COUGHLIN: Explaining the Alvarez legal situation with a bit of a more "true life" perspective



The Half-Guard Truth
By: Mike Coughlin

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“I Fought the Legal System and the System Won”

 

Eddie Alvarez is headed back to Bellator after trying but failing to leave Bellator.  He’s going to get paid a lot of money to do this.  It’s kind of like trying to leave a hot girl for a hotter one but ending up with the first girl in the end: you still kind of win.

You’ve heard the details here and there.  You’ve also heard that this whole thingy was going to go well into 2014.  I’ll bet this sounds absurd.  It is.  But it’s also common and now I shall explain why.  What follows will have ZERO to do with the actual merits of the Alvarez case.  I have not read the complaint, nor the contract that is key to the case.  Too often, the analysis that is done on this has focused on what I’ll call “law school analysis.”  That is, someone looking at things from an academic perspective and giving their opinion of what should be decided.  This isn’t really how the world of law works.  Yes, there is some of that.  But you’ll also encounter judges who simply do not follow the law, or who have generous interpretations of past case precedents, and so on.  My general rule is always: a judge will make any ruling he feels comfortable will not be successfully challenged on appeal.

The “real world of law” is more frustrating and the underlying issue is almost secondary to the games being played by both sides.  Alvarez made his decision in all likelihood based on the “super duper long time” things would take.  If he has competent attorneys, they should have informed him of this from the beginning (I’d guess he has such lawyers).

What follows is an incredibly rough outline of the “beginning to end” of a case.  It is a general overview of the basics of what’s known as civil procedure.  Lawyers loooooove procedure.  Well, it is a profession of people who like rules, after all.

And, before going any further, I’ll run down me.  I’m not just a brilliant MMA based columnist.  When I need to pay the bills, I double as a lawyer right here in Chicago, Illinois.  An honest to goodness practicing attorney (if this is surprising to you: it should be).  I put on a suit and go to court all the time, and deal with judges, and do all those fun things you see on TV like make big speeches and win arguments and stuff.  I write contracts (I’m the dude who writes the fine print).  I make phone calls to other lawyers.  All of it.  There is a difference between simply going to law school and knowing “the law,” and actually practicing as an attorney.  This is something a new lawyer (like I once was, a few years back) learns quickly.  What follows isn’t specific to Eddie’s case, but more a general look at things.  But, it’ll likely be semi-applicable.  Soooooo, let’s get to it.

 

***

 

January 1, 2001, you file the lawsuit (“Complaint”). (Right off the bat, you know this is a fantasy because no court is open on the first of the year, but I like to keep things simple.)

After you file a suit, you have to formally serve the other side, in person.  You can’t just drop it in the mail.  This is fair: a person should, ya know, know when they’re being sued.  In IL, you first have to use the sheriff.  He "tries" and 30 days later returns a "no service completed" affidavit because the sheriff NEVER serves people, they just collect their 60 bucks and move on with life (it's also easier to duck service from a sheriff because they ain't going the extra mile). Now, it's February 1, 2001 and you've literally not moved forward.  (note: it’ll probably be closer to March 1st, because the sheriff won’t even bother trying to serve the other side for a few weeks, let alone report a failure, but I’ll pretend we’re dealing with a Super Trooper.)

Later that week, if you're moving quick (and we'll say everyone is), you get leave from a judge to get a special/private process server (this is a nothing procedure and I can’t remember a judge ever actually denying this request).  The private process server takes it and we'll say gets service on the guy in 2 weeks.  It's, say, February 21st and nothing has happened.

From the date the defendant was served, he usually has thirty days to file an appearance/answer.  He doesn't, because why bother.  On day 45 or so, you file and schedule a "motion for default" (i.e., "judge, they were served and aren't participating, this is a de facto admission they're wrong, we win.").  This is now mid-April (we'll say 4/15).  It takes time to get the motion before the judge, because they have a full calendar.  A month goes by before the motion is to be presented to the judge.  May 15, you're before the judge.  At that time, the other side's lawyer shows up, says "I just got retained but I'm here."  The motion for default is now discarded (“withdrawn”), as it is moot, and the other side gets 30 days to file something (a responsive pleading – something in response to the lawsuit).

On June 15th, they have to have something on file.  It has now been SIX MONTHS and the case has literally not gone forward.  At all.

Now, the other side can usually get away without filing anything yet, go before the judge, and get another chance/delay.  But, this time they file a Motion to Dismiss, usually something that says: "There is a technical defect here and here, and they'll never win, no matter what."  So, that's before the judge on July 1st, because things take time (this is the theme, in case you’re wondering).  You both show up, and the judge gives the standard 28/14 (28 days for the one side to respond, 14 days for the other to reply) and then a hearing date.  It's approximately September 1st before you get a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss.

You win.  Ok, now they have – yup – 30 days to Answer the Complaint (basically, "admit or deny" to each and every statement and allegation).  But, wait, they actually don’t have to file an Answer just yet.  See, the other side is all, “That was a crap ruling.”  So, within 30 days, he can file what is called a Motion to Reconsider.  It is what it sounds like: begging the judge to take a look again and essentially asking the judge to say, “Oops, I was wrong.  My bad.”  He waits until day 29 and files it and gets an initial presentation date 2 weeks later.  It’s now mid October, the 15th.  28/14 applies, then a hearing date and it’s mid December.  Judge rules again, confirms the prior decision (which is what ALWAYS happens – ok, not always but super duper most of the time)(judges aren’t keen on saying “I was wrong.”  Shocking, I know).

NOW: 30 days to file the Answer.  It’s been a year.  Nothing has happened.  They file the Answer sometime in mid January and everyone comes back for a status hearing on February 1st.

Sometimes, you file a motion to strike some of the things they’ve said in their Answer, but you want to move things along and that will kind of waste time.  You tell the judge, “Hey, we have disagreements, we deny things, we need discovery.”  So, you get time to issue discovery.  Both sides ask for documents and evidence that they'll use in a possible trial. (If you don't turn it over now, you basically can't use it later.)  It'll probably take 3-4 months, at least, to get this done (and that's presuming it's a light case without a ton of documents involved).  That's the WRITTEN discovery completed.  It's now May of 2002.  Nearly eighteen months and nothing has really happened besides, "I didn't do that; I don't agree; give me some papers."

At this point, you’ll move into non-written discovery, or basically witness depositions.  If you were hit by a car, you’ll have the doctors be interviewed, and witnesses who saw the accident, stuff like that.  In Alvarez’s case, there wouldn’t have been many potential witnesses (usually a breach of contract case has none, and has less discovery in general, because the contract itself is usually the main piece of evidence).  But, he would’ve maybe had some, if he called people to testify that the terms weren’t matching because the PPV points aren’t the same, etc…  Give another 4 months to do depositions (this would be a quickie as well, but let’s streamline things).  It’s now September of 2002.

At this point, one or both sides may file a Motion for Summary Judgment.  This is a document that says, basically, “Judge.  We have all the evidence in front of us.  Even if we give the other side the benefit of the doubt on all the evidence, read it all in a light most favorable to him, we will still win because of X, Y, and Z.”  (Many straight forward contractual disputes will be decided at this point.)  This is brought before the judge on October 15th, because why not?  28/14 applies, then a hearing date.  So that gives us a hearing sometime in mid December.  Let’s say the 21st.

Judge reads everything, hears the arguments, and rules.  He rules against the guy bringing the motion (the movant). (This is usually because he’ll find a “question of fact” that needs to be decided.  Typically, credibility of a witness or a key point neither side budges on.)

Everything closes the last two weeks of the year (like judges are going to work during holiday season.)  That’s life.

Do you think a guy who wants to delay will do so?  You bet.  Another motion to reconsider.  Blah blah, 28/14 after initial presentment in January.  March 1st now.  2003.  Two years have gone by.  (At least the lawyers are, hopefully, making money.)

At this point, everyone starts moving and getting ready for trial.  NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO TRIAL. (But everyone will posture and pretend like they do.)  Before all that, maybe the judge tells everyone to sit down and settle this crap, so he gives them a status date of a few months (judge doesn’t want to go to trial either, mind you).  They come back June 1st and say, “Ok, no settlement happened.”

Now things get placed on the trial call.  Typically, here, a judge will do a pre-trial conference, talking to each side about the issues to be presented, get a feel for things, etc…  After the pre-trial, the judge kind of knows what the case will be about and both lawyers know how he might rule.  This creates a greater incentive to settle.  Still, no one budges.  Ok, trial is set.  This will take time, because you can’t just do a trial whenever. (Oh, and often times the judge who just heard everything?  Yeah, he won’t do the trial.  That can go to a different judge, who has more experience with trials.)

You get a trial date in mid-August, it happens in a day (maybe two – if it goes on a long time … it just shouldn’t.  TV ain’t real life.  I’ve personally done entire trials that took about 20 minutes.  Really.).  The judge/jury goes and takes some time to decide and you get your verdict.  It is basically September of 2003 – roughly THIRTY THOUSAND MONTHS HAVE PASSED.

And what I described is a VERY efficient case, one that has moved along quite fast.  It doesn’t take into account lawyers having lives and other cases, and normal breaks in life, and all that.

By the way, none of this takes into consideration an appeal.  That can, SHOCKINGLY, take a bunch of time.  But at least the guy who won usually has more rights after the appeal (Alvarez, for example, would likely be able to fight, even if Bellator appealed).  If Bellator won and Eddie appealed?  Figure, at least a year before he gets a decision (appellate time frames a bit more wonky, because they don’t work on a standard schedule like normal courts).  In theory, Eddie could win that appeal and finally be “free” sometime three or four years after he first brought the lawsuit.

Other notes:  Eddie’s case was brought in Federal Court (for various technical reasons that aren’t important).  The Federal Court system works differently.  I deal with the Northern District, located here in Chicago.  It falls under the authority of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over parts of WI, IL, and IN).  Federal Courts have their own system of procedures, but they’re more or less the same.  You can get dates in front of judges quicker, but they also tend to grant more time for discovery.  Most annoying is that decisions take forever.  I personally right now am waiting on a judge’s decision on a Motion for Summary Judgment.  All sides had their briefs to the judge by late April.  I’ve been told it will likely be six months before a decision is rendered by the judge.  Six.  Months.  Heaven help us if we need to go to trial after that.

If the above seems absurd, it is.  But, there isn’t a truly viable alternative, to be honest.  Due process entitles people to a fair shake, and it’s better to be slow and fair than quick and unfair.  But, it can also show the power deep pockets have.  Not to be all “F the man” but a big corporation can afford to go through all this because they have money.  A single person often cannot, because they don’t have money.  Now, often times if you’re suing the big corporation, your attorney works on a contingency fee (usually, he’ll get 1/3 of whatever is collected).  That lawyer does not get paid at all unless he wins.  He could devote years of his life to a case and lose and make nothing.  That sucks.  Hard. (Been there, done that.)  Alvarez likely didn’t have this type of agreement with his attorneys, and was paying them on an hourly basis.  Depending on where his attorneys practice, the hourly fee could be anywhere from $200/hour (pretty cheap) to maybe $1000/hour (bigger firms).  In Chicago, a standard hourly fee for an attorney would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500/hour.  How many hours might an attorney bill for a case like Eddie’s?  I could easily see 60 hours, no problem.  And at $500/hour, that’s $30,000.00!  And if it were more, that wouldn’t be a surprise.

Justice is indeed blind  But, like most blind folks, it is also slow.

 

Mike Coughlin really is a lawyer.  He’s more proud of hosting FIVE STAR RADIO.  Priorities, people.  Priorities.

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