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VOL. 37 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 04, 2013

Trial tales for idle times in courthouse

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There was some reminiscing going on the other day. It was late December, and there wasn’t much else to do around the courthouse. Something about being in the courthouse causes the reminiscing to go in a certain direction; to wit: sworn testimony.

Someone recalled an insurance case in which a witness was asked, “Did you have any conversations with Jill about this $16,000 check?” The witness thought it over and replied bluntly: “Let’s put it this way. I had limited access to Jill after she died. Her attorney kept her out of the meetings.”

Another remembered the following exchange from a criminal case in state court:

Question: “Mary Frances, tell the judge what happened that Saturday night, about the fight and all, and how you came to get stabbed in the fracas.”

Answer: “Oh, I wasn’t stabbed in the fracas, I was stabbed just above the fracas.”

That brought to someone else’s mind a federal civil action in which the defendant’s breakwater dike on the river was allegedly not in accordance with government specifications.

“Was there ever an occasion,” the defendant’s lawyer began, “when any representative from the government actually made positive comments about your breakwater dike?”

Answer: “Uh, no. But then I never had a cop pull me over and compliment me on my driving, either.”

One of the earlier reminiscers then remembered a deposition in which the following exchange occurred:

Q: “Is it true that Mr. James talks to himself whenever he’s alone?”

A: “I don’t know. I’ve never been with Mr. James when he was alone.”

(Ouch! My brain.)

This led to a recollection regarding testimony given by a recently naturalized citizen, doing the best he could not to resort to his native tongue.

Q. “Why didn’t you file your tax return for 1990?”

A. “There is a reason for it.”

Q. “I figured there was. That’s why I’m asking. What is the reason?”

A. “I did not receive my 10-W-40.”

The others looked at me. I’d been enjoying their reminiscences too much and not contributing. So, I chimed in with this brief exchange from a sentencing hearing:

Q. “How do you make a living when you are not in jail?”

A. “Stealing.”

Q. “That’s what got you in this trouble in the first place, isn’t it?”

A. “Yeah. I ain’t very good at it.”

Not realizing that his next recollection would later be of the perfect length to conclude this column, the first reminiscer spoke up yet again. He recalled reading of a case in which the following colloquy took place – words to this effect, anyway:

Q. Did you stay all night with this man in New York?

A. I refuse to answer that question.

Q. Did you stay all night with this man in Chicago?

A. I refuse to answer that question.

Q. Did you stay all night with this man in Miami?

A. No.

Happy New Year! 2013 marks the 20th year in print for “I Swear.” It will be a much better year if each of you sends me an entertaining story I might print as part of a column.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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