A lawyer walks into a courtroom, puts on a Santa hat and reads a Christmas poem to the jury.
That’s no one-liner, but rather a factual account of something that happened in San Diego the week before Christmas. And I know that because I’m the lawyer who did it.
I’ll explain. From the time I began my legal career in the late 1980s, I wanted to be in trial as much as I could. And recently, I’ve more than managed to get my wish, as I have found myself in a jury trial — in three different matters — for approximately 130 of the last 160 days.
In the most recent of these, we started a hotly contested unfair competition and tortious interference trial between two medical device companies in San Diego the week before Thanksgiving.
The trial moved very slowly. And even though we had told the jury the case would be concluded no later than the end of December, it became quite clear we would not finish on that schedule. Consequently, our amiable California judge decided to recess for Christmas from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2.
I could not believe that I was going to be in trial (even though not in court) over the Christmas holidays. “Bah, humbug!” indeed.
And yet, after all those months in trial, the one thing I never lost was my insistence that, at some level, the lawyers on our team have fun. Not frivolous, go to Disneyland fun, but the kind of fun that can motivate the hard work to come and make it easier to bear.
I knew our trial team was losing that spirit of fun, having been on site in San Diego since Halloween, even before I had finished a previous trial. So, I decided I would write a Christmas poem and read it in open court.
I mean, why not?
I wrote the poem in the style of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I didn’t want it to have any whiff of advocacy or a calling out of the other side. I just wanted it to be fun.
The next day — the last before we were to break for Christmas — the jurors showed up in what seemed to be a festive mood. Some had Christmas sweaters, others wore Christmas-themed jewelry. The judge brought Christmas cookies.
And unbeknownst to them, I had a Santa hat.
The atmosphere felt just right. So, when the jury came in and the judge took the bench and asked, “Are we ready to proceed?” I rose and inquired, “Your honor, may I beg the Court’s indulgence for a moment?” Ever friendly, our judge said, “Of course.”
The transcript tells the rest.
‘Twas the week before Christmas in a courtroom so bright The judge and jury gathered, coming into the light The jurors were committed, a fun array, In hopes that justice would soon find its way. With visions of evidence, they listened with care, For a verdict to render, a decision to bear. The plaintiff brought claims, while the defense said no way Both sides insistent on having their say The witnesses entered, one by one they came, Telling their stories, each staking a claim. Helped by the hard work of Debbie and Rick They’ve seen it all and don’t miss a trick The jurors took notes and cookies they ate Getting a break for Christmas sure would be great So the judge with great wisdom granted their wish To wait until January with more evidence to dish And so on Tuesday, all left with no fright Wishing Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night
Now, of course, this whole thing was not without risk. I’ve never read a poem in court before and likely won’t ever again. I won’t advise other lawyers to “try this at home.” But this was the classic you-had-to-be-there circumstance. The jurors were trudging through an interminably long trial but seemed in good spirits that day.
As for the other side — what were they going to do, object? Who objects to Christmas?
But the best thing about my risky, maybe even daring move, was the effect it had on our trial team. The trial would continue, but the holidays could begin with some mirth and merriment and the long days ahead didn’t look quite so intimidating after that.
To me, that is the lesson in all this. No matter how taxing the trial, you can’t lose the sense of joy necessary to do any job well. Even if it requires putting on a Santa hat and reading a poem.
Last week, when we received what can only be called a remarkably favorable verdict for our defendant client, I didn’t think the poem won the case for us.
But it sure didn’t hurt.