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THE LAW IS A ASS for 01/11/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 26
Originally written as installment # 19 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 543, April 13, 1984 issue
Nothing weird or fancy this time. No short stories. No TV show satires. Just a straight-forward column answering mail. Hopefully it's not as dull as I make it sound.
"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 26
It's time to dip into the old mail bag again. (And let me say I do read all the mail addressed to me in care of the Buyer's Guide. It is forwarded to me, and I read it. In the same way, I read all the e-mail sent to my address here on World Famous Comics, email@example.com. I may not answer it all, but I do read it all. I also appreciate it; when I do answer a letter, I usually do so in a column. Which, of course, makes for a wonderful source for columns.) That in mind...
Klaus Haisch of Indianapolis, Indiana has written me what is obviously a heartfelt letter questioning the fact that lawyers so often protect the rights of wrong doers. Klaus does not confine his concern to the criminal defense bar. He also questions the defense of wrong doers such as polluters. Mr. Haisch's question is, is it proper to protect the rights of the criminal, so that he can continue to commit crimes or to protect the rights of the polluter, so he can continue to pollute, and at the same time to ignore the rights of the victims who suffer from the wrongs?
At the same time, simply because there is a victim, it is not proper to suspend the rights of the accused. Everyone has an absolute right to a fair trial, before he is condemned. That is the fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, a fair trial to everyone.
At any trial, adverse positions are set out. No lawyer can properly represent both sides, that would be a conflict-of-interests. A lawyer can only represent that side he has been hired or appointed to represent. Another attorney will represent the other side or sides in the trial. Each lawyer concerns himself only with the rights, the well-being, the good of his client. He lets the other lawyers worry about their clients' rights. And then, with each lawyer representing his side, a fair trial at which each side must be given a chance to protect its rights fully is held.
That is the way of it. To do anything else--to deny the accused his opportunity to defend himself and his rights, to say there is a victim involved so the accused forfeits his rights--turns the Constitution into an aging piece of parchment not even worth cutting up and using as toilet tissue.
Yet it is no more proper to say: the accused has rights, so the victim must forfeit his. We strike a balance and give each side an opportunity to present his case, victim and accused, alike. In our system of justice, the criminal defense bar--such as myself--defends the rights of the accused. The Prosecutor's Office defends the rights of the victims. And remember, it is the accused. Until the trial is over and a verdict had, the defendant in a trial is only accused of a crime, not convicted of it. We cannot allow a person to lose his rights solely on the basis of having been accused. Randall Dale Adams was accused, and even convicted, of murdering a police officer in Texas. He was sentenced to die and was, at one point, only three days from being executed. The only problem was, it is now clear that Adams was innocent of the crime. He has even received a full pardon from Texas. If Adams had surrendered his rights at the moment of being accused, he would have been executed; an innocent man wrongly put to death. For no other reason than this--the fact that innocent people are accused of crimes and it happens more often than any of us would like to think possible--we cannot allow the accusation, by itself, to trigger a forfeiture of rights.
If you feel that the victim doesn't have a sufficient forum to present his side, the solution is not to forego the accused's rights. It is to petition the law makers to pass legislature designed to give the victim a better opportunity to air his grievances. (Ohio has just recently moved to enact such a victim's rights bill. As a criminal defense attorney, it will not make my job easier, but I applaud its existence and the fact that it represents the proper way to deal with the problem.)
If you perceive a problem, act. Become involved. Demand legislation. If you don't like what polluters are doing, vote for a President and congresspersons who will support, not gut, the Environment Protection Agency. But do not vent your rage against an accused who chooses to defend his rights or against an attorney, who is hired to represent those rights and simply does his job.
It is, perhaps, not as eloquent a defense as is possible, but it is no less heartfelt than Mr. Haisch's letter. Our country is what it is, because everyone has rights, and would quickly become a nightmare, if an accused lost his rights, simply because no one liked what he was accused of doing. Let the accused defend his rights. And let the victim defend his. Our system works only if all sides have a voice.
Cat Yronwode wrote me a letter, not in her capacity as fellow CBG columnist but as an editor-in-chief of Eclipse Comics. She wanted to know why I never wrote about the "other lawyer-turned-hero, i.e. the one who is not Vigilante," Destroyer Lawyer of the Destroyer Duck comic. Considering my comments to date on that first lawyer-turned-hero, I must admire Cat's courage in inviting my comments. Such courage cannot be ignored any longer.
Destroyer Lawyer is modeled after Henry W. Holmes, who is an actual real life, Earth-Prime attorney. Holmes is the man who represented Steve Gerber in his suit against Marvel over the rights to Howard the Duck. Holmes is also the attorney who represented Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova in their recent lawsuit against ABC and Paramount which alleged the TV show Future Cop plagiarized their short story "Brillo." He won Ellison and Bova's matter at trial, which marked, I believe, the first time anyone had successfully sued a major network or studio for plagiarism. Gerber and Marvel settled their suit out of court and Holmes certainly had a hand in negotiating the settlement.
How do I know Destroyer Lawyer is modeled after Holmes? Because Destroyer Lawyer has a HWH monogram on his costume, that's how. (Hey, people may thing the criminal defense bar is garbage, but there are no flies on me!) But where Harry W. Holmes is a real-life lawyer, Destroyer Lawyer is a silly and exaggerated satire of the layman's conception of a lawyer. He wears a costume, a tacky costume. I mean, I thought some of the Day-Glo polyester leisure suits I've seen real attorneys wearing were bad. Next to Destroyer Lawyer's red super hero suit, they are nothing. A lawyer would sooner wear his birthday suit into court than Destroyer Lawyer's garb. Destroyer Lawyer drives an ejection-seat-equipped Lawmobile. He fights super villains while spouting cliched, legal catch phrases, which even Perry Mason has abandoned as being passe. He has sound effects composed entirely of legal terms like PLAT! and FIAT!.
So why haven't I talked about him? Simple, he hasn't done anything worth talking about. In the five stories Destroyer Lawyer has appeared in to date, he hasn't done anything of a legal nature. He hasn't appeared in court. He hasn't made any legal speeches or expressed any legal opinions. So what's to talk about? The closest Destroyer Lawyer came to the law was an off-hand comment about filing some actions against Godcorp. What am I supposed to do with that, dispute the fact that lawyers file lawsuits? That would be about as pointless as disputing winter while snowboarding in Aspen.
Actually Holmes did do one other thing. In Destroyer Duck # 1 Destroyer Lawyer helped Destroyer Duck break into Godcorp by lending him the keys to his car. Once the maladjusted mallard made it into Godcorp, he stole some incriminating evidence from Godcrop; an act Destroyer Lawyer knew was in the offing, when he lent the delinquent duck transportation to and from the scene of the crime. That makes Destroyer Lawyer not just a lawyer, but an aider-and-abettor to the felonies of breaking-and-entering and theft. Later, Destroyer Lawyer took the files he knew to be stolen and used them to substantiate his claims in a lawsuit against Godcorp. Taking possession of property you know was stolen is receiving stolen property, also a crime. Interesting concept that, a lawyer-turned-hero, who actively breaks the law. Makes me wonder how he keeps his license.
And don't tell me in a frame on his wall.
While I've got Destroyer Duck on the rotisserie, as it were, was anyone else bothered by the fact that the criminal canard committed murder in issue # 1? Ned Packer, the top dog of Godcorp and all around bad guy, had captured Destroyer Duck and was going to squish him in a giant duck press. Then DD turned the tables on Packer and whomped on Packer until he was lying unconscious on the hydraulic duck presser. At this point, Destroyer Duck activated the machine and turned Packer into packing. Yes, Destroyer did have the right to defend himself earlier, when he was under the duck press. But self-defense is applicably only against someone who poses an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Once Packer was unconscious and incapacitated, he posed about as big a threat to DD's life and well-being as the incredible Mr. Limpet. As Packer no longer posed an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to Destroyer Duck, self-defense no longer applied so as to justify the cwooked quacker's actions. In other words, Destroyer Duck didn't have the right to activate the machine, no matter how impressive a graphic he thought it would make.
So, the duck's a thief and a murderer. I'm certainly glad he's better than the evil corporation he was fighting.
Actually, I've avoided Destroyer Duck until now on purpose. There wasn't really anything of a legal nature to write about. There wasn't much of an artistic nature, either. Destroyer Duck was, in my opinion, overwritten hokum that is frequently wide of its mark. For example, where exactly did jabs at John Hinkley, Strawberry Shortcake, John Byrne, and video games fit into the scheme of things? In addition, I frequently found Destroyer Duck to be utterly tasteless. Bullet-hole ridden heads, spines ripping themselves out of people's backs, an ersatz Ayatollah who engages in ritualistic cannibalism, severed human limbs being ground into meat patties, a man being blown apart in a nuclear explosion, these are just some of the delights I encountered in issues 1 through 5 of Destroyer Duck.
Sorry, Cat, you asked for it and I call them, like I see them. As a fellow columnist ,you, more than anyone, should respect my right to do that.
No more mail. Just one quick comment to round this column off. The new issue of Swamp Thing, # 25 to be exact, came out. It continues in the excellent trend the book has taken, since Alan Moore has become its scripter. I cannot recommend the book enough.
However in issue # 25 we meet Bobby Corelli, whom Jason Blood--supernatural investigator and human host for The Demon, predicts will be arrested, convicted and imprisoned for manslaughter. This all starts to come to pass, when a stuffed swordfish Corelli tied to the roof of his car, broke free during a near accident and impaled a particularly unscrupulous and unfeeling salesman. That the unfortunate Corelli will ultimately be tried for manslaughter is probable. He did kill another by inadvertence and, if he didn't tie the damn fish adequately, through negligence. I have serious doubts that any judge would find a productive end served by putting the man in jail, though. Bobby wasn't a criminal who needed to be rehabilitated or kept off the streets. It isn't likely that Corelli would kill again. It's far more likely that the man will be put on probation.
Still some judges do put people in jail for similar deaths. But I think the main reason Corelli will be imprisoned was that he was a plot device used to introduce occult investigator and human host to The Demon, Jason Blood. When Blood meets Corelli, he predicts, "Next summer you'll be in jail for manslaughter." Certainly, that's a far more dramatic thing to say during the introduction than saying, "Next summer you'll be on probation for manslaughter." So I guess I won't make any comment. Or will I?
Where are those prognosticating investigators when you really need one?
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