A Jigger of Justice
I have re-emerged. I’ve been in Wheeling for two weeks trying a criminal case in U.S. District Court. The case was with Judge Stamp, who is extremely sharp, extremely quick and an old-time gentleman who runs a very dignified courtroom. My opponent was John Parr, a very experienced assistant US Attorney. He's the most effective kind of lawyer to have against you -- very, very skilled, and totally fair.
The trip was worrisome generally because LaG has been more ill lately, and I hate to be out of town. Moreover, I cannot have a cell phone turned on in trial, so there was that constant worry. However, the home folks kept weather eye and all was well.
When I arrived, I found that my portable printer had crapped out. That was my fault - prior preparation prevents poor performance - what was I thinking? I didn’t check the equipment! There was a Best Buy near, so I replaced it, but I hope that I learned something there. At least I thought I did. Later in the week, I relied on the hotel clock rather than my own, which I anally set by the government clock, and was darn near late for Court in the morning. Some quick study, aren’t I?
I do not know how to describe the trial of a case. I have never seen a “lawyer novel” which did it adequately. Gerry Spence does it in Gunning for Justice and The Smoking Gun, but he’s not exactly the average working lawyer, he’s a superstar. Working up to a trial is pretty intense. Spence estimates ten hours of prep for every hour of trial time, which is probably in the right ballpark. The buildup to the trial is, for me, nerve-wracking. If it weren’t, I’d be worried. And then when the trial starts, the nerves go away and it’s a time of intense focus that doesn’t let up even at overnight. In fact, for me, it doesn’t let up for some days afterwards.
And a courtroom is a place of misery and fear, and you’d have to be out of your frigging mind to volunteer for the profession of trial lawyer. But here I am.
This morning as I blew back into town, I went straight to the Courthouse for the swearing-in ceremony for the people elected in November, including former partner Amy. The Division I Courtroom was packed. For those non-Fairmonters, the Division I Courtroom is a showplace, more ornate and traditional that the Courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. It will hold 300 people, and was built in the days when Court was a public spectacle and entertainment. The seats in back suck, so I went up before the bar into the corner, and sat in one of the carved chairs, and a couple of lawyer friends joined me, so we could sotto voce narrate the proceedings.
The State Treasurer, John Purdue, gave a short address to begin the festivities. He’s a nice fellow and a competent treasurer who speaks with such a thick accent that I wonder if it’s possible that it’s genuine. He’s been steadily running for governor in 2012 for several years now. His primary opponent likely will be newly-elected Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who was also present. They spoke nicely about one another, and I wonder if that will be the case come May of 2012. Anyway, in Mr. Purdue’s address, he told a story of a church which had a statue of Jesus damaged, and where the pastor challenged the congregation to fix it. They fixed it, all but the hands, which were too damaged. Fine, said the pastor, no problem, for you are the hands of Christ! And so, new public officials, we in government are the hands of Christ! My comment to the lawyer beside me was that this was the sort of cocky bullshit that has rendered West Virginia government (and government generally) so sickeningly ineffective. Good public servants, please refrain from giving God advice. He doesn’t need it. Please don’t think that you are carrying out His will. You (and I) are too DUMB to understand His will and when you do It, that’s only because even a blind squirrel gets a nut now and then. In politics as in any other endeavor, cocky kills. Unfortunately, it usually kills somebody else.
On the other hand, a couple of new officials, notably new sheriff Joe Carpenter, made it clear that they were there to work and didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
It was strange seeing Amy in the black robe. She said it was a surreal experience. Tonight, part of me just wants to sit and contemplate this.
After the festivities, I chatted with old friend Rev. D.D. Meighen, who now operates the county’s community affairs TV station. We had a fun talk about the predilection of politicians to inappropriately hijack religion for their own mean purposes. I love those sorts of conversations, and I wish we had some sort of coffee house kind of thing for nice, thinking people to meet, talk and share.
Good friend Pastor Josh Patty is giving a Christmas mostly solo singing concert Saturday night, assisted by Brooks Parker and Leigh Ann Bolyard at Central Christian Church at 7 PM. These people are gifted musicians. (Mind you, they have each worked their asses off to develop those gifts.) It will be worth attending. I was tempted to post something on the church blog to the effect that I’ve posted the announcement in biker bars with the addition that the tequila is free and that Josh thinks that anyone who rides a Harley is a pansy. However, some of the congregation has no ear at all for sarcasm, so I have held myself in check.