I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.
- Fred Allen
In case you havent noticed, there are a number of national, high-profile court cases in progress, nearing a trial date, or gathering steam in case a judge or grand jury decides a trial is necessary.
High-profile, by the way, doesnt mean high-importance. Although the Scott Peterson trial - minus the hype - and the D.C. sniper cases are still judicial musts, we've about had our fill of the Kobe Bryant fiasco - aka the O.J. Simpson re-run - that has become priority No. 1 for most of the networks. Then there are the imponderables, like the comatose Terri Schiavo case in Florida and the anti-partial-abortion lawsuits, whose outcomes we fear will favor better legalese over the basic human right to live or die.
By now you may agree with Cesare Lombrosos term lawsuit mania and its definition, a continual craving to go to law against others, while considering yourself the injured party. And if you, too, wonder about the value of such lawsuits, you may also agree with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., that, Great cases make bad law.
Having been involved in only one lawsuit in my life hardly qualifies me as a lawsuit maniac. But I did come away from my lone, low-profile case with an added appreciation for the law which, until then and at least that time, I didnt know was there to protect me.
In a day for dumping on lawyers, I also have an added appreciation for the profession. In prepping me for my first experience on the witness stand, my defender proposed this scenario:
Do you know what time it is?
Yes, its 10:30.
I didnt ask you what time it was, only if you knew the time.
In other words, never offer more information than you are asked. Good advice, on or off the witness stand.
I could wish the following witnesses either had as good an attorney as I did, or were as well-prepared as he prepared me. Otherwise, both the questioner and the questionee might have done a more credible job.
Q. What is your date of birth? A. July 15th. Q. What year? A. Every year.
Q. What gear were you in at the moment of impact? A. Gucci sweats and Reeboks.
Q. Now, doctor, isnt it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesnt know about it until the next morning? A. Did you actually pass the bar exam?
Q. How was your first marriage terminated? A. By death. Q. And by whose death was it terminated?
Q. Can you describe the individual? A. He was of medium height and had a beard. Q. Was this a male or a female?
Q. Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney? A. No, this is how I always dress to go to work.
Q. All your responses must be oral, OK? What school did you go to? A. Oral.
Q. Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people? A. All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Q. Do you recall what time you examined the body? A. Around 8:30. Q. And Mr. Denny was dead at the time? A. No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy.
Q. Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse? A. No. Q. Did you check for blood pressure? A. No. Q. Did you check for breathing? A. No. Q. So, then its possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy? A. No. Q. How can you be so sure? A. Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar. Q. But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless? A. Yes, its possible he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.
From Disorder in the American Courts, compiled from the records of court reporters.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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