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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 08/28/2001

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 99
Originally written as installment # 101 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 691, February 13, 1987 issue

Okay, this one is going to take some 'splainin'.

Like if I say up above this installment was written as column 101 up above, why do I say it's the ninety-ninth installment in the body of the text? I renumbered it, that's why.

The ninety-ninth column installment that I wrote was a tribute to Gardner Fox, who had just died. Don and Maggie didn't run the tribute as a "The Law is a Ass," because it had nothing to do with the law and ran it as a separate tribute to Mr. Fox. So my ninety-ninth installment didn't run as an installment

I wrote both my one hundredth and one hundred and first columns at about the same time as I wrote the aforementioned ninety-ninth installment, and well before I knew that what I had written as the ninety-ninth installment wasn't going to run as an installment. Because I didn't know what had happened, I labeled these two columns, one hundred and one hundred one, continuing the numbering system I had been using. (Math may not have been my strongest suit in school, but I knew that much.) When I wrote my one hundred and second column, I knew what had happened. I knew this column was the one hundred and second one I wrote, but would actually be the one hundred and first to appear, because one was skipped. So, to get the numbering back into place, I also numbered this column one hundred one. So, it seemed I had two installments one hundred one and no installment ninety-nine.

What to do about this numbering problem? Don and Maggie and I came up with the same elegant solution independently. In my records, I took the first Installment One Hundred and One, changed a couple of words in the opening paragraph, and renamed it Installment Ninety-Nine And, as I said, independently of me, Don and Maggie did the same thing. They took that first Installment One Hundred and One, changed the same few words--you'll see which words right away--jumped it up in the order and ran it as Installment Ninety-Nine. And hence, my column had its's first post-Crisis continuity.

I figured I should call the column Ninety Nine, because I didn't want to Eighty-Six it and it was the Smart thing to do.


"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 99
Bob Ingersoll

Say you're a struggling young CBG legal columnist, what do you do for your ninety-ninth column? Same thing you did for you ninety-eighth, whatever you feel like doing.

And today, I feel like doing Snippets. Selected short subjects, any one of which is fun but isn't long enough for a column of its own. Things like...

Daredevil # 242.

Remember that one? It wasn't so very long ago. Joe, the "Caviar Killer" is killing rich people, because they're not letting enough money trickle down to the poor people. Oops, sorry, I used discredited economics there. Let me correct myself. They're not letting enough money supply side down to the poor. Joe does this while his former boss is eating dinner, which a maid has just brought out to the table, by choking the man to death with caviar.

Right after Joe kills the man from whose plant he was just laid off, he calls the police to try to turn himself in. He gets put on hold. (There's a scene I'd like to see. "12th Precinct." "I'd like to report a murder." "Thank you sir, can you hold please?") so he calls the Daily Bugle to turn himself in through the paper. Unfortunately, he doesn't get any of the regular reporters we've come to know and love, who work for the Bugle. He gets a sleaze ball who realizes that Joe is a story, a front-page story. So this reporter, Simon LaGrange by name, talks Joe out of turning himself in and promises to give Joe a forum to air his grievances. And, through their strange symbiosis, Simon gives Joe pep talks--what Daredevil later in the story will describe as, "silver words and promises of fame and flashy TV shows"--about making his statement, which, in turn, causes Joe to commit more murders against the fat cats who aren't giving ordinary people their due, which, in turn, gets Simon more and more front-page stories.

Just so there is no confusion as to what's happening here, let me repeat. Simon knows the name of the Caviar Killer, but withholds it, so he can continue his pipeline to the front page. Simon even talked Joe out of turning himself into the police after the first murder and goads Joe into committing more murders. So, without the forum which Simon supplied--not to mention Simon's words of encouragement--Joe would not have committed any more murders.

(Oh, and about that name.... Simon LaGrange? Puh-leeeeze. Just because Simon is the real bad guy of the piece, doesn't mean you have to give him a name that screams whiplashing miscreant. Why don't you go for a little subtlety and just call him Joseph Nojournalisticethics?)

The problem I had with the story was this: when Daredevil finally captured Joe and Simon, he says to Simon, and again I quote, "You've probably broken no laws, and that's a crime because you should go to jail for this." Then DD lets Simon go.

Broken no laws, Matt? You should know better than that. I could see Spider-Man making that mistake. Or Mr. Fantastic. But not you. I mean, sure you've been disbarred because of the Kingpin's machinations and are presently hibaching hash in a local a greasy spoon, but does that mean you forgot everything you ever knew? You used to be a successful lawyer, and a criminal defense attorney, at that. Didn't you acquaint yourself with the New York Penal Code in preparation for having that job? Didn't you get a passing familiarity with New York's Penal Code while you were defending all those people charged with violating it? Don't, in short, you know the law?

Well, maybe all the grease you're inhaling as a short-order cook is affecting your long term memory. Let me elucidate for you; Simon did break a law or two. First there's the law that in Ohio we call Obstructing Justice. It works like this, "No person, with purpose to hinder the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of another for a crime, or to assist another to benefit from the commission of a crime, shall do any of the following;... provide such other person with money, transportation, a weapon, a disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery or apprehension; [or]... communicate false information to any person." The New York, PL 205.50, Hindering Prosecution, is worded a little differently, but the intent is the same, thou shalt not provide "other means" of helping a criminal avoid discovery and prosecution.

By first talking Joe out of turning himself in to the police and then not telling anyone Joe's name, Simon did provide him with other means of avoiding discovery. That's a violation of the law in my book. And, no, I don't think I'm stretching the interpretation any. If you don't believe me, try this simple test: next time you meet a murderer, don't tell the police his name, so you can exploit him in the news. Then see if the police don't agree with my interpretation.

But, what about a reporter's First Amendment right not to reveal a source? Wouldn't that protect Simon? Nope.

It is true that New York Civil Rights Law 79-h (b) bars a reporter from being jailed for refusing to reveal a confidential news source. But I happen to have a passing familiarity with the law--I researched it for that unpublished fill-in Vigilante story I wrote--and it doesn't apply to the facts of this case. The case of Hennigan v. Buffalo Courier, 446 N.Y.S. 2d 767 holds that, before the privilege can be invoked, there must be an agreement, either real or implied, between the reporter and the source, that their conversations would be confidential. Joe called Simon, because he was put on hold when he called the police to turn himself in. He figured calling the Daily Bugle was the, "same as callin' the cops." He called the Bugle to have the paper turn him into the police. Simon knew this. Remember, he talked Joe out of calling the police. If you can see an agreement that the Bugle keep Joe's name confidential and not tell it to the police in that contact, you need your eyes examined.

See, Matt, Simon did break the law. You should have known that. Still, you're out of practice and all, maybe a subtle law like hindering prosecution was a little too obscure for you. So how about a nice major law like murder? If Simon committed murder, would that constitute breaking the law to you?

You can see where this is going, can't you? Yes, Simon committed murder. Remember how I said Simon goaded Joe into committing more murders so that Simon could write about them and continue to have his front-page articles. There's another little law that covers this situation. In Ohio we call it aiding and abetting. In New York they call it the more-wieldy Criminal Liability for Conduct of Another--PL 20.00--but it means the same thing. It means, if you aid, counsel, solicit, request, command, or importune another person in committing a crime, you're just as guilty of committing that crime as was the principle offender. In other words, if you goad a person into murdering, so that you can write about the murders in your newspaper and get lots of lofty front-page bylines, you're just as guilty of the murders as is the man who did the actual killing. Or, not in other words but plain and simple words: Simon, an aider and abettor, was just as guilty of the last few Caviar Killings as was Joe. Simon is a murderer.

Matt, just because you were disbarred, doesn't mean you have to let your lawyer skills go. Or Simon, for that matter. I guess it's just fortunate that the police have studied the law, because right after DD does nothing with him, the police arrest Simon.

Of course, none of this answers my biggest question about the story; why the police needed Simon's information to learn who the Caviar Killer was. Remember, how I said that the first victim was killed while eating a dinner that a maid had just served. The maid was in the dining room at the same time that the victim and Joe were there. She even heard the victim call Joe by his first name and knew he was a man who had just been laid off from one of her employer's plants. Not exactly a challenging investigation this. Columbo wouldn't even need his customary "one more thing" to crack this one before the first commercial break. But in this story, the murder goes unsolved.

Didn't the police even bother interviewing the maid about whether she saw anyone with her boss while he was eating dinner? Jeez, no wonder so many comic book criminals get off on technicalities. Comic books cops don't have any recourse but to resort to illegal searches, they don't even know how to conduct a simple investigation.


Next up I get to uncreate a super-hero.

Captain Marvel--the Shazam! version--doesn't exist anymore. His origin could never have happened, at least not now that he's been re-created in the post-Crisis DC Universe and his starting point moved in time from the 40s to the 80s. Maybe back in the 40s, a young boy would follow a masked stranger into a dark, abandoned subway tunnel, but can you see that happening now? A supposedly street-wise kid going down into a dark deserted subway tunnel with an old stranger, who's dressed in a shabby coat that hides his face. In today's world post-John Wayne Gacey world? Oh yeah, that's gonna happen.

So, after Billy Batson ran away screaming, and the police arrested the old wizard on suspicion of child molestation, where was there time for Billy to turn into the Big Red Cheese?

Like I said, I've just uncreated a super-hero.


Captain America needs the help of a good tax lawyer.

A year or so ago he received almost one million dollars from the U.S. Army, which represented his back pay plus interest accumulated since 1944. I didn't believe the Army would really do that at the time, but it did. So we pick up the story with what happened next.

What happened was that Steve Rogers reported the entire one million in his 1985 return. Why?

No, I'm not saying he shouldn't have reported the money, I don't advocate tax fraud. Still there are deductions he could have taken to lessen the tax bite.

At the very least, he could have used income averaging to spread the million out over the last five years. Come on Cap, get with the program! You're supposed to represent America. Loopholes are as American as Toyotas.

Bob Ingersoll

<< 08/21/2001 | 08/28/2001 | 09/04/2001 >>

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