Douglas Gardner webAs an Arizona State Bar Certified Specialist in family law matters, I rarely get to experience what I would call a “Matlock” or “Perry Mason” moment in the complex divorce and family law cases in which I have been involved.

Growing up, I always loved the climactic moment when Benjamin Matlock or Perry Mason would march in the surprise witness at the last moment, or find the proverbial smoking gun halfway through the trial.  Part of why I went to law school was the search for such grand adventures.  I have since learned that such surprise twists in cases at the last minute are very unusual.  Moreover, as I prepare my cases thoroughly, rarely is there an undiscovered smoking gun or surprise witness left until the 11th hour.  What’s more, Arizona procedural rules require both parties to disclose any witnesses and exhibits far in advance of trial, and such surprise witnesses in most cases would not be allowed to testify due to the lack of proper advance disclosure.

Nonetheless, I had a recent occasion which was very close to a Matlock or Perry Mason moment, in which I was reminded how important it is that I have surrounded myself with a winning team of professionals, including paralegals, process servers, and all other staff and independent contractors that I routinely work with on complex divorce and family law cases.

In a nutshell, I was hired by a client with just a few days before a hearing.  We quickly dispatched our regular process server to have the opposing party served.  As the opposing party was served just a few days before the emergency hearing, the Declaration of Service (proof that opposing party has been served) had not yet been filed with the Court or returned to my file.  In the minutes before the hearing was to commence, I realized that the opposing party was not yet present.  At such hearings, if a party has been served (and there is proof of service) the Court can proceed by default, and award my client everything he or she has asked for.  However, if we cannot prove that the opposing party was served, the Court will usually just reschedule the hearing for a month or two later.

As I checked my file, it became clear that I had no proof of service, though I had been informed a few days before that service had, in fact, occurred.  I quickly texted my office to have my assistants check on this for me.  I was informed that the Declaration of Service had not yet been filed (as the opposing party was just served a day or two ago).  Moreover, the process server was at a nearby courthouse, about half an hour away from his own office.  It did not appear that there was any practical way to get the Declaration of Service in the few minutes before the hearing would start.

I began making my backup plans as to how to proceed.  The Court then called the case.  Just minutes after the case had commenced, the back door opened, like in Matlock or Perry Mason.  In walked the process server, who quietly handed me a court-stamped copy of the Declaration of Service. Unlike Matlock or Perry Mason, there were no “oohs” or “ahhhhs” as nobody even realized who he was, or why he was present.  Nonetheless, I had in my hands the Declaration of Service that I needed.

I learned only after the hearing that my staff had promptly prepared the Declaration of Service for our process server (this is usually prepared by the process server himself) and emailed a copy to him.  He went to a nearby printing retailer, printed out the Declaration of Service, rushed to the Courthouse and filed it, and then rushed to my courtroom and provided me the copy I needed.

I had not asked for such service, nor bluntly expected such service.  However, having surrounded myself with a winning team, I have received such service many times.  The hard work and dedicated “above and beyond” service of my staff, and the independent contractors that I have chosen to work with continues to benefit me.  More importantly, the “above and beyond” service of my team and extended team will continue to benefit my clients.

Just like nobody in the courtroom likely realized what had happened, most of my clients will never fully know all of the hard work that my team and extended team put into their cases.  They are not looking for publicity or praise or thanks (and I am sure this blog pointing out their extraordinary efforts embarrasses them).  Nevertheless, these examples point out the importance of hiring a qualified attorney, a certified specialist or expert, and an attorney that has sufficient experience and knows how to surround himself with qualified professionals willing to do what it takes to get the job done, even when the job appears impossible.

If you are involved in a complex divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 800-899-2730 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at