Come lie with me

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By Anthony Deyal

While throughout the world a “lawyer” can be a barrister, solicitor, attorney, conveyancer, notary, advocate or legal practitioner, my Aunty Moon had the best and most appropriate word of all for the profession. One day, when I saw that Aunty Moon was dressed in her best and was hastily heading out of the house, I asked her, “Where you going?” She replied, “I going to the Court House. I have to meet the liar before the case start.”

I did not, at the time, realise that she meant “lawyer” but she might still have been right on the ball since, as British actor, Patrick Murray, said: “A Lawyer will do anything to win a case, sometimes he will even tell the truth” or, as humourist Angie Papadakis quipped: “In almost every case, you have to read between the lies.” I actually came up with the idea for this column when I started reading the 2018 Gold Dagger award-winner, “The Liar” by Irish lawyer, novelist Steve Cavanagh. Goodreads says of the hero of Cavanagh’s books, “Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turns out the two aren’t that different.” This is why I believe that a group of lawyers doing business together should not call themselves a “Chamber”. They should use the most relevant word, “Alliance.”

A 2004 analysis of regulations attempting to deal with misconduct by lawyers found that regardless of when or where, time or place, concerns about legal misconduct were not only consistent but also persistent. “Legal Ethics: A Comparative Study” found that there were five common categories including abuse of litigation; using false evidence; preparing false documents, especially fake deeds, contracts or wills; deceiving clients as well as misappropriating property; and charging excessive fees.

Yet, despite the findings, while in parliament the “Ayes” have it, in the law the lies continue to have, hold and tightly hang on to it. As most people know, the answer to the question, “How does a lawyer sleep” is “First he lies on one side and then on the other.” In fact, even Tarzan deep in the Congo knows that the difference between a lawyer and an angry rhinoceros is that the lawyer charges more. He was also very much aware that whenever he called his pet chimpanzee, Cheeta, the animal would shriek and insist it was not a lawyer.

In 2018, the American Bar Association (ABA) sponsored a Webinar on “Lies, Damned Lies and Alternate Facts”. Their view was that although lawyers are not allowed to lie to clients, courts or third parties, “once you get beyond deliberate false statements, the scope of the obligations to truth and integrity become less clear”. As one lawyer told me, “In a trial, it is the witness who takes the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, not the lawyer.”

Interestingly, in the three scenarios used by the ABA, the lawyers were let off the hook for what seemed to be downright and outright lies. From my perspective, the only thing this proved is that there are lies, damn lies and lawyers. In other words, as the sixth US president, John Quincy Adams, pointed out, “Whoever tells the best story wins.”

Even if we leave the lying alone and move on to the lawyering, it is obvious, as journalist Robert Smith Surtees contended, “There are three sorts of lawyers – able, unable and lamentable.” In fact, as another commentator noted, “Ignorance of the law excuses no man- from practising it.” Ignorance of the English Language is even less a handicap or hurdle. For example, the lawyer questioned the witness, “What is your date of birth?” After the witness answered, “July 15” the lawyer wanted to know, “What year?” forcing the witness to clarify this with, “Every year.”

Sometimes you get a mix-up like, “What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?” and the witness saying proudly, “Gucci sweats and Reebocks.” One lawyer even wanted the witness to tell him, “How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?” Another attorney walked right into it when he tried to soft-soap the witness, “Now sir, I’m sure you are an intelligent and honest man…” but the witness, knowing what was coming, interrupted, “Thank you. If I weren’t under oath, I’d return the compliment.”

Since the US is where most of the lawyer blunders originate, I am sure all of you reading this will wonder what the law-school students there learn when they are not counting the millions they expect to make. I know the ones in the Caribbean complain about the pressure and excessively high standards, but fortunately for them they don’t have the same level of coverage that American courts get.

If they did, we might find stuff like the cross-examination in which the Attorney asked the pathologist, “Did you check for a pulse?” After the answer “No”, the lawyer continued to ask questions about other checks like blood pressure and breathing. The answers to all were still “No.” The lawyer, seeing a loophole, jumped into it mouth first, “So then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?” When the exasperated doctor said “No” to this, the lawyer pounced, “How can you be so sure, doctor?” The pathologist, clearly losing his temper at this stage, snapped, “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.” The lawyer, still trying to force a point enquired, “I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?” This was the last straw for the pathologist and he retorted, “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.”

There are many other cases in which witnesses deliberately and understandably turn the tables on the lawyers. When a lawyer enquired of another pathologist, “How many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?” the answer was, “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Sometimes, the witnesses are much more direct. The lawyer asked one, “Your youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?” The witness retorted, “He’s 20, much like your IQ.” Then there was the case when the lawyer wanted to know, “How was your first marriage terminated?” When the witness explained that it was “By death” the lawyer continued his cross-examination with, “And by whose death was it terminated?” The witness looked the lawyer in the face and scornfully suggested, “Take a guess.”

I once had an opportunity and angrily jumped at it. A lawyer in a matter in which I was a witness kept insisting that I should answer the question with a “Yes” or a “No” and not a “long-winded” explanation. After a few of these I pointed out to him, “There are some questions you cannot answer with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Let me ask you, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife.’”

*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that his favourite response of all time was when the lawyer asked the female witness, “Are you sexually active” and her reply was, “No, I just lie there.”

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