A Lawyer's Perry Mason Moment
By David Henderson
In a post a few days ago, I wrote:
When I was involved in a legal case as an expert once, one of the lawyers and I exchanged our stories about the closest we had ever seen to a Perry Mason moment in a real trial. I told her mine, which I had seen in the Bush v. Gore trial under Florida judge Sanders Sauls. (Except for bathroom breaks, I watched the thing from start to finish.) She told me hers, which occurred when she was a young assisting lawyer in a civil case where her boss, who couldn’t legally mention that the guy suing them had a prison record, figured out a way of getting the jurors to understand that the guy had, indeed, been in prison.
A commenter named The Original CC asked me if I would tell these stories. Along with commenter J Mann, I told the Bush v. Gore story in the comments on my original post.
Here’s the other one from the young lawyer I mentioned.
In the case she was involved in, she and her senior lawyer were defending their client from a civil suit. The plaintiff was someone who got hopped up on an illegal drug (cocaine, if I recall correctly) and crashed his car into a building, doing a lot of damage. He also injured himself, which hurt his future earning capacity. The plaintiff (or, probably, his lawyer) looked around for a deep pocket that was somehow connected and sued the owner of the deep pocket. That was this young lawyer’s client.
When they researched the case, they found that the plaintiff had been in prison for a crime some time earlier. But they were not allowed to raise that fact in the suit. They figured if they could figure out a way to do so, they could impeach the plaintiff’s credibility.
The defendant’s lawyer pitched them a softball. He had hired an economist to estimate the plaintiff’s future earnings losses. To do so, the economist had used the plaintiff’s earlier income, including the plaintiff’s hourly wage rate. By raising the issue of past wages, the plaintiff’s lawyer had put the plaintiff’s past wages in general in play.
So when the defendant’s attorney got the economist (or it might have been the plaintiff) on the stand, he said, “I notice that there are no have wage data from” and then named the years that the plaintiff had been in prison. “What was the plaintiff’s hourly wage at that time?” The answer: “Twelve cents.” The defendant’s attorney said “Thank you,” then paused and looked at the jury, smiling slightly. Some of the jurors smiled, looked at each other, and then smiled back at the defendant’s attorney. They got it.