The saying “half a loaf is better than none” sometimes applies in the law, but it depends on which half of the loaf you get. Yesterday I, along with co-counsel, had a court appearance on behalf of a client who was opposing a request for an injunction that was based on an interpretation of a prior order of the Court. We were of opinion that the order contained an error in that there was language that seemed to be directly in conflict with the ruling the Court had indicated it was making in its summation. However, “a trial court speaks only through its orders,” and more than 21 days after the fact (under Virginia’s Rule 1:1 the order is not final for 21 days) it’s difficult to get the Court to change an order — and the Court in this case chose not to do so.
Moving on to the substance of the injunction, the plaintiffs argued that the former order, with its intact language, barred a certain action by the defendant, while it was our contention that it allowed that action — it all depended on whether the Court meant to say that something had already happened and barred further action by our client, or merely might have happened, which would not have barred the defendant from acting until it was determined for certain. So while the maxim about how court’s speak probably sunk our first argument, a different maxim came to our rescue here — that one says that “the Court is in the best position to interpret its own order.” Because the order, in the Court’s view, merely found that the occurrence might (or might not) have happened, the matter was not settled and remained unresolved. Because that issue remains to be resolved in a different proceeding (the one the injunction sought to stop), there was a legal remedy for the plaintiffs and, thus, an injunction was not proper.
So our client was left with half a loaf that tasted sweet, while the other side had to take half a stale loaf, having won the first skirmish, but losing the battle. The war remains to be concluded in the other proceeding.