Federal Judge Chastises Non-Family Friendly Lawyers

baby shower cake

Congratulations to the new parents. The Court so orders.

In a Kansas federal district court, the defendants’ lawyer asked for a trial continuance because it conflicted with the date on which his wife was having a baby.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed the continuance, which “surprised” the judge. “Irritated” is probably more accurate. Judge Eric Melgren not only granted the motion for continuance, but chastised the objecting lawyers while ordering that the new parents be congratulated:

Defendants seek a brief continuance, noting that one of their counsel …, along with his wife, is expecting their first child due on July 3. Given the proposed length of trial and the famous disregard that newborns (especially first-borns) have for such schedules, and given that the trial is scheduled in Kansas City while the new [baby’s] arrival is scheduled in Dallas, Defendants move this Court for a continuance.

This in itself would not be remarkable, but in reviewing the motion the Court was more than somewhat surprised to read that  “Plaintiffs have refused to agree to continue the trial setting and have indicated that they intend to oppose this Motion.”

Well, every party is entitled to file an opposition to a motion, and hoping that perhaps Defendants’ had mis-characterized the vigor of Plaintiffs’ opposition, we have eagerly awaited Plaintiffs’ defense of its opposition. The Memorandum in Opposition arrived yesterday, and it was, sadly, as advertised.

First, Plaintiffs make a lengthy and spirited argument about when Defendants should have known this would happen, even citing a pretrial conference occurring in early November as a time when [Plantiffs’ lawyer] “most certainly” would have known of the due date of his child, and even more astonishingly arguing that “utilizing simple math, the due date for [the] child’s birth would have been known on approximately Oct. 3, or shortly thereafter.”

For reasons of good taste which should be (though, apparently, are not) too obvious to explain, the Court declines to accept Plaintiffs’ invitation to speculate on the time of conception of the … child.

[The plaintiffs also argued that the defendants had five lawyers, presumably implying they could continue with the trial without soon-to-be dad. The court pointedly noted that the plaintiffs also had five lawyers.]

Finally, Plaintiffs argue that surely [Plaintiffs’ lawyer] will have sufficient time to make it from the Kansas City trial to the Dallas birth, even helpfully pointing out the number of daily, non-stop flights between the two cities; and in any event complain of the inconvenience of this late requested continuance.

Certainly this judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role. Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly.

Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED. The Ermans are CONGRATULATED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Did the judge come down too hard on the plaintiffs’ lawyers for objecting to the continuance? Not knowing the parties or the history of the case, it’s difficult to assess the appropriateness of the judge’s order, but trials involve substantial planning and scheduling. Changing them on short notice can not only delay justice, but be very expensive for the parties.

On the other hand, life does go on outside of cases and having a baby is a pretty big deal. His personal advice that lawyers strive to reach a proper work-life balance is unchallengeable, but easier said than done for practicing litigators.

Order on Motion to Continue, Jayhawk Capital Management, LLC v. LSB Industries, Inc., Case No. 08-2561-EFM (U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Kan., Apr. 12, 2011). Thanks to a judge-friend who prefers anonymity.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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