As a lawyer, I have spent a fair amount of time in courtrooms. My state (Indiana) consists of 92 counties. Or, ninety-two counties, if you prefer. Each of those counties maintains a court system. One of the benefits of practice in the capital city which is in the geographical center of the state is that some clients have retained me to represent them in cases pending in other counties. How many? Funny you should ask.
At some point I started paying attention and tracking court appearances in distant counties, with the idea that one day I might create a framed state map with a case name and court appearance date for each of those counties. Some people collect pens, others collect spoons or shot glasses, but I collect court appearances in counties. A collection, I should add, that takes virtually no space and actually makes money rather than costs it.
I once thought this hobby of counting Counties was a little unusual, but then I read about some people who have made it a point to visit every single McDonalds restaurant in the U.S. I felt pretty normal after that.
Some of them were easy. At one time, rules permitted an automatic transfer to a contiguous county, so I quickly lost count of the number of appearances in my own county (Marion) and most of those nearby. And when a person’s practice involves people insured by the insurance policies issued by client insurance companies in my state, then the possibilities for are nearly endless. Or at least number up to ninety-2. – Because stuff happens everywhere.
Sometimes the experience has been less than enjoyable. Like the day I arrived at a distant court five minutes late. It was one of those hearings where my client didn’t really care what happened, but when the court sets a hearing, then ya just gotta be there. This was early in the days of cell phones, and I felt quite good when I called my office with a request to call the court and inform them of my ETA. I parked, ran to the building and up the stairs, and was surely a bit winded when I walked into the courtroom. The judge looked at me and said “We just finished. Any questions?” All I could muster was “Who won?”
Another time was worse, and was a display of what we call “the homer”. My client was an insurer who paid for damage caused by a cab driver in a county about a three hour drive from my office. The insurer hired me to sue the cab company in an the hope of reimbursement. On the appointed day for trial, I had my witnesses there and ready, and we waited. And waited. And waited. I found it odd that no witnesses were there for the cab company. That mystery was solved when the judge called both lawyers into the courtroom and announced that his schedule was simply not going to allow our case to be heard, and that it would have to be rescheduled. The mathematical explanation is that [Local lawyer + local company] > [Out-of-town lawyer + out-of-town insurance company]. At least in that locale.
I walked down the hall to the office in an attempt to get a new date. “We will send you a notice” was the reply. There was one weeklong stretch in the next three months that was going to be absolutely impossible for me, and I gave that information to the clerk. You can probably guess when the court set the follow-up hearing. It took about a half hour of telephonic begging and sweet-talking to get to the “magistrate” in charge of scheduling. In this all-time championship example of the homer, I was finally informed that the case could be moved. I was also informed that the local attorneys were really quite good and that perhaps my client should consider hiring one of them. Message received, and I quickly called my client and advised them to accept the pitiful offer that had been extended by the defense.
Most recently I added another geographic jewel – a county among the most distant from my office as is possible. This particular county is at the extreme southwest corner of the state and, until recently, was a horrible drive. An interstate highway (still partially under construction) has resolved that part, but I still decided to leave plenty early.
Traditionally, finding your destination in an unfamiliar county is simple – you head for the center of the city or town designated as the county seat and look for a courthouse dome. Because the courts are in the courthouse, of course. But larger counties have outgrown their traditional courthouses and have built buildings named all kinds of things. There are City-County buildings, County-City buildings, Government Centers, Justice Centers, Courthouse Annex’s and a bunch more that I am sure I will think of when I click the “Publish” button. The result is that finding the courthouse has become quite a challenge.
Like this day when I went to the largest building in the government complex (which all advance research suggested was correct) and was then told “You need to go to the other building”. After I had already emptied my pockets and cleared security, of course. And, of course, modern court buildings are all about efficiency and security, so a particular judge no longer controls a particular courtroom. Because that is inefficient. Which made it necessary to figure out where the hearing would be. There are “court rooms” and “hearing rooms” but we were set for the judge’s chambers – which turned out to be in one of those locked corridors which required checking in on an intercom. The process of locking the car to being in the right place took about 25 minutes. Because efficiency.
In the end, I didn’t really care because I get to check off another county from my list. I am now officially at 49. Which leaves 43 yet to go. My count should really be at 54, but some appearances came before I was keeping track, so the date and case name have been lost to time. Grumble. Maybe in the copious spare time that will accompany my future post-retirement life, I will be able to do some research and backfill those.
I may eventually need to relax my criteria to include counties where I have been involved in pending cases but which have not required a physical trip to court. Under this way of measuring I am probably somewhere in the range of 80-85 out of the 9-two. In either case, time’s a-wastin’ fer some long-distance lawyerin’.