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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 10/01/2002

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 164

Originally written as installment # 146 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 776, September 30, 1988 issue

The American was a good comic. Mark Verheiden, the creator/writer of The American is a good writer--witness his wonderful scripts for Smallville--and a friend of many years. But you know what, even good writers on good comic books can put silly things in their stories that I get to write about in my column. Witness the following...


Installment # 164

So what did I think of The American # 5, you ask. (Alright, none of you asked; but as I have to write about something, I'm going to tell you anyway.)

In The American # 5 Lee McLoughlin, PR head of the American Squad and secret mastermind of more illegal, covert activities than the Iran-Contras guys have scams (I have no idea what that means, either, but you try coming up with a closing line to that set-up that won't get you sued for libel!) is testifying before a congressional inquiry. The man has abused the power of the government. We know that, we've seen him doing it for the last four issues. Moreover, the story clearly establishes that McLoughlin has a personalized 8-by-10 glossy fan photograph from Richard Nixon; what more do those of us who have been unduly influenced by the liberal controlled media need?

Now McLoughlin is testifying before a congressional committee set up to investigate his various nefarious machinations. Justice demands that they nail the guy. Equity demands that they nail the guy. A happy ending demands that they nail the guy.

The trouble is that, although the investigators have found, "a lot of dirt," they haven't found, "a smoking gun." Then they looked in the gorilla cage.

Yes, I said "gorilla cage." McLoughlin was sponsoring experiments in gorilla guerrilla warfare. He wanted to train animals to be advance troops in wars. Toward that end, the basement of his headquarters was also the head quarters for lions and tigers and bears--the first one to say, "Oh my!" gets such a shot!--and several other animals. In addition, one Karen Rodriguez was teaching the animals to communicate through sign language. Karen's best pupil was a lowland gorilla named Kiki who had an eight-hundred word vocabulary, apparently one for each pound.. It isn't surprising that Kiki was Karen's best student. Considering the maneuverability of the average lion or tiger or bear claw, those beasts probably couldn't manage to sign much more than, "Grrrr!"

Well, it seems that McLoughlin hid his personal files--the ones with all the names, dates, appropriations and other "smoking gun" stuff that any rational, covert, illegal scammer would have deep sixed once he was under investigation--under a trap door in Kiki's cage. McLoughlin figured that no one would expect to find important papers in the bottom of a cage. Yesterday's newspapers, yes, important papers, no. (Actually, he was right. As the story established that Kiki was capable of opening the trap door and getting to the papers, no one should have expected to find those papers in the bottom of a gorilla cage. Including McLoughlin. Kiki would have done a better job of shredding those documents than Arthur Andersen.)

The good guys had their smoking gun. The problem is, in order to counter a claim that they forged the papers to frame McLoughlin, the good guys figure they need the testimony of the one who saw McLoughlin put the papers in the cage, ie. Kiki the gorilla. The sworn testimony of a handwriting expert who could establish that the files were in McLoughlin's handwriting and were not forgeries would have sufficed in any court I know, but these people decide they need the testimony of a gorilla.

So they dress up Kiki in a trench coat and a slouch hat and take her to the Capitol Building so she can testify before Congress. Fortunately, the American learned that some other games were afoot, so went to the Congressional chambers where the hearing was going on. He rushed McLoughlin at which point, McLoughlin pulled out a gun. And seeing the gun so enraged Kiki that she attacked McLoughlin and he confessed to hiding the papers, in order to escape the gorilla's bear hug, if gorillas can be said to have bear hugs.

I said, "fortunately," because... Well a show of hands, how many of you think a gorilla could testify before Congress? Now another show of hands, how many of you actually thought Secret Wars II was good? I thought so, the same hands.

The gorilla could not testify. Yes, I know that a few columns ago, I said under the rule announced in United States v. Frye, a new scientific principle is admissible in a court of law, if it has attained a reasonable degree of acceptability in the scientific community to which it belongs. Yes, I also know that communicating with gorillas through sign language has attained a reasonable degree of acceptability in the field of zoology. It isn't because signing with gorillas is too unreliable a practice to be admissible in court that I believe Kiki couldn't testify.

Yes, I know that interpreters are frequently used in courts to translate the questions to and answers from witnesses who do not speak English. I know that Karen could have been sworn in as an interpreter for Kiki, so that the congressional committee could have understood Kiki's sign language. That's not why I don't believe Kiki could have testified either.

Why, then couldn't Kiki have testified, other than the obvious reason that she was a gorilla? No other reason. The obvious reason is the reason.

Let me quote from Federal Rule of Evidence 601, the general rule of witness competency, "Every person is competent to be a witness..." Did you note that all important word, "person?" It didn't say, "person or signing lowland gorilla," it didn't say, "person or talking mynah bird;" it said, "person."

Why? Sapien chauvinism? Well, yes, that's it exactly. The test for competency of witnesses is that they understand the difference between the truth and falsehoods and that they understand their obligation to tell only the truth--or if they don't understand this obligation, that they have sufficient fear of the penalties for perjury that they will testify truthfully anyway.

It is generally, if not chauvinistically, believed that only homo sapiens, or other people, have sufficient mental acuity to understand the difference between the truth and a lie, to appreciate the obligation to testify truthfully, and to fear the perjury penalties, and thereby insure that their testimony is the truth. The fact that witnesses frequently commit perjury isn't enough to disabuse the belief that only humans and not animals can tell the truth or be competent witnesses. The fact that I'd sooner believe Shamu than many of the witnesses I've seen testify means nothing.

In this country only people, and most government officials, can testify. Gorillas cannot. This includes Kiki. Sorry.

But don't feel too sorry for Kiki. The fact that gorillas can't testify is going to save her and the creative staff of The American big bucks. At the end of the story in The American # 5, Kiki and the narrator of the story, Hough, are shown closing down a Washington bar like your average, run of the gin mill barfly lush. I have it on good authority that but for the fact that gorillas cannot testify, Koko the gorilla, the most famous real-life gorilla who has been taught sign language and, judging by the similarity in names Kiki's real life roman a clef counterpart, would have sued for defamation of character.


BOB INGERSOLL, Cleveland based attorney, comic fan, and CBG's legal analyst wants to ask this question: so you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, who wants to catch flies, anyway?

The first one to say, "A baseball team," gets such a shot

Bob Ingersoll

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