THE WITNESS

It was the end of another long day and for some reason, contrary to my normal routine, I decided to stop by McGillicuddy’s for a drink before heading home.  No sooner had I crossed the threshold than I spotted Larry alone at the bar.  Quite a coincidence, I thought, considering that everyone in the Jefferson County legal world who emailed, texted or tweeted had been talking about “Larry the Litigator” that day, and talking about him a lot.

I sidled up to the open spot and said “Larry, mind if I join you?”  “Sarah,” he said, looking genuinely pleased to see me, “it’s always a pleasure.”  A little history is in order.  You see Larry and I were classmates in law school.  I finished first in our class and Larry, let’s just say most people were surprised that Larry finished at all.

After getting the pleasantries out of the way, I launched right in.  “Now Larry, you know I love you, and I’ve always been in your corner, so don’t take offense.  When you graduated law school, frankly, I was pleasantly surprised.  When you passed the bar on what was it, the fifth try, I was even mildly shocked.  Now, today, I’m sitting next to the lawyer who just won the largest money judgment in Jefferson County history, and at this point I’m nothing short of amazed.  You have to tell me how you did it.”

Larry paused and shifted in his seat.  He took a long sip of his bourbon.  And then he said, “Well, Sarah, the short answer is that I finally understood.”  After waiting a few seconds for more, then realizing that was it, I said with a chuckle “Larry, we’re talking about an eight figure judgment and you’re gonna have to be a little more specific than that!”

Larry smiled too and said, “Okay, since you asked, I’m going to tell you.”  He seemed to be gathering his thoughts, then suddenly Larry began.  “I finally understood it’s not about the arguments, it’s not about the lawyers at all.  Over the years, I’ve seen them all.  I’ve seen them bellow and pontificate, beg and plead, raise their voices to almost a shout at precisely the right moment, and then lower those same voices to a bare whisper with the entire jury hanging on every syllable.  I’ve seen them writhing with emotion to the point of holding back strategically timed tears that, of course, the members of the jury were never supposed to see.  And yet over the years the best arguments, the most impassioned pleas, haven’t always won.  So you see, it’s not about the lawyers, not really.”

“And it’s definitely not about the law.  For every case, statute or regulation you can plop down explaining that it’s square, my paralegal can pluck two more that insist that it’s round.  No, the jury seldom even understands the law, and pretty much never cares what it is anyway.”

“Okay Larry,” I agreed, “but you started all of this by saying you finally understood.  That’s what I want to know.  What did you understand?”

Finally seeming to give in, Larry resumed his explanation.  “For years, I twisted and refined and fine-tuned my arguments to the point of razor-sharp precision, all to no avail.  For decades, I plowed up and piled on every precedent from English common law going forward, completely without effect.  But then I finally saw it and it was beautiful and sublime in its simplicity.  You see, it’s not about the lawyers, or even the law – it’s all about the witness.

At this point I was confused, and even a little embarrassed, but my curiosity was so strong it would not be deterred.  “C’mon Larry,” I implored, “explain it to me.”

“It’s like this,” Larry replied.  “Every word that comes out of the lawyer’s mouth, no matter how clever or subtle, the jury knows you’ll say anything to further your client’s cause.  Same thing’s true for your expert.  And whatever your client says, no matter how plausible or how believable, the jury knows it’s colored with self-interest.  And the same goes for your client’s family, or friends, or employees.”

“Okay, I’m following,” I said, to keep Larry marching toward his point.

“But the witness, the neutral and unbiased witness,” Larry said with something approaching sheer reverence, “the witness is something else entirely.  If you have a witness who is competent and coherent, if that witness is honest and disinterested to the point where she can be neither shaken nor stirred under the most withering cross examination, then you have it all.  Because if you have that one, true, powerful, believable witness, then you have the jury, and if you have the jury the verdict is yours as well.”

With that, Larry laid a well-worn twenty dollar bill on the bar, which more than covered the cost of his drink.  Then, in his crumpled suit, with his disheveled hair and tattered briefcase in tow, Larry rose to take his leave.  Almost out of instinct, my hand flew out to catch Larry by his arm.  With imploring eyes I asked, “But Larry, how and where do you find this witness?”

“Well that one’s easy, my dear,” Larry replied, a slight smile flickering on his lips, “Inter-State Investigative Services, of course.”

– CHARLIE GRANT

 

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