Mistaken identity

One of the most comical (to me) elements of our recent Article 78 lawsuit against the Town of Geneseo was the court’s confusion over my role. Although I officially retired from the practice of law in 1986, I did draft the petition that started this action, (although I certainly didn’t get paid for it!)

The papers made it very clear that Bill and I were acting pro se, that is, without benefit of counsel. In order to understand that, however, either Judge Ann Marie Taddeo or her clerk would have had to actually read the papers. When we arrived in the judge’s chambers for a conference last month, however, it quickly became apparent that they hadn’t.

To be fair, the illusion of my lawyerness was enhanced by the fact that I had put on my best coat and tie and dusted off my briefcase to make my appearance as convincing as possible. When the judge asked me who I was representing in the action I knew my disguise was complete.

“I’m one of the petitioners,” I protested, but it later became apparent that the judge did not really understand. Fast forward, one month and after a series of unanswered e-mails to the court clerk, we finally got a response just a week before we were scheduled to appear for a second conference.

In the e-mail addressed to me, the clerk wrote, “When Justice Taddeo met with you in chambers on 5/16, we were both under the mistaken impression that you were an attorney representing the Plaintiff. This is important because the court rules require all communications with pro se litigants to be on the record. Had we known that you were not an attorney we would have conducted your conference in the courtroom. Similarly, the judge or I can not reply directly to your letters or e-mails. We can of course, speak with your counsel. Please understand that these rules are for your own protection. I apologize for any inconvenience. Justice Taddeo will be able to answer you questions next week when the case is scheduled to appear in front of her again.”

But, of course, Justice Taddeo never did answer any of our questions. A few days later we received a written decision dismissing our lawsuit and canceling Thursday’s conference. As a result we never got the right to appear in open court as, supposedly, the court rules require.

That’s O.K. I guess. As long as it was for our own protection!

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