I figured I’d start from the ending and work my way back to the beginning. Because I can.
Intro: The courtroom
Tight-shot as scene opens with the female African-American Judge (completely bamboozled by the story she’s been told) shaking her head.
Pan out to see the Plaintiff & Defendant seated, backs turned toward the viewer, staring straight ahead as the verdict is read:
Judge – Having heard the believable testimony from the Defendant, I have to agree that the Plaintiff was negligent in that she did not have a receipt or work order to show as proof that the Defendant was going to work on the car. Past history, according to both sides, dictated the nature of the friendship and I believe that as a friend, the Defendant acted as such. He has sworn and testified that he does not provide the service that the car needed. The law in the state of NJ is very clear that if any work is intended, that a receipt is provided to the customer. In addition, the law is clear that the Plaintiff must prove a preponderance of the evidence, meaning: tipping the scale in their favor, and I believe that in this case there isn’t enough evidence to prove that any agreement was made to issue repairs on the car in question. Case dismissed.
Plaintiff turns to the Defendant (whispering) – No hard feelings, eh?
The Defendant – You did what you had to do. You need a ride?
Both parties, exit quickly, but not without a final blow from the Defendant.
Defendant (smugly) – Hey, judge, I’m gonna give them both a ride home!
Backstory: The story changed many times before the Defendant won on a technicality. First, he didn’t know where the car–that went missing–was. Just a few weeks earlier, he knew exactly which car it was and was planning an assessment of the car, and was due to change the tires. Next, he said that the car was inoperable. Again, he didn’t argue then that he couldn’t repair the car or that the expertise that it required was beyond his scope. He was told by the police department to give me a replacement car. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel that he should give us a comparable car and offered us a hoopty that wouldn’t get us anywhere without extensive repairs. After another month or so of being left at his establishment, the Defendant opted (without the owner’s permission–me!) to strip the car of its parts and scrap it; all while the car was registered and insured. There was no way around the mystery of what had happened to my car. Months afterwards, I would get suspension notices from the DMV for defaulting on the return of the license plates. Yet there in the mediation room (prior to the trial), he fibbed again and said that he never had the car in his possession. That was lie # 3. Just a few weeks ago, I had spoken to him on the phone as he apologized that it was all his fault and he wished that it didn’t go this far. Now, under the heat of those dim-room lights, he lied again. Finally, as our case was called (one of the last wasting an entire day sitting on hard, stiff benches) he changed his story again. Only this time, the Judge bought it. He had won.
I thought I had everything that I needed for this case but I was missing some crucial evidence:
- A receipt. This mom & pop shop never provided one as long as I’ve been bringing my cars in for repair.
- Photo of his establishment. At the time, it just didn’t make sense to, but in retrospect, I believe it would’ve helped my case. If his defense was that he doesn’t provide transmission repair, I think the sign in front of his building shows “transmission repair” in the list of service they provide. Would’ve helped.
- A witness. I tried desperately to get a written statement from some people who swore that they recalled the car being stripped, but I needed to get this information closer to the date when everything happened. It was my fault for dropping the ball.
Finally, the experience showed me that the justice system sucks. It’s the slowness of it all, the snail’s pace in which everything seems to go. Although a lot of cases managed to be weeded out through mediation, the rest are forced to sit and wait. It’s not by appointment only, you know what I mean? And basically, anyone can literally sue for just about anything. A guy about his poorly laudered shirts was there, a woman who hadn’t paid her rent since September of ’06. But the processing period, the gathering of evidence, the length of time that it takes to do everything involved doesn’t always seem worth it. I wasted a day of work, had to haul ass there and do all of this legwork just to be told that I was negligent. Gee whiz!
Hindsight is always 20/20 so I think that the experience as a whole was part of this ongoing learning curve. In that way, I’m thankful that I did have this experience even though the judge didn’t rule in my favor. No harm, no foul. Even the mock-graciousness of the Defendant kind of provided a sense of closure to the incident. That’s why I’m writing this. I want to at the very least provide some advice to anyone in a similar situation. I may have lost, but the knowledge I’ve gained feels more like winning.
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