Some people who are wronged are afraid of pursuing their legal claims. Between the expense, time and stress, it makes sense that some are reluctant to file a suit, even if he or she has a good claim. Some people may also have a fear that they may not get a fair trial, for one reason or another. The judicial system for the most part tries to discourage any fear about its competence to make sure no unfairness occurs in the courtroom. But it still happens and the treatment of a litigant can rob him or her of their day in Court.
In Malat v. Ahmad, an Appeals Court case, the defendant homeowners Ahmad and Javed, hired a contractor to reconstruct their home after it was badly damaged in a fire. The plaintiff contractor agreed to complete the work in exchange for payment. The three agreed on an hourly rate and the contractor began the renovations. Although Ahmad and Javed made substantial payments to the contractor, they still owed an outstanding balance of $52,881.66, which they refused to pay. The contractor filed suit.
He began his testimony in court, stating “Your Honor, the matter started shortly after,” but before he could finish the judge interrupted him stating that there was not “going to be a speech from [him].” Instead the judge immediately asked him, “You’re the landlord in this matter?” Plaintiff contractor tried to respond saying that he was not the landlord and was on a job. The judge followed up, saying “[t]hat’s [a] yes or no answer,” to which the plaintiff contractor responded that he was not a landlord.
The contractor continued to answer the judge’s questions, explaining that he was not a licensed contractor and that there was no written agreement between the parties, but that he performed the services of a general contractor and was not allowed to finish. The judge then said that he was not going to hear the case and that he was going to dismiss it. The contractor continued trying to explain his case, showing spreadsheets and other documents to the judge. The judge responded:
I’m going to explain something to you . . . You want to be wise with me? . . . . Well, I’m . . . trying to give you an opportunity to make this out, but you – you want to be wise with me? Is that what it is? . . . . Case dismissed . . . . You’ll remove yourself from the [c]ourtroom.
No written order was entered by the judge until 7 months later. The Appeals Court found that the contractor’s due process rights had been violated. Due process is the right to be heard in our court system and is a fundamental right in our society. The higher court found that an 18 minute court proceeding violated the contractor’s due process rights, because it did not extend him the opportunity to be heard on the matter.
Sometimes, people are victimized instead of helped by our court system. In this case, the Appeals Court overturned a bad decision of a lower court and allowed the case to be properly heard.