A home building company constructed hundreds of homes on a large tract of land that bordered a senior citizen community. Some of the people closest to the construction complained that their lives were being disrupted; their physical health severely compromised by the toxic diesel fumes they were being exposed to for up to 12 hours a day; their homes damaged inside and out by earthquake-like vibrations, filth, debris, termites and rats; their vehicles damaged by over-spraying of stucco and paint; their mental health being comprised by all the stress and expense of having to cope with the circumstances.
The home builder ignored their concerns and just kept on “trucking.” Large construction cranes perched precariously over their tiny homes; one slip and they’d all be goners.
One man didn’t give up and complained louder than all the others. He got a bit of compensation for his trouble and was forced to sign an agreement to keep his mouth shut so the other people in the community who were also being harmed would never know. But before the man had signed that agreement he had told his story to a blogger.
Suddenly the man was no longer able to speak to that blogger again, so the blogger became increasingly concerned that the victim of the home builder had become sick or died. The blogger took to the internet and told the story of the victim, his wife, and the entire community and likened the home builder company to "bad Germans."
Fast forward 6 months. The company sued the senior citizen victim and his wife, claiming that they were the perpetrators of the so-called online “disparagement” that breached the agreement, that they were using aliases (including the name of the blogger and some other totally fabricated names) to conduct a "campaign of terror" against the company and that the company should be allowed to destroy their lives in return. The defendants have no money, so they’ve been forced to represent themselves in court.
The publicly traded company had hired a big whopper of a law firm with dozens of attorneys, and here’s what has been happening ever since.
- Time spent on case since lawsuit filed – 1 year, 1 month and counting.
- Time left to trial – 6 months.
- 125 documents filed so far and counting.
- 15 court hearings so far, 10 more scheduled, not counting any new ex parté.
- 2 defendants deposed for a loss of 22 hours of their time plus expenses.
- Over $10,000 awarded to plaintiff in attorneys fees because defendants followed the law and filed a cross-complaint that got dismissed. The plaintiff had demanded $20,000.
- Money spent to date – $75,000+ by plaintiff (an educated guess); several thousand dollars by poor defendants who live on fixed incomes.
In the course of what is called the “discovery” phase of a lawsuit where both parties supposedly exchange information relevant to the case, the defendants were forced to answer very detailed questions about their past and present personal lives, including where they went to high school and college; if they got any awards, honors, and degrees; where they lived as children, including every place they have ever lived and for how long; when and where they were born; who their parents are/were; if they have any other relatives; what their doctor’s name is; every unfortunate event in their lives; their careers including the names of projects they happen to be working on; everything about past military service; possible trouble with the IRS; other countries and states where they’ve ever had a driver’s license; and numerous other highly personal questions that have no bearing whatsoever on the case. The plaintiff, on the other hand, refused to answer even the most basic relevant questions.
In such instances, the lawyers will always claim that you have no right to object to their ludicrous questions and that even if you do object, you still have to answer the questions. And the law actually supports that. It’s absurd.
Only after all those ridiculous questions were presumably exhausted did the attorney turn to anything remotely relevant to the case.
During the litigation, both defendants were forced to file motions for protective orders to try to halt the insanity of having their personal lives further exposed to the world via a public court process that allows a party to place everything into evidence, relevant or not. Once a document has been filed with the court, it can never be withdrawn. It’s there forever, for everyone to see, and anyone who takes the time and pays the copying fees can get a hold of it. So even if you don’t want something to be exposed to the world, you still have to state the nature of the privacy and defend your position in court documents, which means, essentially, that you have to tell the world about your personal horror, embarrassment, disease – if that’s what it is – so the judge can then decide if you’re entitled to the privacy you’re claiming.
And don’t think for one minute that common sense rules. Only the statutes and case law do. Statutes by themselves have no weight. You need case law, which are other decisions by other courts. And if case law supports having someone drawn and quartered over some issue, not even the same issue as yours, you can be sure that the opposition will exploit that law to have you publicly whipped into submission. Common sense does not rule. A statute may very clearly state the law on its face but unless there is case law that you can cite to support the statute, judges don’t seem to want to make an independent ruling. They just say they have to follow the law … and without case law to support your argument, you have none … and that means you’re back to square one and seriously out of luck.
The discovery process is a joke. In a civil case as I’ve described, it is in fact a deplorable joke. And the system has placed laws on the books that allow this disgraceful corruption of justice to go on. You literally have to fight tooth and nail to protect yourself; you have to know the law and how to apply it. If you’re defending yourself as these defendants are doing, you have to become lawyers yourself. The unfortunate thing is that while the courts demand that self-represented parties conduct themselves as professional attorneys all of the time, they refuse to allow self-represented parties to reap the same benefits when it comes to attorneys’ fees and awards of sanctions. At best, you can claim that you spent 60-bucks filing a motion and should get that back if you win said motion. The fact that you were forced to spend 20-hours drafting that motion is irrelevant to the courts. But the attorneys always get paid.
The idea that self-represented parties take on the legal system by choice is false; they do it because they have to. Not many people can shell out $50,000 a pop or more when something untoward comes their way.
The defendants have pending motions for sanctions against the plaintiff and its attorneys for several code violations related to the service of multiple illegal deposition subpoenas to third-party companies for their business records, evidence suppression, oppressive discovery, obstruction, and gross unprofessional conduct due to myriad violations of the professional rules of conduct specified by the American Bar Association and other bodies.
One of the defendants was so angry over the repeated violations that he fired off letters to the California Bar Association, the company’s law firm, and two other agencies. But based on past experience and coming across a 2015 article by the Sacramento Bee newspaper stating that the Bar association is absolutely useless in dealing with complaints against attorneys, he said he has little hope they’ll reprimand the violating attorneys.
Here’s the potential outcome of this particular case at this time.
- Lawsuit dismissed at motions for summary judgment in favor of defendants – one month before the trial date and after one year and seven months of their lives. They might be able to recoup a little money for expenses.
- Lawsuit goes to trial and defendants win – after one year and eight months of their lives. Same deal on the expenses.
- Lawsuit goes to trial and plaintiff wins on technicality since defendants have no lawyer, or for cause, or for who knows what reason – after one year and eight months of their lives; black marks against them on the books forever and they’re forced to pay all of the plaintiff’s attorneys fees.
- Formal judgment against poor defendants to pay plaintiff, and defendants are forced into bankruptcy so their lives can be destroyed for another 7 years.
Win or lose the case, defendants will still be forced to pay the $10,000 as of this writing in attorneys fees already ordered, not counting any additional sanctions/fees ordered since this article was written because in California (and presumably elsewhere), the courts have decided that you should be subjected to sanctions every time you file a motion and lose, every time you defend against a motion and lose, every time you do anything, and every time you don’t do something in this colossal no-win crapshoot. The whole system should be declared a mistrial. It certainly is a travesty.
So why are these two defendants being prosecuted and persecuted? Because what the blogger wrote would conceivably be protected as free speech under both the U.S. and most state constitutions. The attorneys need scapegoats to get a judgment against them in order to skirt the free speech rights of a third party. Obviously, the defendants want to win the case so they can go back and sue for malicious prosecution … something that will probably take another year of their lives.
I’ve said it before, the American Civil Liberties Union is nowhere to be seen when it comes to actual civil liberties. Our legal system has made us all slaves to stupidity, gamesmanship, and corruption. The sad thing is that people’s lives are on the line … physically, emotionally, and financially. There is no equal protection under the law, other than to be equally abused, harassed, criminalized, and bankrupted into oblivion.