The lighter side of going to court

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

There is a book, labeled “Disorder in the American Courts,” that has been making the editorial rounds, undoubtedly to offer a few laughs for those weighed down by all the bad news produced by the pandemic

To pique your interest, here are a few real-life offerings from the halls of justice, all reportedly transcribed by court reporters for the public record.

ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?

WITNESS: He said, “Where am I, Cathy?”

ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?

WITNESS: My name is Susan!

In a different courtroom, there was another attorney-witness exchange destined to live a long life in the legal world.

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?


ATTORNEY: How many were boys?


ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?

WITNESS: Your honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

And finally, there was this bit of courtroom drama that was played out on the legal stage.

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?

WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

Several years back, I heard another real-life tale from the hallowed “Howls of Justice.” It was offered at a legal gathering by Joe Papelian, a former county and federal prosecutor who for years served as one of the chief litigators for Delphi Automotive. The story goes something like this:

Talk about bad days. Larry could write the book.

He actually may have been reading one when he was experiencing a private moment in an open stall of a restroom at the venerable Northland Mall, at one time reportedly the largest shopping center of its kind in the country. Suddenly, his privacy was rudely interrupted by a gunman brandishing a .45 caliber pistol, ordering him to fork over his wallet and anything else of worth.

He did, also agreeing not to move a muscle for 20 minutes or else run the risk of great bodily harm.

Papelian was a young assistant prosecutor in Oakland County at the time of the 1977 incident, which was just beginning for Larry.

“The pre-trial hearing was held in the basement of the 46th District Court,” Papelian recalled, noting that the judicial facility was anything but posh. “The lock-up was actually in the back of the courtroom, so the inmates were in a position to hear and watch the proceedings. It was a bit of a bizarre setting, but not all that unusual at the time.”

Papelian brought Larry to the stand to testify. The inmates were rapt with attention as the robbery victim told the stick-up story.

“Everything was going well until he testified about having a .45 stuck in his face while sitting on the john,” said Papelian.

“One of the prisoners then blurted out, ‘I bet that scared the *%#@ out of you.’ The courtroom just erupted and the prisoners went berserk, banging against the bars as the judge tried to restore order. He didn’t have a chance.”

But Larry wasn’t through testifying. It was time for déjà vu as he recalled that fateful day at Northland.

While stationed in the men’s room and under strict orders from the gun-toting robber, Larry testified that his day went from bad to worse, according to Papelian.

“About 10 minutes after the first incident, a second gunman barged in and put a .38 in his face, demanding that he hand over his money,” Papelian related. “All he could tell him was, ‘I’ve already been stuck up.’”


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