No sleeping on the job: Courtroom testimony provides pivotal personal moment for law student

Did you know that a billionaire is secretly building a small town near Paonia, Colo., called Bear Creek?

You can’t drive up and look at it. There is a gate that you won’t get past without proper identification. If you run into one of the construction workers at a bar, you better hope he or she is plowed if you want to get any information. Each worker signs a confidentiality agreement as part of the employment contract.

Here’s what I know for sure about the billionaire behind this secret multi-million project: “The only thing he can’t control is time.”

That’s a quote from a plaintiff witness testifying as to why additional crews were required for the subcontractor my firm was representing in a breach of contract lawsuit brought by the general contractor.

I was sitting behind the associate, who ably represented the subcontractor during the two-day bench trial, leaning on the bar and pinching my thigh to keep from falling asleep. (Dear 1L reader, no matter what anyone tells you, unless you are at the table, trials are deadly dull. Just don’t let the judge catch you snoozing.) But when I heard that particular statement come from the stand, my ears perked up like a Great Dane.

In my previous life, I used to cover the occasional trial for the little newspaper in my hometown. If I heard that kind of quote, I would bend over backwards to get it into a story. There are only 10 people on earth someone could say that about and really mean it, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was serious.

Maybe later on down the road I’ll be able to point to that moment as the one when I realized that I definitely wanted to be an attorney. By a month into law school, I knew that I liked being a law student. But that’s different than being a lawyer, isn’t it?

The thrill I felt at that moment was that the questioning attorney – who I don’t mind telling you I’ve known since I was in 7th grade and is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – got someone to say something he’d rather he hadn’t.

Anything can happen at trial. As an attorney, your job is to anticipate the unexpected and be ready for it.

After the trial, I googled Bear Creek and busted my tail to find any other information out there about it. I even looked up the Delta County website, where I hoped to find some plans for the project. Instead, I discovered that Delta County spent $204,145 on its Meth Task Force in 2010. That’s a lotta dimp.

We wound up getting something of a 50/50 decision. Technically, we lost because we lost on the breach of contract claim, but we managed to avoid paying the other side’s attorney’s fees, which was a hell of a lot since they brought out the big guns, as you can imagine.

Meanwhile, maybe by the time you read this that mysterious billionaire may be enjoying the fruits of his labor. I can imagine someone like Conrad Hilton somewhere in Colorado, standing behind the bar of his saloon knocking back shots of whiskey, wiping the drips from his waxy mustache in total privacy.

— Matthew Moriarty is a KU Law 2L and worked as a summer associate at Balcomb & Green in Glenwood Springs, Colo.