Why did the Judge suddenly stop the trial?
In 1993, I was asked by one of my clients called Yunos to defend him in a case involving a partnership dispute.
John and Yunus were friends. Yunus had a business. At some point they worked together. Afterwards, John went away.
Many years down the line, John sued Yunus, claiming to be a partner in the business. He wanted 50% of the profits and he wanted an account.
By the time I got involved, the case had been filed 10 years earlier. A lot of interesting things happened.
The Plaintiff’s counsel, who is now a judge, wrote a letter saying that the court had set down a particular date for trial. So, I went to court. My client had very little money to give me. I think, eventually, I got fees of RM500 which translates to about USD$120.
I went to court and certain things happened after which Yunus wrote a beautiful letter to me. Yunus thought this was the politest cross-examination he had ever seen in his life.
What he did not know was, I was shivering because the case was given to me at the last minute. When I went on the day of the trial, for some reason, the plaintiff and his counsel were not in court and the judge was in a bit of a mood.
The judge just said ‘I’m going on’, at which point I asked for permission to have the matter ‘stood down’ and I did try to call the other side. But I could not get the other side because the clerk in the firm said that the lawyer had actually gone off to attend another hearing and he could not respond to me.
So, I came back and I told about this problem to the judge. The judge said ‘they are the plaintiffs, they started this case you go on now’.
So, we put in our witness and we closed the case.
At the end of it, it was done. He set the date down for decision and that was it.
24 hours later, I get a phone call. It is the plaintiff’s lawyer and he said ‘listen, there has been a scheduling error. I overlooked coming to court, I thought I was supposed to be in court A as opposed to your court and I did not come for that reason would you like to set aside the judgment?’
By this time, the judgment had been entered against his client. So, I said ‘okay let’s set it aside’.
So, we went before the judge. The judge looked at me like I was mad. We set aside the judgment. The Plaintiff was then allowed to put in his first witness, John.
It was my turn to cross-examine John and I began to ask him questions about the partnership:
When did the company begin?
What was his primary business?
How many square feet was the business?
How much rentals were being paid?
Who was the landlord?
What were the outgoings?
What was the tax exposure of the company?
How did they deal with financing?
What about loans charges on any property that the company held?
I was just asking questions simply out of thin air. This went on for about three hours. At about half past 12, the judge put up his hand and said, ‘stop’.
So, I stopped. I am wondering what the judge is going to do next and he turns and looks at the plaintiff’s counsel, who is one of the greatest gentlemen I have ever met. He is a judge now.
The plaintiff’s counsel said ‘I am not sure how many witnesses you have after this. Are there other witnesses?’ The counsel for the plaintiff very frankly says, he is the main witness and he has one or two formal witnesses in relation to documents but the heart of the case lies with him.
The judge then looked at him and said, ‘I am not convinced that in re-examination you can reinstate the evidence that has been destroyed during cross. Would you like to think about it’. This gentleman said, ‘yes’.
We came back before the court after lunch. The judge asked what happened.
The counsel for the plaintiff said, ‘I have spoken to my client and we have now decided to withdraw the case.’
The counsel then turned to me and said, ‘could you please excuse my client from paying costs? I got no money out of my client?’
I looked at this person who was the plaintiff’s counsel and I became very respectful of his courtesy and his professionalism.
I said ‘yeah’ and we withdrew.
Yunus took me down in those days it was in Wisma Denmark to the canteen that was nearby. They were almost closing because it was after lunch and he bought me a cup of coffee and we had a pleasant conversation for half an hour.
The judge in an open court assessed the evidence and made a decision. The plaintiff’s counsel was kind enough to bow before the storm.
If he had persisted I would have had to go on for four or five days at great cost to my client and to his client. It would have ended I am sure in the same way.
I hope this story tells you that we still have very many good plaintiffs’ counsel in this country who are perfect gentlemen.