The Home Court Advantage

It's happened to all of us. You go to a court in another town and get snookered by an old boy (or must I say old person) network. The locals all know each other and play by an unwritten practice book familiar only to them and their judges founded on a history of past relationships unknown and unknowable to the outsider. Before you know it you're driving back to New Haven listening to WFAN and wondering how a scholarly, air-tight argument turned into an embarrassing disaster. It's hell when it happens to you. But when it works your way, nothing's better.

My favorite story about the home court advantage involves my partner, Ira Grudberg.

Ira is to lawyering what Willie Mays is to be baseball: he can do it all -- hit, hit for power, run, throw and field. As bright as they come and a phenomenally quick study, Ira has judgment and trial skills you would pay money for.

Haberdashery, however, is not Ira's strong suit. He is given to wearing sport coats, not suits; bowed ties, not cravats; colorful patterned socks, not dark hose; and large belt buckles depicting Marilyn Monroe. In sum Brooks Brothers is not going to be displaying Ira on the cover of their spring catalogue. But don't let the clothing fool you; this is one powerhouse lawyer.

A number of years ago Ira was retained to represent a local businessman who had left his position with a national corporation to set up his own shop doing for himself what he had been doing for them. This led to claims of stolen customer lists, proprietary information, and an application for a preliminary injunction in federal court.

The company, not surprisingly, was represented by a big time, many-hundred lawyer firm out of Chicago. Ira's client had Ira. The company sent a team of three pin-striped, coifed, cologned, Rolexed and Montblanced suits to Hartford for the hearing.

And so on a cold winter morning these three sat in chambers at 450 Main Street, briefcases on their knees, waiting for the turncoat defendant and his local yokel lawyer to arrive. Of course they were early. They had flown in the night before. They were prepared. They were confident. They had done this many times before. They knew the law. They knew the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They'd even become familiar with the local rules. They wait impatiently.

In walks Ira. Sport coat. Bow tie. Belt Buckle. And Dr. Suess socks. The three suits from Chicago are got. They almost snicker out loud. Each of them scans Ira, slowly, from head to toe, barely hiding their disdain. You can read their minds. The local yokel has arrived and he's even a bigger bumpkin than we had imagined. This will be cake.

Ira introduces himself. The suits extend a limp handshake and stifle a sneer. Confidence has become the arrogance of certain victory. Smugness permeates the waiting room.

The secretary says the judge will be with them shortly. And he is. Out comes the late Judge Joseph Blumenfeld. And the A-Team from Chicago gulps as a federal judge strides across the waiting room wearing plaid pants, a patterned shirt, a mis-matched tie, spreads open his arms and says "Ira! Great to see you. What are these fellas here for?"

It was a short hearing. You can figure out who won. Like I say, its great when the home court advantage breaks your way.