Jumping through the legal hoops

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2003

I've often joked that my middle child is going to be a lawyer or an actor - and I didn't know which prospect scared me more. Lawyer jokes are old hat and almost everybody has one. My mother was a legal secretary for more than 20 years and her three bosses, who I loved, adored, and baby-sat for many of those 20 years, were my best sources of lawyer jokes. (Which proves my theory that the best people in the world are those who can poke fun at themselves. But I digress…)

After this week, however, I confess I'm dropping lawyer jokes from my repertoire. I was privileged to see something this week that everyone should see, experience and recognize once in their lives (preferably as spectators and not as participants) and that is our legal system in action. Yes, the wheels of justice grind slowly - ask the family of murder victim A.D. Harris how long they had to wait to see his murderer convicted' but they do grind. Like any system that is remotely connected with human beings, the justice system has its flaws. It creaks here and grumbles there, but even when it seems to have come to a complete standstill, somebody, somewhere, is giving it a shove.

And even in slow motion, it is an awesome thing to see.

I sat in on the Ron Little murder trial from the beginning. I've sat in on other cases before, and even testified more than once, but I have never experienced anything like this. A Law & Order junkie, my first experiences with court cases tended to exaggerate the differences between real life and TV. TV went a lot faster and was a lot more interesting. Real life was bogged down in endless details, minutiae that would send the saintliest among us screaming in frustration. This trial, however, was the stuff Law & Order is made of, with drama and pathos, tedium and horror, grief and anger and boredom and every aspect of the human condition involved - especially humans.

There is a reason for the tedious minutiae, I discovered. It's one thing to pick it apart in a mystery novel or on a TV shows when real lives aren't hanging in the balance. It's another thing to watch a real person, innocent or guilty, but nonetheless flawed, sit in the defendant's chair and wonder if the rest of his life will be determined by how a sergeant filled out his paperwork or a lab technician took his blood sample. Chief Assistant District Attorney Greg Gambril mentioned having to "jump through legal hoops" to bring certain matters to light during the trial, but that is what he's supposed to do and he knows this. Those legal hoops are there for a reason - to make sure the job gets done right. Those legal hoops are there to make sure that innocent people aren't convicted by tainted evidence and guilty people don't walk free because of a technicality.

Defense Attorney Mark Christensen was there to do his job as well, not for popularity, not for glory, but because it was his duty, his obligation, his calling.

There are probably easier and more profitable ways to apply ones law degree in the professional arena, from the solid foundation of real estate law to the glitz and glamour of entertainment law, but after this week, I don't believe there is a more noble way than taking that degree into our, prosecution or defense, and keeping the wheels of justice turning.

And I won't mind at all if my son joins their ranks. I'll be proud.