Sunday, May 9, 2010

May it Please the Court

Sheva Apelbaum-My Day in Court
When I was 5 years old, my grandpa took  me to court with him where I got to watch him work as a judge.  I remember how interesting and exciting some of the cases were and how sometimes it was almost impossible to tell who was right and who was wrong. Somehow he always managed to come up with a ruling that made sense.

In our house we have several unwritten laws, some of which include messy rooms and leaving shoes and clothes on the floor.  Over the past year or so, my dad has started enforcing some of his threatened penalties for breaking these laws, which has resulted in some serious disagreements.  For the shoes, he would first give me a verbal warning, and then if I didn’t take action, he would quietly pick them up and throw them away. Sometimes if I was lucky, I would notice them in the garbage and take them out. Unfortunately though, on two occasions, I wasn’t so lucky and lost two pairs of Converse sneakers. Harsh, I agree.

Recently, as we were sitting in the living room, I joked with my dad that next time he leaves his shoes around, I will throw them out too.   He laughed and said that if I didn’t like it I could either change my ways or sue him.  I have already changed my ways and don’t leave my shoes on the floor anymore, but I’m still holding a grudge over my two missing pair of sneakers.  So I decided to look into the possibility of bringing a lawsuit against him.

My grandpa and his wife, Karen, are both attorneys.  So I decided to go to them for advice.  I spoke to Karen, and after a short discussion, she agreed to act as my attorney.  She sent me a retainer agreement, which I signed, and I paid her $5.   Also, my grandfather agreed to be the judge in the trial.

My attorney asked me to write the events as I remember them and e-mail it to her.  She also advised me as to what evidence I should collect.  After finishing my research, we got together and completed the official complaint form (I downloaded it from the NY court website). The form required the following information:

1.  My name and address (the Plaintiff)
2. My dad’s name and address (the Defendant)
3. The description of the complaint
4. The damages (the value of my loss in dollars)

Sheva Apelbaum-Complaint
My Complaint Form

My attorney also told me that I needed to calculate my damages
accurately and back my claim up with as much evidence as I had (receipts, photographs, etc.).   I estimated my damages to be $42 based on the price of two new pairs of similar Converse sneakers.

Sheva Apelbaum-Converse Replacement Shoes
My Damages

After completing the complaint form, Karen wrote the summons (to tell the defendant that he is being sued).  That evening, after dinner, Karen casually asked my dad what his full name was. When he finished answering, she stood up, pulled out the summons and complaint and handed it over to him in front of everyone.  She than said smilingly “Sir, you’ve just been served. See you in court!”

The day of the trial was scheduled for Sunday afternoon and around 3:00 pm everyone gathered in the court (our dining room table). Present were my grandfather the judge, my attorney, my dad, my mom (who agreed to be my witness) and me.
Then the trial began. My attorney and my dad made their opening statements (I didn’t get to speak because I was represented by an attorney). My attorney stated that she will be able to prove that because of my dad’s “careless and vengeful actions,” her client (that's me) suffered considerable damages.  My dad said that he will be able to show that my action against him was baseless. 
I was then called to the witness stand and went through a direct examination by my attorney.  She presented evidence showing that my dad also left his shoes on the floor (I had a photograph of a pair of his sneakers) and described the conversations I had with him and how I found some of my shoes in the garbage. 

After that, I was crossed examined by my dad, who tried to show that I was a troublemaker and was, in fact, warned several times about the possibility of losing my shoes.  He challenged the authenticity of my evidence by insisting that my photograph of his sneakers showed they were Adidas brand but his shoes were in fact North Face brand and that he had never owned this pair of shoes.

The judge examined the evidence closely (the photograph and the actual shoes) and took careful notes.

Sheva Apelbuam-my dads sneakers  Sheva Apelbaum-Forged Shoe Photo    
Photographed Shoes   Actual Shoes

At that point, my attorney asked for a short adjournment (break) and we discussed the problem with my evidence.   She wanted to know if it was possible that I took a photograph of the wrong shoes or that perhaps my dad changed the shoes in the photographs.  I said that it was possible because he’s pretty handy with Photoshop.  We then decided to get another image directly from the camera, but to our amazement, we discovered that the camera image was exactly the same as the one on my laptop, the data and time stamp of the image on the camera also appeared to be original.

We concluded (we still don’t know how), that somehow my dad managed to change the images on both devices (changing the logos and shoe parts, while keeping the date and time stamps) just before the trial.

When the trial resumed, my dad objected to my shoe photograph on the grounds that they were not his, my attorney made a motion (asked the court to rule on a request) to nevertheless admit the photograph.  The judge ruled on the request and agreed to enter it as evidence. The picture of the Converse shoes was also entered into evidence and both were marked with identifying numbers.

Sheva Apelbaum-Judges Notes-1 Sheva Apelbaum-Judges Notes-2 Sheva Apelbaum-Judges Notes-3
Judge’s Trial Notes

After my dad finished cross examining me, it was his turn to be examined by my attorney, she tried to show that he made several public threats about throwing my shoes away.  After his testimony, she called my mom to the stand and mom confirmed that she had had conversations with my dad about this issue and that on at least one occasion she had found my shoes in the garbage.  She did however admit that she never actually saw him throw them away. 

After another short break (for pizza), both my attorney and my dad made closing arguments.  Dad made a motion to dismiss the case because I was a minor (too young to bring a lawsuit on my own).  The judge asked if my mom  would agree to serve as my guardian and sign the complaint form.   She agreed and so the judge rejected dad’s motion.  My dad then said that I failed to overcome the burden of proof (convince the judge that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) because all the evidence I had were circumstantial (i.e. no one actually saw him do it).

Then it was my attorney’s turn to make closing arguments. She said that she had proven her case beyond a reasonable doubt and had provided a long list of evidence as well as several conflicting statements made by my dad. 

Then it was in the judge’s hands.  He went over his notes and came up with a verdict.

So, I won the case because of the overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence (woohoo!).  The judge explained that even though the question of the authenticity of my photograph was interesting, it really had little to do with the basic issue of the case.   He also said that $42 was too much in damages because, according to my testimony, by the time the shoes were thrown out they were at least 8 month old and not worth the full price.  
I rest my case!


  1. Hm...
    You should get five pairs of new sneakers!
    Love, Yael.

  2. Just for the record, she got new pairs of shoes and THEN SOME! In fact, I'm hoping she doesn't make a correlation between leaving her shoes out (losing them in the garbage) and then promptly going shopping for NEW shoes. I'm not sure there's a good way to win this one.

    ~the exasperated mother

  3. Men don't understand shoes at important they are, emotionally and practically. If men understood how important shoes were, they would take us shoe-shopping every other month, and PAY for the shoes, themselves.

  4. Make Sure You Dont Get Mud In your New shoes Like last year!