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A Tale of Two Lawsuits (Article by Attorney George Kounoupis)

In a tale of two cities, by Charles Dickens, there is a quote "It was the best time, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of was the season of hope, it was the winter of despair". To a small business, one in which the owners have scraped together their hopes and dreams, their children's future, a litigation and lawsuit can be all of these things. I grew up with lessons in economics taught by my Greek father. In the 1960's he and my mother, a nurse for IKA in Sparta, left for the United States to set up a restaurant business, joining my uncles.

The economics of the "cash register", anxiously counted by my parents at the end of the day, did not have much room for excesses, because a pile of bills had to be paid first including a number of people who depended on the restaurant for their wages.

Fear and uncertainty are great disincentives to any small business and I doubt if my parents would have formed a business in the United States if people were saying about it what people are now saying about Greece. If you accept that small and medium enterprises provide job growth and drive economies, you will understand that the various entrepreneurs who have struggled to get capital to invest in a business, want to compete, but cannot accept risk to their very existence. Risk from those they perceive with power to destroy them.

And so, it is with this background that I sit in my law office years later, and have before me two lawsuits. These are real, and it is the good lawyer who can see beyond the cold faceless, dehumanizing law books, and courtrooms to the scared, vulnerable people behind the disputes. Just is with economics, the law should be practiced by individuals with a feel for the human condition. Law should serve people, not force people to stare into the dead, vacant eyes of bureaucrats and lawyers who recite regulations while human beings bag for practical or common sense understanding.

In the first case, the client was an executive of a Greek company who had been sent to the US on promises of a long-term contract aimed at developing the US market. He uprooted his family and moved to the US, changing schools for his kids and selling his former home in Greece, only to be terminated for no reason months later. We filed suit in New Jersey, which consisted of putting down in a Complaint the basic facts on which our case was based. Right at the start, if our legal theory was meritless we would face serious sanctions as the Plaintiff's lawyers.

The other side answered formally in 30 or so days, saying that he was a bad executive. We knew, 60 days post filing of what the other side's case would be about. The judge ordered 3 months discovery to exchange documents and interview witnesses under oath, in what is called depositions. The judge set the trial 8 months from the filing of the Complaint. Four months after required exchange of documents and questioning of each other's witnesses under oath we knew that the other side had no proof that our client was a bad employee. Since required discovery of documents and witnesses had taken place outside court, both sides could assess their chances at trial. 6 months after the filing of their Complaint the judge ordered mediation. A good settlement was achieved to avoid a trial where, since the documents and witnesses to be presented at court were known in advance. There was uncertainty as to whom the court or jury would believe, but this was not enough to motivate the parties to take that risk. If our Complaint did not present recognized legal case or if after discovery, we could not produce any facts to support our claim, our case would have been long dismissed, perhaps 3 months or 6 months after filing. The client got justice.

But as I told you above, there is a second lawsuit in my office. The client, a manufacturer of goods in the U.S. had entered into a contract with a Greek company and the Greek buyers, dissatisfied with the agreement, sued him in Greek court. The client was upset, insisting that he did nothing wrong and that such lawsuits were bad for business and highly disruptive. He had utilized another lawyer to defend him in Greece but in the two years that had passed since he was sued, he knew little about the case or his legal defense. His Greek lawyer assured him that these things would be found out 20 days before the trial, which loomed now, 8 months out. The client insisted that he had proof and witnesses completely proving that the other side's contentions were false, but he had to be told that there was no way to dismiss the case before trial. A settlement was out of the question, because "settlements do not happen in Greece". I told him that I wished that I could sit down with the judge and the other lawyer and say, to the other side: look, I have seen all the documents you are going to produce and I have questioned and taken statements of all your witnesses - and you will likely lose. Why not settle since at trial we will seek our full damages plus interest and attorneys fees? This could not happen in Greece. Moreover, I had to tell the client that we would likely not be heard on the trial date, being both on the list, with prior adjourned cases ahead of us. Another delay was likely (going on 2 ½ to 3 years now) for trial. As to the panel of judges, who knew as to their real world or business experience or whether, their decisions would be predicted based on prior, similar cases. Even after trial, I further explained (2-3 years out), a long road of appeals was likely with a potential for remand and retrial - so that the whole thing had to be done all over again. The client had come to his "winter of despair". Which system would, make you more comfortable if you were a foreign investor? I know the one my late Greek father would choose.

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