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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
Join us each Tuesday as Bob Ingersoll analyzes how the law
is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

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THE LAW IS A ASS for 12/21/1999
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 23
Originally written as installment # 268 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 1269 March 13, 1998 issue

My loss is someone's gain.

It's the holidays--happy holidays, whichever you happen to celebrate. I have shopping to do, gifts to wrap, wassails to go awassailing and cookies to overindulge in.

I don't have time to prep a column.

However, and fortunately for me, someone--and I apologize I've lost the name--recently asked me to reprint the column I wrote in 1998 about Flash # 135. A column that was recent, won't take much revision and which came in as a request, so I have an excuse to jump it up and re-run it now; thereby saving me lots of that which I have none at present, time.

Who says there isn't a Santa Claus?


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 23
Bob Ingersoll

Sometimes, they come looking for you and you just can't pass 'em up.

When I was told the theme for this issue would be "Lawyers in Comics," I figured I had to be here, but with what? So there I was, wondering what I should do about this issue, when Providence struck and I read The Flash # 135. This comic, which introduced the newest lawyer in comics, Bernard Weinstein--the so-called, "slickest criminal lawyer in the country," like the fact that he still uses Vitalis is important--just begged to be discussed.

I may not know who the best comic-book lawyers are--although, given that I've appeared as myself in a couple of stories, I've got to figure I rank almost as high as Wolfe and Byrd--but I can say who I'd never want representing me in a court of law and it's old Bernie Weinstein. First there's Bernie's fee, which is ten thousand dollars an hour and not even in Canadian money. I'll tell you, at ten thou per, he'd better validate parking. Second, there's Bernie's face. The man's the spitting image of Robert Shapiro. Was he so unsure of his abilities that he had plastic surgery to make himself look like a successful lawyer? If his success is that bad, why didn't he just book the Holiday Inn for a "Starving Lawyer's Sale?" My third reason for not wanting Bernie anywhere near me is his claim that he's never lost a case. Not even a speeding ticket, Bern? A more insecure bit of resume padding, I've never seen. Finally, and the biggest reason that I wouldn't want Bernie representing me, is this: He sucks!

In The Flash # 135, Bernie demonstrates all the trial skills of a fish monger; and I apologize to fish mongers everywhere. Of course, before we can discuss what Bernie did we have to wade the obligatory Spoiler Warning. The Flash # 135 was the last part of one of those multi-book cross-overs with the far-too-cute name of "Three of a Kind," although it should have been called, "See Wally Run. Run Wally Run," because it was a primer on how to do courtroom scenes wrong. It started in Green Lantern # 96, continued in Green Arrow # 130 and concluded in The Flash # 135. It's said conclusion we're going to discuss here, hence the Spoiler Warning. I'm about to discuss the end of "Three of a Kind." If you haven't read it yet, consider yourself lucky, keep reading and don't care that I'm going to give away the ending. (Note I didn't suggest you read "Three of a Kind" before reading this column; you don't want to do that. Unlike the President, I want to spare your pain, not feel it.)

"Three of a Kind" starts with Sonar, Heat Wave and Hatchet breaking into a secured facility in Iraq, where they steal a box containing the comatose Dr. Polaris. The three baddies take said box on a cruise up to Alaska, so that they can get Polaris to the Magnetic North Pole and let its magnetic field revive him. As luck would have it--because what's a comic-book story without at least one preposterous coincidence?--the vacationing Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Flash, in their civilian identities, also booked passage on this cruise. When the baddies recognize the good guys, they panic and hijack the ship. The good guys don't take this lying down; not just because they're the good guys, but have you ever tried lying on one of those cruise-ship bunks? A fight ensues, during which Hatchet blows a hole through the ship and it sinks. (Gee, I wonder where DC came up with the idea for this titanic story?) So, the heroes have to capture the four super-villains and rescue the passengers. Unfortunately, not even the Flash is fast enough to do all of this; the villains were captured but forty-two of the passengers die. Now the villains are on trial; presumably for forty-two counts of murder, several thousand counts of kidnaping, and one count each of hijacking, smuggling and, just for good measure, a really big count of vandalism.

On the first day of trial, the Flash testified and Bernie didn't cross-examine. Okay, no real problem there. On the second day of trial, Heat Wave testified, admitted his guilt and Bernie didn't object. Okay big problem here. It's that Fifth Amendment thing. We've talked about it before. That's the one that says a defendant can't be compelled to testify against himself, so the prosecution can't call the defendant as a witness. No defense attorney would let the prosecution call his client to the stand. After all, what if the jury didn't believe the prosecution had proved its case? It could have found the defendant not guilty if the defendant hadn't testified and admitted his guilt. But the admission rather makes the whole "reasonable doubt" thing kind of moot.

I don't want to give the impression that Bernie didn't object at all while Heat Wave was testifying; he did object when the prosecution argued the defendants should be found guilty of murder, arguing "it's obvious their crime is a smuggling operation which went horribly wrong with the most tragic results." A show of hands, how many of you have heard about the felony-murder rule, that says if you cause a death while committing a felony like kidnaping, you can be found guilty of first-degree murder? Good, then watching Matlock has given you more legal training than Bernie's had. So, just in case Bernie is reading this column, let me explain it to him: your clients are guilty of felony-murder, for causing forty-two deaths while kidnaping them.

Day three found Bernie complaining that Green Lantern was hiding behind the Twelfth Amendment, which allows super-heroes to testify without revealing their secret identities. Twelfth Amendment? Last time I looked at the Constitution, the Twelfth Amendment changed how the Electoral College voted for President and Vice President, it had nothing to do with super-heroes or their secret identities. I admit in the DC Universe, a secret-identity-concealing amendment might have been adopted, but if it was, it wasn't the Twelfth. The Twelfth Amendment was passed in 1803 and adopted in 1804, so, unless its framers saw one hundred-thirty-plus years into the future and predicted both super-heroes and their need to conceal their secret identities, it wasn't the Twelfth that did this. Tell me it was the Twenty-Second Amendment and that in the DC Universe Amendments Twenty-Two through Twenty-Seven all got pushed up one number and I'll believe it. But the only way the secret-identity Amendment could have been the Twelfth is if the first ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights, doesn't exist in the DC Universe. (Of course that would explain that letting Heat Wave testify thing, so maybe we're on to something here.)

We move to Day Five, the prosecution gives its closing argument and Bernie stands up not to give his closing argument but to drop that bombshell we've all been waiting for, he has "signed testimony" from Sonar swearing that the US government hired him to extricate Polaris from hostile enemy forces as part of a covert military operation, so only a military court has jurisdiction to try his clients. Things look bad. Not because, if the same military geniuses who hired Sonar et al. should happen to try them, the bad guys will be found not guilty. No it's Weinstein's technique that looks bad.

The appropriate time to challenge jurisdiction is before the trial starts, so your clients don't go through the anxiety of a whole trial before the dismissal. Sure, if Bernie had made a timely motion, he wouldn't have been able to charge ten thousand dollars per hour for five days of trial, but the Bar Association frowns on unnecessary bill padding. (Necessary bill padding is another matter entirely.)

The appropriate place to reveal this information, which was so top secret the judge thought he, "shouldn't even be reading," the papers asserting the claim would be in private in chambers, not in open court where the whole world would learn what the top secret that was too sensitive for their eyes was. The appropriate way to reveal the information would be to have someone from the military back up Sonar's claim rather than hope the judge would grant the motion just on Sonar's say so. After all, it's not like a man charged with forty-two counts of murder, several thousand counts of kidnaping, and one count each of hijacking, smuggling and, just for good measure, a really big count of vandalism wouldn't have any reason to lie, now would he?

Fortunately, Green Arrow had been reading a "comprehensive guide to legal research," all during the trial and knew there was a precedent on point, he just didn't know where it was. So Flash ran to the Berkeley law library and read every book there at super speed and he found the precedent just in time. (The prosecutor used Lexis and let the computerized legal-research database find it just as fast, but let's not mention that, we've got to give Flash something to do, it's his book.)

The precedent found is "the fact that the Alaskan State Attorney has the power to overrule a military court," and as the cruise ship was in Alaskan territorial waters, Alaska could overrule any attempt to transfer the case to military court. Let me get this straight, a state has the authority to overrule the federal government on matters of military justice? What, they gave Alaska this privilege, because it was the second-to-last state admitted to the union and had a "broken nose;" it was a bone thrown because the tundra state had an inferiority complex?

That the precedent existed is dubious, that Bernard Weinstein didn't know about it is preposterous. If Bernie is really charging ten Gs an hour, he could afford one of those computerized legal research systems, too. Two of them, in fact, and enough trained paralegals to operate them. That he didn't use either to research his loophole and make sure it was valid in Alaska, just in case, was . . .

Well, fortunately the legal profession has a fancy, legal term of art we can use to describe Bernie: He sucks! #

Bob Ingersoll (P.O. Box 24314, Lyndhurst, OH 44124-0314 or, attorney and legal analyst for Comics Buyer's Guide who knows how to use a computerized legal research system and wouldn't charge you anywhere near ten thousand dollars per hour, has only one final comment to make on this comic, better this "Three of a Kind" had been flushed.

<< 12/14/1999 | 12/21/1999 | 12/28/1999 >>

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