got one warning as well, but she got several. And she should know better how to ask questions.

I suppose many things factored in the decision, but I'm curious how much a pattern of exaggeration on Peel's part about the conditions found in our house played a part. The inspector's report when she was at the house noted a water level that was "a little too high" in one toilet. Additional notes she made at the office (which Peel produced right before the trial and ended up hurting their case) afterwards said the level was "high". In Peel's defence papers, that level was referred to as "very high". There were one or two other examples also, as though Peel had to lie to make the situation at our house seem more plausible to give a high reading. I think my bringing that stuff up to the inspector and her flustered answers on cross helped us a lot. (And that was probably what the judge was referring to when he commended me.)

Also, the student kept saying that a little leak was found in one toilet and the chain might have been too long on the other one, so it could have caused that usage, but the judge REPEATEDLY pointed out right back at her each and every time that when those things were found, our bills were actually on the low end of our usage, so it could not have caused such a huge bill. (That was probably when I scribbled that he was our star witness!!)

juna said...

Congratulations! I hope much wine was consumed.