May 15, 2014
(For JayDee with thanks for the kind words)
Stan held his hands tightly together under the long wooden table and then released them and rubbed his damp palms on the legs of his trousers. Beside, his lawyer, Bernie Levinsohn, quickly scanned some densely typed pages and, apparently satisfied, closed the folder and placed it precisely squared with the edge of the scarred surface and in alignment with some others in a small, neat stack. He turned and nodded curtly to Stan.
“We should be fine.”
Stan was about to respond when the side door opened and the judge entered.
“All rise,” the heavy bailiff intoned by rote to the sound of human commotion. “This court of the 51st district in the state of Nevada is now in session, Judge Austin Waterhouse presiding.”
Judge Waterhouse, a portly man of average height and severe demeanour acknowledge the court and, after taking his place and briefly arranging his gown, said simply, 'Be seated'. Stan returned to rubbing his palms on his trouser legs.
“The parties in this dispute have stipulated and agreed to an expedited decision by this Court.” It was a question voiced as an assertion and Judge Waterhouse raised his glance briefly over the rims of his reading-glasses for confirmation.
Stan continued to stare forward but Bernie spoke saying, 'We have, your Honor'. The same reply emerged from the other table.
“The parties have similarly stipulated and agreed to abide this Court's decision, waiving appeal process and thus concluding all action.”
Again, the chorused response.
“Thank you.” Judge Waterhouse closed his dossier and removed his glasses, laying them on the closed cover. “Complainant and Defendant will rise with their respective Councils to hear this Court's pronouncement.”
Rising, Stan chanced a side-long glance toward the Complainant – his old friend, Tim Barrow. It wasn't the fact of the lawsuit raised by Tim and his lawyer, Stan was confident in his own mind that his conscience was clear and his behaviour had been correct and above reproach.
No, it was the fact that they had been friends for a period of nearly ten years and colleagues in an industrial venture for half of those along with the sense of violation – almost degradation – in that, despite their history of confidence, they had not been able to resolve a simple series of disagreements like grown men. Being sued had made Stan feel like his hands were soiled with some type of crime which he would never even have had the intention to commit. It was, to Stan, the darkest period of his 45 year existence and one which, despite the potential judgment against, coupled with crippling pecuniary damages as well as prohibitive legal costs, left him simply wanting to run away, stick his head in the sand somewhere and try to forget. The presence of his girlfriend, Cleo, unseen in the row behind did nothing to allay the feeling of desperate loneliness and sinking sensation of personal failure.
“The submissions in this dispute have been diligently reviewed,” began Judge Waterhouse, “in the context of relevant proceedings in the state of Nevada and in the United States of America. We find, in particular, the matter of Anderson versus Smith in New York state to be complementary in many significant regards although I feel that both parties were poorly represented and it was inadequately argued leaving the Court's decision open to debate. In fact, that decision was appealed twice leading eventually to financial ruin for both parties. This is clearly not the desired end-point in the decision making process for a court of law.
“You have stipulated closure in this matter which may seem to make something easier for the presiding. On the contrary, it places a significant burden on the Court to ensure that, not only is our finding unassailable in the eyes of the Law in this state and country, but also that it provides a defining statement of Justice for the legal record and one which is, for the parties standing before this Court, good, fair and equitable to merit the faith you have placed in our decision and in this legal system.”
It had been Tim to suggest the collaboration.
“You design stuff,” he said between ogles at a fetching waitress and a pull from his pint. “Why not do some of the preliminaries for me? I can pay you something.”
“Oh, I don't know, Tim,” said Stan, wondering what the 'something' might mean. After all, sure, he could design, but he had been searching – yearning – for a major industrial design position. Big stuff – all gears and pneumatics, pipes and valves, bearings and belts, iron, steel and miniscule tolerances; mechanical efficiency defined. That was what he loved.
Tim smiled. “Listen,” he pushed on, “let's consider it temporary.” Stan listened.
“If you give me some preliminary designs – they're just little machines – it will be enough to get the investors on board. Then I'd just hire a design company to re-do everything from top to bottom – your designs are yours and I get my machines.”
Stan thought a moment. “You know that's not really my thing.”
“Just a demonstration of feasibility.”
Six months later, Stan had moved on to work for a 'green' chemical purification firm in northern Texas, leaving the prototype plans with Tim and the verbal agreement that they were for demonstration only. Then he found that the plans had been used verbatim.
He was shocked, angered and profoundly hurt by the apparent slap in the face. What made it worse was Tim's failure to respond to phone-calls or emails – personal or to the business office. Tim had apparently fallen off the face of the earth.
Moreover, Stan continued to try to excuse the action as an oversight or a misunderstanding. 'Perhaps Tim has been unwell', he thought, or 'Maybe he's busy and hasn't had time to explain'; it couldn't really be deliberate. Finally, exasperated beyond reason and hoping for a simple, quiet resolution – even an apology for what went wrong - Stan sent a registered 'cease and desist' letter stating simply that the designs were his and that their production had not been agreed. The response by return registered mail only days later knocked the wind out of him: a lawsuit for infringement on designs and products owned by Tim's company.
“It can't be Tim doing it,” Stan had said to Cleo, sitting that same evening reading and re-reading the frightening document. “It must just be his lawyers.”
Cleo had her arm across his shoulders as they had been scanning the letter side-by-side and word-by-word. She stated simply, “What if it is?” The simple truthfulness of her statement proved correct when, on the first day of submissions before Judge Waterhouse, Tim was in court with his legal team refusing to look at or even acknowledge Stan's presence. The realization had crushed him emotionally, damaging beyond repair his faith in friendship.
Judge Waterhouse cleared his throat and took a sip of water.
“In the matter of infringement lodged by Mr. Timothy Barrow versus Mr. Stanley Jensen, this Court finds that Mr. Barrow has failed to demonstrate precedent in certain technical designs of products currently utilized by his company.”
Stan's breath hitched and his fists wrung tight, whitening the knuckles.
“Further, while Mr. Jensen was negligent of business sense in not obtaining written and signed agreements regarding any technical designs submitted to Mr. Barrow, he was not negligent of reasonable expectation of good-will on the part of a friend – which bond is reasonably expected, nor of reasonable expectation that a verbal agreement would be honored. I must point out that such bonds and agreements are held highly in this Court.
“Further, we find that, where precedence in intellectual property can be demonstrated, the Court and all those availing of such intellectual property must duly comply with restrictions and limitations thus imposed on their use. Ladies and gentlemen, this country was founded by men and women with a desire to create a world where those who invent, develop, or otherwise rise above will be rewarded for their fatigue. This spirit of independence and self-sufficiency is ensconced in our Constitution and we must honor it; if we do not, we fail in honoring the spirit on which this Nation was founded.
“In sum, this Court finds in favor of the defendant, Mr. Jensen, who is exonerated of all implication of infringement. Mr. Jensen's claim of intellectual property is vindicated. Council will approach the bench.”
Finally, Stan ceded to breath. A hand clutched his shoulder and he turned to see Cleo glowing at him. In an instant her arms were around his neck pulling him close over the visitors' gallery barrier.
“You won,” she proclaimed to his ear.
“No one did,” he answered, nuzzling into her hair for comfort and seclusion. “We all lost.”
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