Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hughes v. Pair AND Chabak v. Monroy (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 10, 2007)

A rare twofer. Which, together, may illustrate a somewhat controversial point: When you think one of the parties is a liar -- even on a sterile, cold record -- you're likely to find against them. Even on appeal.

At least that was my impression of these two cases. On the one hand, you have Hughes v. Pair, in which the plaintiff (and appellant) alleged that the defendant engaged in some totally disgusting (and outrageous) acts of sexual harassment. But, even on a cold appellate record, as I read the case, I didn't believe for a second that the defendant actually did what plaintiff alleged. The plaintiff's story wasn't plausible, it wasn't credible, and it felt totally contrived. It instead sounded precisely like what someone with a vendetta against a particular defendant -- whom she had already sued seven times previously, and who was upset that the defendant would only (in his capacity as a trustee) pay for her rental of an $80,000/month Malibu apartment for two months rather than one (!!) -- would fabricate in order to sue him again.

By contrast, later that same day, you have Chaback v. Monroy. In which the plaintiff and respondent sued the defendant for making allegedly unfounded claims to the police about his inappropriate touching of her during physical therapy. But, in that one, I found the harassment/abuse claims to be totally plausible, and not at all something that the victim was likely to fabricate. The circumstances and events rang entirely true to me, and defendant's denial -- and subsequent pro se lawsuit against the alleged victim -- seemed outrageous.

Of course, as usual, in both appeals, the truth or untruth of the underlying factual allegations are legally irrelevant. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, Chaback comes out in favor of the (in my mind, credible) victim, and Hughes comes out against the (in my mind) uncredible plaintiff.

These results may perhaps be mere happenstance. But I think that the underlying merits of a dispute often matter more than people may think. Even when -- as in these cases -- the Court of Appeal technically cannot even attempt to decide who's really telling the "truth".

Judges are human. I think that believing that one side or the other is a huge liar may matter. At least at the margins. And may also help explain particular results. Especially -- but not only -- when the underlying legal issues are close.