Courthouse similar to WWF, but with words
By BILL JANZ
Sunday, February 18, 2001
Only a few uncivilized places are left in the world and apparently the courthouse is one of them.
Two months ago, officials of the State Bar of Wisconsin said that they were upset by the lack of decorum by lawyers in the courtroom and the lack of respect between opposing attorneys. Which is a formal way of saying that lawyers are spitting on each other.
Then, recently, we watched a World Wrestling Federation grudge match between Paul (StoneCold) Bucher, who is the Waukesha County District Attorney, and defense attorney Gerald (Bossman) Boyle. StoneCold was sent home with a badly ruptured ego after jurors declared Bossman the winner.
Either by ballot or by appointment, Bucher has a higher political aspiration, but Boyle made it sound as if the Boston Strangler would be a better choice than Bucher.
There's nothing new about lawyers snarling in court. Years ago, I covered courts and saw several lawyers locked in bullpens after courtroom fracases. And I remember the chaos moments before a judge found a lawyer in contempt for removing a drawer from a courtroom table and slamming it on the floor. The bailiff could probably have used his gun in that case.
"He was armed with a full drawer," the bailiff could have explained.
These were days -- the middle 1960s -- when several courtrooms still had spittoons in them; I'm serious, and the judges and lawyers who used them had to be serious, too, or they'd miss.
Courts were occasionally rough, but literate, places and I remember the most eloquent, unlawyerlike put-down I've ever heard. That was when one lawyer stood tall and made an offer of proof to the court that a worm had more worth than his opponent.
I'm revisiting these legal fisticuffs, and repeating the story, because I wanted to assure the State Bar that it had nothing new to worry about when Bossman wiped up the courtroom with StoneCold, during a nationally televised bout.
Three decades ago, Herb, an attorney, sued and recovered a few bucks from Larry, an attorney. But Lawyer Larry was so upset by having to pay Lawyer Herb $5.70 that he wrote the following letter, which was read in court:
"My Dear Carrion Crow. I am enclosing a check in the sum of $5.70 in full satisfaction of your vampiric hemophobia. Such sum represents all that you are entitled to as a result of the idiotic procedures, which you have so logically and uniformly followed.
"However, with this check comes a curse that for every cent of it which you retain there shall be visited upon you one plague from heaven and all the torments of hell. I wish you a long life and may every day of it be inflicted with pain, anguish and heartache.
"I have never in my life felt venom or hostility for a human being, and I therefore excuse myself on the simple theory that you do not classify as such. This malice does not come easily and I add that I know of no one who deserves it more richly than you."
After the two lawyers had slapped each other with adjectives for a while, Lawyer Larry decided he'd had enough. He arose to explain to the court what he understood to be the physical makeup of Lawyer Herb:
"A grubby little earthworm digs in the dirt and he does it for a reason. He wiggles and he crawls and he maneuvers and he does it for a reason. He's looking for food; and while he's doing that, he's also doing something useful. He's creating air holes in the ground, which aerate it.
"But a grubby little worm who maneuvers and manipulates the way (Lawyer Herb) manipulated in this case has done nothing useful."
At this point, Lawyer Herb tried to interrupt Lawyer Larry, but Lawyer Larry wouldn't permit it.
"You'll have your chance later, worm," he said.
No matter how uncivilized lawyers are, they have their usefulness, which cannot be understated in this era when everyone sues everyone. Circuit Judge John F. Foley made my favorite assessment on the importance of lawyers.
I don't remember what she was charged with, but a large lady carrying a small Bible stood in front of Foley.
"Do you have an attorney?" Foley asked.
In a high and haughty manner, she replied, "God is my lawyer."
"Madam," Foley said, "I'd suggest you also obtain local counsel."
Bill Janz's column appears every other Sunday. E-mail him at email@example.com or write him at Box 14, Fredonia, WI 53021.
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