Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bad Judges and Cockroaches, Part IV

Since we last visited this story, a helpful and knowledgeable reader has pointed me in a most interesting direction. And I've learned that both Jefferson County Circuit Judge Allwin Horn and I appear to be wrong about some issues connected to my pending legal malpractice case against Birmingham attorney Richard Poff.

There's a difference, though, between Judge Horn and me: I'm not paid to know the law; he is. And evidence suggests that he's not making the slightest effort to get it right in my case.

In our previous episodes, I noted that my legal-malpractice case was complicated by the fact that Poff had filed for bankruptcy. Judge Horn has ruled that my lawsuit represents a "claim," and I must receive permission from the bankruptcy court in order to proceed in state court. I have contended that my lawsuit does not constitute a claim under bankruptcy law, and thus does not require permission from the bankruptcy court.

Turns out we both had it wrong--I think.

In our defense, bankruptcy is a complex, highly specialized area of the law. I've never had reason, up till now, to learn anything about it. And Horn, even though he is a state judge and has a law degree, probably doesn't deal much with bankruptcy issues--and probably doesn't know much about them.

Horn, though, does have an obligation under the law to find out about bankruptcy law when it has an effect on a case in his court. And he doesn't seem willing to make the effort to learn what the law actually is.

As I noted in a previous post, I asked Horn for an explanation of his ruling that I was required to seek permission from the bankruptcy court. (He gave no explanation in his written ruling.) His reply? It was "his impression" that the law required me to do this?

What was I dying to say? "If I wanted an impression, I'd call up Rich Little." (Reminds me of a great line from the classic John Hughes movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. An agitated Steve Martin has an encounter with a taxi driver, who evidently fancies himself a comedian. But the driver's one liner falls flat with Martin. "If I wanted a joke," Martin says, "I'd follow you into the john and watch you take a leak." More great lines from the movie can be found here.)

I suspected Horn's "impression" was wrong, and it appears I was right about that. I suspected he was wrong because my lawsuit did not constitute a "claim" under bankruptcy law--and it appears I was wrong about that.

How did I get squared away in the labyrinthine world of bankruptcy law? Why, a Legal Schnauzer reader helped me. And for that, I am most grateful.

I suspect this reader either has a law degree or is connected to the legal profession in some way. Not just anybody knows how to call up a case involving bankruptcy law and state courts.

So maybe I need to take back some of the ugly things I've said about lawyers on this blog. Actually, that reminds me of a curious lesson that's been driven home since I started this blogging endeavor in June 2007. While many of the villains in my tale have law degrees, so do many of the heroes--Scott Horton, Jill Simpson, Paul Benton Weeks.

Now I suspect we should add an anonymous reader to that list of honorable lawyers. What did this reader teach me about our "Bad Judges and Cockroaches" case?

That's coming up.

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