Judgment day

After hundreds of man-hours and millions of rupees are spent on litigation, finally a judgment day dawns.
It’s another matter that a trial court’s judgment is not necessarily the conclusion of a trial but quite often the starting point of an appeal or other proceeding in a superior court.There again, after years of labour and toil there dawns a judgment day.

This can go on and on till the judgment is delivered by a court which is not supreme because it is infallible but infallible just because it happens to be considered the final, supreme court.

The most important outcome of any litigation is the judgment.

In this and the next episode I will share some anecdotes about judgments.

Let me start with the day I was approached with an unusual request by a developer from Mumbai who had been my client many years earlier.

Later on, as his dealings became questionable, he had moved on to counsel more tolerant of his kind of dealings.

He would, however, always wish me very politely in the corridors of the Bombay High Court whenever we happened to bump into each other.

This is what my former client had come to meet me for after a long gap spanning several years:

A very senior milord was due to retire in about a month’s time.
Milord was at that point of time heading a very busy Division Bench and had reserved several judgments after hearing those cases fully.
This was the case not just with milord’s present assignment but with some earlier ones too!
In short, there was a huge backlog of judgments reserved by this about-to-retire milord.

This developer’s case had also been reserved for judgment.
Both sides had even submitted written arguments to help milord expedite its delivery.
But milord had too much on his plate..and too few days left on the bench to clean the plate.

It was obvious from his anxiety that this developer had invested heavily in the outcome of his case.
So he had come to me with this most unusual request:
Could I read milord’s original papers and proceedings and prepare a draft judgment for milord to sign and deliver before he demitted his office?

Observing that I was too stunned by this proposition, the developer quickly slid a blank cheque before me and said I was free to charge whatever “judgment drafting fees” I wanted!

I asked him if the concerned milord was even aware of his proposal?
Imagine my shock when my former client replied that it was milord himself who had endorsed my name!

He told me that around a dozen lawyers who were regularly used for “drafting judgments” by milord were already at work round the clock ghost-writing the judgments reserved in other matters which had been heard by that milord.

Therefore, when the developer approached milord to bless him too with a favourable judgment before retiring, milord expressed his desire to help but lamented that he had no “help” available to write it.
All his regular “helpers” were already busy “helping out”!

At this point, it seems milord asked the developer if he could suggest someone reliable who could be entrusted the job of ghost-writing the judgment.

The developer then started naming all the lawyers who had represented him in his various litigations previously before the BHC.
According to the developer, when he took my name, milord was very happy.
He told the developer that if I would agree to ghost-write this judgment, he could even assign me a few more immediately!

I pushed the blank cheque away and regretted my inability to help this developer (or milord) in this matter.

The developer, not prepared for a negative answer, then took out the senior milord’s set of the court record pertaining to his case from a suitcase he was carrying and said it was not a very complicated matter and that he was sure I could read up the written submissions and case-law in that bundle and dictate the judgment in a few hours.

I asked him how he had dared to walk away with this original case-file from milord’s chamber and managed to bring it to my office?
He nonchalantly replied that milord’s PA and driver were waiting outside in case I agreed and decided to read the papers and dictate the judgment right away!
Alternatively, I could read on that day and he would return the original set back to them before court closed for the day.
Then they would all come the next day just to take dictation from me!

This was way too much for me to digest.
I said I would not do such a thing for love or money.
So I may kindly be excused.
Full of righteous indignation I was convinced that I was doing the right thing.

As the developer left my office I asked my office peon to discreetly follow him and see where he went.
My peon reported that the developer had just walked around the corner and got into a white Ambassador car with a red beacon.
The car had a driver and one more man seated inside.
The developer had got into the rear seat and they had driven away.

It took me some time to recover from this episode but when I did I decided to confide about it in a good friend who had been on the High Court government pleader’s panel for a fairly long time.

My friend was at that time among the probables being talked about for elevation to the bench directly from the bar.

My friend heard me out patiently without the slightest hint of any shock or consternation at my disclosures.
He cooly and very matter-of-factly told me that I should have gratefully accepted the cheque and done the job.

He said that only when senior judges felt that a worthy HC practitioner was fit to become a judge like them, they tested him out by assigning such “confidential work” to him.
He then confided that he too had written several judgments for senior sitting milords!
He named another mutual friend who was already doing a commendable job on the Bombay High Court bench and said that he too had ghost-written several judgments for the collegium judges who finally returned the favour by recommending him for elevation!
Then he named another bar colleague of ours with a huge practice who had joined the bench as an additional judge and returned to the bar just before he would have been confirmed as a permanent judge.
My friend said that this colleague too had started out by ghost-writing orders on behalf of “angootha-chaap”(illiterate) ministers in statutory appeals before graduating to drafting judgments for the milords of the BHC.
He had stepped down because it was much more lucrative to be at the bar and ghost-write judgments for many judges than to simply sit on the bench dictating judgments of your own!

My friend shook his head disappointedly and said that I had let go of a golden opportunity and handsome fees.
When I protested on grounds of the legality and propriety of such an “arrangement”, my friend cooly replied that there was nothing illegal in a lawyer being paid by a client for his “professional services”!

The realisation then dawned on me that my friend was indeed fit for direct elevation.
No wonder, he was in the zone of consideration.
Consideration mattered everywhere.

It seems even the sun shines on a Judgment Day considering the consideration.