Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My 1st Trial - The Passion of the Underdog Part II

By Michael Fuller, Portland Trial Attorney

My first trial took place before I ever attended law school or passed the bar.

"...my first foray into the trial process." - Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinny (1992)

In September 2003, while most students at Oregon State University were gearing up for the start of fall term, I was anxiously preparing for my first trial.


My 1st Trial - Michael Fuller v. Oregon State University (2003)

My grades at OSU were average -- not showing off, not falling behind.

Studying philosophy was fun but my real passion, aside from troublemaking, was writing for the student newspaper and participating in student government.

My 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. Or as it was known around the frat house, the "Hot Box", or the "Crown Vic".

One evening in the spring of 2003, I was late to a student body meeting at the Memorial Union and parked in a loading zone.

When I returned from the meeting, the Crown Vic was gone.

"It was parked in a handicapped zone, perhaps they towed it." - John Goodman, The Big Lebowski (1998)

In its place stood a posse of smiling police officers. They said my car had been towed and I'd been cited with parking in a handicap zone.

"Handicap zone? Impossible," I said. "There's no sign!"

Long wheelchair ramps run behind the stone fence perimeter in front of the Memorial Union.

After unsuccessfully appealing the citation administratively through the University, I marched down to the Benton County Courthouse and sued the school in small claims court.

I spent the summer researching Oregon law, watching My Cousin Vinny and Matlock, and memorizing my arguments.

After months of preparation, I walked into the courtroom the morning of trial sporting a mohawk and took my seat at plaintiff's table.

I represented myself. OSU was represented by a claims adjuster, the Chief of Police, and the citing OSP Officer.

I examined the police officers under oath and made my arguments to the Judge, just as I'd rehearsed in front of the mirror.

The Judge spent 20 minutes in chambers before returning to the bench to announce his ruling.

"... the underdog's on top." - 50 Cent, Hate It Or Love It (2005)

The Judge looked upset.

"Well, I read the statute and made some calls. For whatever reason, the statute makes no mention of blocking a wheelchair ramp. As much as I hate to do it, I have to find in favor of Mr. Fuller."

Winning my first trial, even for a modest $183, was the greatest feeling in the world. I was instantly hooked.

Now I try cases for a living and I'm loving every minute of it.
The key to this job,
Is treat every case like
it's your first project,
Like it's your first day like
back when you was an intern,
just stay hungry.
- Jay Z, My 1st Song [paraphrased]

The headline in the student newspaper the following week read:

"How I Sued OSU. And Won." - by Michael Fuller.