When I discussed the copyright case Gatehouse Media v. The New York Times over the weekend I hadn’t reviewed the court docket, and hadn’t been aware that Judge William Young had pulled the trick that he is famous for (at least locally): when a party requests a preliminary injunction, he responds by ordering an expedited trial. And I do mean expedited.
The case was filed on December 22, 2008.
Docket entry 13, issued the same day, states in relevant part (cleaned up a bit for readability):
Electronic Clerk’s Notes for proceedings held before Judge William G. Young: Motion Hearing held on 12/22/2008 re MOTION for Preliminary Injunction and MOTION for Temporary Restraining Order filed by Gatehouse Media Massachusetts, Inc.
The Court rules denying Motion for TRO; because the matter will be collapsed with a trial on the merits. The Court is reserving ruling on Motion for Preliminary Injunction; ( Jury Trial set for THE RUNNING TRIAL LIST AS OF 1/5/2009 09:00 AM before Judge William G. Young.); Counsel are to cooperate with one another re: discovery. Counsel are to contact the clerk as to the schedule. A 4 week jury trial is scheduled for Jan 5 at this time. If counsel settle the case, a phone call is all that is necessary.
Translation – be ready for trial at 9:00 a.m. Monday, January 5, 2009, nine business days after suit was filed. Maybe we’ll reach you, maybe we won’t (that four week case may settle), but you’d better be ready. Oh, and enjoy the two holiday weekends between now and then.
This is classic Judge Young, and he’s been doing it from the first day he was appointed to the federal bench over 20 years ago.
The moral: if you file a suit in federal court and you are seeking a preliminary injunction, be prepared for the risk that you might draw Judge Young, in which case, be very prepared. A super-expedited trial like this favors the defense, since the plaintiff will have great difficulty preparing for trial in two weeks. Assuming you don’t want to be prepared for trial on the day you file suit, the way to avoid this, in this district, is to file suit and see what judge you draw. If you draw Judge Young, you can decide whether you want to file for a PI and risk an immediate trial. There’s no law that states that you must file your PI motion simultaneous with the complaint, but filing the PI motion simultaneous with filing suit deprives the plaintiff of that choice.
In this case, Gatehouse Media could have adopted a different strategy, as follows:
- File suit and see what Judge is assigned to the case. If Judge Young is assigned, do not file a preliminary injunction motion, knowing that this risks an immediate trial.
- As you publish your local news each week, file copyright registrations for each issue. This is inexpensive, and so simple it could be done by an intern or paralegal. If Boston.com adds towns (beyond Newton, Needham and Waltham), register the weekly publications for those towns as well.
- By registering the copyrights within three months following publication, Gatehouse Media would be entitled to recover statutory damages for each publication, as well as attorney’s fees incurred in prosecuting that infringement. Statutory damages may be as great as $150,000 per infringement in cases of “willful” infringement – that is, $150,000 per publication. If Boston.com is aggregating and publishing the Gatehouse Media news for Newton, Needham and Waltham each week, Boston.com is looking at potential damages of as much as $450,000 per week. By the time the case goes to trial in the ordinary course (say a year), Boston.com is risking damages in the tens of millions of dollars. Would that financial risk be likely to lead to a settlement favorable to Gatehouse Media? You betcha!
We love them, we hate them. If you’re a client, you really hate them. Or at least you should.
There are moments of high drama, but the vast majority of trials are as boring as watching grass grow. Even trials that attract the prurient interests of the public (think OJ or Spector), that force the world to watch with morbid fascination, are, for the most part, boring. Why do you think that Court TV shows only the “highlights”?
Nevertheless, if you take an important trial and boil it down to its essence – take out all the tedium, the voir dire, the endless sidebars and evidentiary disputes, the scientific/technical testimony that is often incomprehensible, the marginal witnesses that everyone in the courtroom dozes through — and leave just the heart of the the case, what remains can be fascinating.
Law Professor Douglas Linder has done just that at his site, Famous Trials.
There you can read about trials ranging from Socrates in 399 B.C., to the 9/11 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006.
As the trials move into the so-called modern era, the coverage expands in detail. The site contains many trial transcript excerpts, multimedia files, and more. It is truly a labor of love, and a service to the world. Or at least those few who are interested in this kind of stuff. Check it out here.
Litigation takes the place of sex in middle age.
I wrote in some detail almost two years ago about how trials can be very bad for clients. In the linked article I wrote:
Sadly, too many lawyers (you hear their ads on the radio and see them in the legal journals – “courtroom lawyers,” “trial lawyers”) are often as willing to take their clients to trial as generals are to commit their troops to battle.
Now, a study reported in the New York Times seems to find empirical confirmation for this. I quote from the article, linked here:
Note to victims of accidents, medical malpractice, broken contracts and the like: When you sue, make a deal.
That is the clear lesson of a soon-to-be-released study of civil lawsuits that has found that most of the plaintiffs who decided to pass up a settlement offer and went to trial ended up getting less money than if they had taken that offer. . . .
In just 15 percent of cases, both sides [plaintiffs and defendants] were right to go to trial – meaning that the defendant paid less than the plaintiff had wanted but the plaintiff got more than the defendant had offered. . . .
Critics of the profession have long argued that lawyers have an incentive to try to collect fees that are contingent on winning in court or simply to bill for all the hours required to prepare and go to trial. . . .
“Most of the time, one of the parties has made some kind of miscalculation or mistake,” said Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, a law professor at Cornell who has studied how lawyers and clients decide to go to trial . . . .” The findings suggest that lawyers may not be explaining the odds to their clients – or that clients are not listening to their lawyers. . . .
Law schools do not teach how to handicap trials, nor do they help develop the important skill of telling a client that a case is not a winner. Clients do not like to hear such news.
Human nature being what it is, I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. After all, the fact that social scientists report that people tend to buy stocks when they’re high and sell them when they’re low doesn’t seem to affect most investors; the fact that half of all marriages end in divorce doesn’t seem to cause people to hesitate before getting married; and the fact that the odds favor the casinos doesn’t stop people from betting at the casinos. And so it goes ….