Hubris is alluring, especially for a Master of the Courtroom which I was, of course. Even after the good judge made his feelings about me and my hometown well known, I continued to litigate and try this case alone, never retaining a golfing buddy or high school classmate of His Honor. The body language of the judge improved, yet a kind word or smile never came my way. The jury, I knew, would reward my brilliance, my skill. Alas, my unconditional love was never returned by those who were born near Lake Erie. When the foreman of the jury announced the meager verdict, the judge finally smiled.
Shortly thereafter, I had a death case venued in Miami. Liability was conceded, damages only. “You gonna get local counsel?” a colleague inquired. Naw, Miami is New York City with good weather. Everyone is from New York except for those who escaped Castro. And they’re all Catholic, just like me. I don’t need any help.
It’s difficult to have a damages-only case dismissed. Even though I served every authorization and every page of every medical record, the magistrate judge, friendly with my adversary, somehow didn’t cotton to my alluring charm and intelligence. “Mr. Nolan, I ordered you to serve all the records of that doctor in Bogota. You still haven’t?” I insisted I served every paper the doctor provided along with a foot-high brief with myriad affidavits, exhibits, and other documents that attested to my honor and integrity. The judge failed to be enamored: “I warned you, Mr. Nolan, that I wanted those records provided. You deliberately failed to obey this Court’s order. The case is dismissed.” My career is over, I thought. I couldn’t eat or sleep until the magnanimous district court judge reconsidered and, reluctantly, allowed the case to proceed, albeit only after detailing all my imperfections on the record.
Eventually, I learned. When a plane tragically crashed in Lexington, Kentucky, I allowed my co-counsel, Kentucky native David Royse, to handle all public matters, especially in court. I kept my fat mouth shut. Not only because of my previous experiences, but because I knew I sounded and acted like someone from Mars. I could barely understand the slow, Southern accents, and their constant politeness and happy faces drove me nuts. Who expects such pleasantries all the time? No one in New York. In Kentucky, I learned, people are nice. They care about you. How strange.
David, an accomplished advocate and a big University of Kentucky fan, knew the judge, the clerks, the defense attorneys, everyone in Lexington. And he was friendly with all of them. David would argue an issue, and it sounded like he agreed with our adversaries until the end when he’d tell the judge, in a so-very-polite way, that they’re full of beans. And the judge would usually rule for us. No shouting, accusations, salty language. Just simple, straightforward argument that always referenced the UK basketball team or the last winner of the Kentucky Derby.
My role was to take the depositions, hire and prepare the experts, and handle all aspects of liability. We discussed strategy, and not only was David smart and practical, but he knew when to emphasize an issue and when to lie low. A bit different than the New York style of constant braying and tossing elbows.