Delay the Trial or Proceed? You Be the Judge
In the opinion-page article "Justice Justifiably Delayed? A Courtroom Quandary," July 15, we asked readers to be the judge in a court case that involved two issues: 1) a plaintiff who waited for his day in court to challenge the loss of his job; 2) a defense lawyer whose maternity leave collided with the trial date. What would you do? Here are some of your responses.
Pregnancy is a life choice, a different career path, but justice should not be delayed while the lawyer takes care of her personal business. We are all in favor of women working to their highest capacity. But a long absence for the birth of a baby should be treated the same as it would be for a man: Another lawyer should be assigned.
Gail Murray and Dan Novak
If the defendant is part of a firm, the judge should sanction the firm with a fine of $500 a day until an attorney satisfactory to the defendant is found and a trial date set.
If the defendant's attorney is a solo practitioner, and if the court determines that she did not communicate with the court about her pregnancy, the same sanction should apply. If, however, she did communicate with the court in a timely manner, a continuance should be granted.
It should also be noted that this is the third trimester of the pregnancy, and there was ample time to resolve this issue. Having worked in a court for the last eight years, I know that attorneys will manipulate absolutely anything, including pregnancy, to their advantage.
Traverse City, Mich.
I would ask the doctor about the ability of defense counsel to participate in a trial beginning July 12. Counsel said she has been "strongly advised" not to begin trials after July 1, not "prohibited."
Accommodation can and should be made for female lawyers. But women must also be responsible about the choices they make and not use pregnancy to unfairly manipulate situations. The defense lawyer is probably afraid that if she lets someone else take over the case, she will lose career momentum. That is a problem with the sociology of law firms and with society at large, which insists that women must be men in the marketplace. She should work as co-counsel and return early from maternity leave to save her career - if that's what she wants to do.
I see no evidence that the defendant could not retain competent counsel should the trial proceed according to schedule. The plaintiff's constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated long enough, particularly in light of the fact that the matter in dispute is a relatively simple one. Request denied.
John R. Carter
As Attorney General Janet Reno recently said: "Vacancies cause delays, and justice delayed is justice denied." No woman should have the right to delay court proceedings because of an unreasonable six-month maternity leave. A woman with a career doesn't have the luxury of a six-month paid maternity leave. Women who stay at home are up and about doing their daily duties within two weeks after giving birth.
Delray Beach, Fla.
I would pursue these alternatives to the dilemma: 1. See if it is possible to schedule the trial in the vicinity of July 1. It's a three-day trial. The defense says it is ready, and if another case can be postponed until Aug. 15, it would be a minimal inconvenience for all concerned. (And since the judge thinks a July 12 date can be accommodated, an even shorter postponement for the second trial might be possible.)
2. If the above is not possible, offer the defense two options: have his lawyer of choice interrupt her maternity leave for the three days it will take to try the case; or choose alternate counsel.
Give defense counsel the option of proceeding to trial immediately by holding sessions in the late afternoon and evening for a week followed by an all-day Saturday session, if necessary; or schedule a trial date for four to six weeks after the baby is due.
Prosecution and the judge may find the first option inconvenient, but it does clear a three-year-old case from the docket. Defense may not like having her leave interrupted, but who says a maternity leave should be absolutely uninterruptible? The trial will take only three days; preparation before the trial should already be finished, so only a pretrial review of the case should be necessary for defense counsel, which could be done at home.
The plaintiff is entitled to a prompt hearing. Defendant and counsel have known about the pregnancy for months but took no action to prepare to proceed in court. Delay jeopardizes the plaintiff, not the defendant.
Don K. Moeller
The length of her requested delay is inconsistent with her obligation to fulfill her professional duties. A reasonable accommodation would be for the defense lawyer to take the few days during her maternity leave that is necessary to finish this case. Other women return to work after six weeks to two months. This lawyer could do the same for this case and then resume her maternity leave.
Doris and Niels Larsen