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Sidelights on a Fiasco
I'm as tired as you are of hearing about Tonya Harding, but, like you, I can't leave it alone. I'm as curious as anyone: did Tonya Harding participate in the planning of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan? My opinion (or anyone else's) is irrelevant. Half the people in the country are running around being indignant about "innocent until proven guilty" adages. Everyone else moralizes about whether Tonya Harding is trying to deceive us and should she represent the U.S. in olympic competition. In the meantime we are being sold a fable that makes the assault coverup seem like the scout law.

Jeff Gilooly's attorney held a big press conference wherein he blasted Tonya Harding and her legal counsel. Then one of Tonya Harding's lawyer's went on TV and gave an interview calling into question Gilooly's lawyer's ethics. What we saw was a brilliant display of two gallant gladiators intrepidly doing battle to defend their clients. What we didn't see was the legal bill that Gilooly received for the press conference and the billing that Harding got for the TV interview. The more one attorney screams and shouts the more the other one gets to scream and shout and the more the both of them get to bill their clients (latin for victim). The longer the affair gets drug out, the more these guys make. And if they can blow it up into a TV movie?

Wake up, America. Lawyers are colleagues, not enemies. Let me illustrate with an example. Say some guy flunks out of law school and has to work for a living. He might have a business sand blasting, in which case he would have on his payroll a tagger. This tagger's job would be to paint graffiti on walls of businesses, necessitating that the business owner contact the sand blaster to clean it up. See how that works?

Big deal. So Gilooly and Harding, who apparently have gobs of money, have to pay a bunch of attorneys. How does that affect us?

Everything we consume comes to us by way of a variety of people. When you buy a loaf of bread you are paying the farmer, the grain mill, the baker, the plastic bread bag maker, the trucking company and the grocer who made it available to you. Each of these entities have added value to the wheat cum bread. In addition, you're paying individuals who added no value to the product. You are paying the lawsuit of the moron who won $150,000 'cause he tried to swallow a bread bag on a bet. You're paying the grocer's insurance in case some guy decides to sue after cutting himself on a salsa bottle trying to impress the girl in the produce department with his juggling skills. You're paying the insurance for the trucking company who lost a lawsuit brought against them by a former employee who crashed one of their trucks while trying to drive under the influence of mind-altering chemicals. You get the picture. Lawyers do not produce anything, but they add cost to everything we all consume.

Every profession can be located somewhere on a continuum from high value added (producing) to low value added (non-producing). That roughly corresponds to the continuum from products to services, and, interestingly enough, the wage curve seems to increase as we move to the services end. Don't freak out now, I'm not saying that service industries are unnecessary. But there is a point on the continuum where what gets sucked out of the system is more than what's returned. I'd put farmers on one end of the spectrum. If everyone in the world were farmers, the human race could survive. At the opposite end of the spectrum are lawyers. What if the whole world were attorneys? That would make a Stephen King novel read like a bedtime lullaby. As long as we're speaking of fiction, we need to summarily file in that category the myth that the attorneys of two opposing clients are adversaries in any sense of the word.

Quiz time. Marcia Clark is:

  1. The bitchy gal on 90210
  2. The prosecutor in the OJ Simpson case
  3. Robert Shapiro's worst nightmare

The correct answer of course is number two. If you answered one, you need to get out more. If you answered three, Santa Claus will bring you something nice this Christmas. Robert Shapiro's worst nightmare would be for Marcia Clark to say, "Hey, you're right. The state drops all charges." That would cut off his gravy train.

The biggest myth in America isn't Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. The most believed fantasy in America is that opposing attorneys are adversaries.

Think about it. A lawyer gets paid by the hour, just like a ditch digger. The longer he can spend on the most lucrative cases, the more he makes. The first thing a lawyer assesses when someone walks into his office is how much money does this schmuck have that I can get? In most cases, a laywer will try to settle without going to court, 'cause the people he represents don't have unlimited financial resources (rich, for those of you who think lawyers are adversaries). If I were accused of killing my ex-wife and they found a pile of evidence in my car and house I would be sitting on death row instead of in front of this computer. So would you. Unless you have the kind of money OJ Simpson, in which case your attorneys would be slowly draining you dry. The harder Marcia Clark pushes the longer Shapiro and his cronies get to collect legal fees from the Simpson estate.

Since Marcia Clark works for the state, I assume she gets paid the same either way. A victory here would net her a reputation that would put her in a position for a judgeship or the attorney general job. But what about Shapiro's reputation? A victory for him would bolster his reputation and guarantee future income. That's a victory, not a swift victory. The lawyer's educated enough to know he's fulfilling the fourth factor of Bentham's calculus, which is Haw-vud language for the old bird in the hand proverb.

Frank Leany

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