Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Counselor, you case has holes in it!

Left to right: Bill Bone, Michael Robb, Judge Donald Hafele
Lawyer's shabby shoes lead to mistrial
Accused of trying to sway jury

Mary Vallis, National Post
Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2009
A Florida judge has declared a mistrial in a weeks-long auto negligence case after the plaintiff's lawyer objected to the defence attorney's shoes.
Defence lawyer Michael Robb has worn the same pair of Cole Haan loafers to trial for the past 12 years.
He calls them his lucky shoes -- they are so worn there are holes in the soles. But opposing counsel Bill Bone saw them as more than a good luck charm.
In a pre-trial motion, Mr. Bone argues they were a deliberate attempt to sway the jury by making Mr. Robb appear "humble and simple" and "without sophistication."
Mr. Bone, who represents a man seeking financial compensation for injuries sustained in a car crash, saw Mr. Robb's controversial shoes in action during a previous trial in the same case, which was derailed months earlier. He asked Judge Donald Hafele to order Mr. Robb to wear different footwear.
"Mr. Robb is known to stand at sidebar with one foot crossed beside the other so that the holes in his shoes are readily apparent to the jury who are intently watching all counsel and the court at that moment," says the motion, filed in state court in Palm Beach, Florida.
"Then, during argument and throughout the case, Mr. Robb throws out statements like, 'I'm just a simple lawyer' with the obvious suggestion that plaintiff's counsel and the plaintiff are not as sincere and down to earth as Mr. Robb."
Judge Donald Hafele asked Mr. Robb to model his footwear for the court as they discussed the issue.
"They've uncovered my secret. It's my shoes, not my talent, that have gotten me this far in my practice," Mr. Robb said in an inteview. "The fact that motion was filed I thought was childish on his part."
Judge Hafele ultimately declared he would not rule on the footwear spat. Mr. Bone also offered to buy Mr. Robb new shoes if money was an issue, but Mr. Robb would not budge. He proceeded to wear his black Cole Haans, with their tired tassels, during the two-week trial.
The shoes, however, again became an issue as the case was drawing to a close. A local newspaper columnist wrote a lighthearted story about the lawyers' spat. One of the jurors brought the newspaper to court and shared it with the others, despite the judge's warnings not to read about the case or discuss it before their deliberations.
The judge declared a mistrial, but did not advise jurors until after they reached a verdict. They concluded the plaintiff should have received US$2.2-million.
Mr. Bone said his client was devastated. The case must now be tried a third time. The first judge also declared a mistrial after jurors heard evidence about the defendant's criminal record that they were not supposed to hear.
"He's the kind of lawyer that is filled with games. This a very serious case to my client," Mr. Bone said by telephone.
He does not plan to challenge anyone's footwear during the next trial.
"I'm going to give up on that," he said.


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