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From the Closed Claim Files: An abandoned case

by Greg Harmon

Many years ago, I attended a trial in Collin County. The trial ended very suddenly and in an unexpected fashion.

During the second day of trial, the plaintiff took the stand to testify, and he sympathetically explained how he had allegedly been harmed by our policyholder.

When our defense attorney had the opportunity to cross examine the plaintiff, the attorney began by inquiring into the plaintiff’s criminal background. The attorney for the plaintiff immediately objected to this line of questioning. The judge excused the jury from the courtroom to further confer with both sides before he ruled on the objection.

The plaintiff’s attorney argued that his client had been convicted of felony cocaine possession, but the conviction happened more than 10 years ago. As such, the conviction would not be allowed into evidence because the law says any conviction older than 10 years cannot be introduced.

It was clear that the plaintiff was worried that his conviction would come into evidence and harm his case. But, his attorney kept reassuring him it would not be admissible.

The defense attorney pointed out that the law states very clearly that the 10-year period runs from the time-served release date and not the date of conviction. The plaintiff’s release date was 9 years and 6 months before trial.

The judge reviewed the Rules of Civil Procedure on the admission of a felony conviction, and ruled that the defense attorney was correct. The plaintiff could be questioned about his felony conviction for cocaine possession.

Before the judge could ask the bailiff to bring the jury back in, the plaintiff abruptly left the witness stand and walked out of the courtroom. The judge excused the jury for an early lunch while plaintiff’s counsel was given an opportunity to locate and console his client. What we didn’t know then was that the plaintiff’s attorney could not locate his client and his client would not answer placed phone calls.

When we returned from lunch, the judge told the plaintiff’s attorney to address the jury because his client was not in the courtroom. The attorney slowly rose from his chair, looked at the jury, and explained that his client had abandoned the lawsuit. The attorney apologized for wasting their time and told the judge he was dismissing the case.

Everyone was shocked. Our policyholder immediately asked his defense attorney what happened. Our policyholder was obviously elated once he fully understood that the case was over.