June 21, 2012

Super Lawyer Powers, Activate!

I’ll be the first to admit that the daily grind of being lawyer isn’t exactly glamorous or even all that exciting. In my job, there’s an awful lot of sifting through cases and cold records, heading down argumentative dead ends. My trial-level colleagues do the same with witnesses and such. It’s a grind most of the time, to be honest.

Which is why this story in the New York Times the other day tickled me so much, because it shows a lawyer springing into action like he was responding to the Bat Signal. The story involves a great specimen of a particular Tyranosaur that is only found in Mongolia. In fact, it’s a violation of Mongolian law for it such bones to even leave the country, which meant its presence at an auction in the United States raised a few red flags.

After a series of phone calls, a Houston lawyer named Robert Painter (who had previously done business with the Mongolian government) was retained to stop the auction. And thus he sprung into action, tracking down a federal judge on a Saturday to enter an order to halt the auction. But that wasn’t enough:
Mr. Painter said he sent the order electronically to Heritage [the auctioneers] and then flew to New York to make sure the auction did not proceed. He worried that once the fossil was sold, it would disappear forever.

He arrived to find the fossil being showcased in the auction room.

‘The auctioneer said the sale would proceed contingent on the outcome of a court case,’ Mr. Painter said in an interview.

Mr. Painter said he called the judge, Carlos Cortez, on his cellphone.

‘I stood up, raised my cellphone, and said, ‘I have the judge, and he’s ready to explain to you how this violates the court’s order,’ ‘ Mr. Painter said.
How brilliant is that? You’d think it would bring proceedings to a screeching halt, wouldn’t you?

Alas no, at least not immediately. The auction went forward (the skeleton fetched just over $1 million), although the sale itself it on hold pending litigation. One would think that violating a federal judge’s order would make people quake in their boots. Apparently not.

Still, well done Mr. Painter! I want an action figure, but only if the cell phone with the judge on it isn’t sold separately.

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