Monday, February 17, 2014

Never ask a question in court ...

... to which you don't already know the answer."

While I was writing about FirstElectricNewspaper's (FEN) case against Sheriff Nygren and the McHenry County Sheriff's Department on Sunday, I thought of a case in Richmond, Va. in about 1995. It was a classic case, when a lawyer did a question of his client to which he did not already know the answer, and the judge waited ... and waited ... and waited.

I had been tailgated one day on a four-lane, divided highway while I was traveling 55MPH - in a 55MPH zone. The tailgater was about 4-6" behind my car, and she couldn't pass because there was a car alongside of me that wouldn't speed up. That driver had the tailgater boxed in, and she got madder and madder.

She finally did get around and took off. I was fed up with her dangerous driving, and I drove back to Chesterfield County, found a magistrate and filed a complaint.

In court she (an attorney) was represented by an attorney, who happened to work for the City of Richmond. The judge listened to the "he said/she said" stories and found her guilty. He fined her $25 and sentenced her to traffic school.

Her attorney told her not to go to traffic school and to appeal, which they did. A month later we were back in court.

Her attorney puffed out his chest and got in my face with his questions. He was pretty disrespectful with his words, facial expressions and deep sighs of exasperation as he questioned me. Having some experience in court, I just sat there calmly and let him play his role.

Then he put his client on the stand.

"Now tell the Court, Ms. ____, is it true that you were only four-to-six inches behind Mr. Philpott for half a mile at 55MPH?"

She answered, "No."

And right there is where he should have stopped. At that point the judge might just have decided that it's the word of one driver against the other, and he could have tossed it in her favor.

But, instead, her attorney said, "Please tell the Court how far behind him you were."

You could have heard a pin drop in that courtroom. She didn't answer. Some time passed, and she still didn't answer. As an attorney, she knew she had to answer. Finally, the judge began drumming his fingers on the bench as he looked at her.

Eventually, she answered. "About 12 inches."

The judge glared at her and said, "He's going 55MPH and you're only 12" behind him? That is reckless driving! Guilty!

I'll bet she was ready to kill her own attorney!

On the way out of the courtroom, the bailiff said to me, "Nice job."

When Judge Meyer asked Assistant State's Attorney Brandi Quance (in FEN's case) last Friday why he should stop the whole case (during her appeal), FEN wrote that "Her answer was an extended silence." How would she have answered, had Judge Meyer waited her out?

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