Vail Daily column: Calm carries the day
Sofia Vergara is the character type of the hot-blooded Latin of abundant pulchritude. I don’t watch TV and don’t know the role she plays. But I suspect it’s not a lawyer.
How do I know this? Well, as I said, I don’t. But what I do know is that in law, calm usually carries that day. Or if not exactly carrying the day, it is at least a good and faithful friend. Histrionics are most times better left on your TV screen than brought into a courtroom.
To be sure, there are attorneys who have soaked up a bit too much Atticus Finch, Perry Mason, Alicia Florick or maybe Lionel Hutz and, yes, yes, yes, there is a place for dramatic presentation in the courtroom. But one simply has to know when, how much and, perhaps most importantly, when enough is enough.
BACK IN THE DAY
A story from my law school days …
3L brought moot court. “Moot” means, essentially, “of no consequence.” It is the same idea as a mulligan in golf. It is a practice round, a batter’s swing before the pitcher sets his stance, a straw poll.
You are partnered with another 3L, given a “case” to prepare and you “try” the case before a judge and jury. The “judge” is, in fact, a real judge, the “trial” is in a pretty mock courtroom with a stained glass ceiling on the second floor of the law school, and the jury consists of conscripted 2Ls who sit there glumly thinking of all the other more important things they have to do.
I was partnered with Morfitt who, let’s just say, had a different way of looking at the world.
The “case” we were given involved a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident. Pretty straight-forward stuff. There are probably a million cases like this tried every year in these United States. I drew the opening argument. Morfitt got closing. We divided up the witnesses equally.
Opposite us, for the defense, were Smithers and a guy named Falkenberg who drank like a fish, was built like a fireplug, could leap tall buildings in a single bound and could memorize the “Iliad” if he put his rum-soaked mind to it.
To give his closing a little panache, Morfitt decided that he would deliver it to the poetic cadence and perfect rhyme of “The Night Before Christmas.” You’ll have to ask Morfitt why. I keep in touch; call and I’ll give you his phone number. Let me know what he has to say.
Did I try to discourage him? Yes, of course I did. Did I threaten and cajole? I confess, a bit. Did I enlist others to my cause? They came out of the woodwork to advise Morfitt of the folly of his intended course, about how he was about to go badly astray.
But did it matter?
No. Not one little bit. Morfitt was certain that standing out would win the day.
The opening went fine. We handled the witnesses credibly. We duked and sparred and held our own with Falkenberg and Smithers.
Then came the closing.
Morfitt stood up tall and straight. He was wearing cowboy boots under his suit. No spurs; I checked. He smiled an ear-to-ear “you’re in luck, Cowboy” smile. And then he began with “T’was …”
Have you ever seen the Hindenburg go down? “The humanity!”
When it was over, the judge hung his grizzled head in his weathered hands. He looked like he had just gotten a lap dance at a bikers’ bar. He removed his glasses, laid them with great care on his desk, rubbed the bridge of his nose, breathed deeply and placed the glasses carefully back on, tucking each ear piece behind each ample ear.
When you go to judges’ school, they teach a look that is at once excoriating, stern and filled with bitter disappointment. It is a look reserved most times for pedophiles, wife-beaters and other assorted vermin, wastrels and recalcitrants. The judge, however, was generous with Morfitt and shared that rare look with him. In spades. “What,” he said, “in God’s good name were you thinking?”
When you hear a snap in the forest, you freeze. You cock your head to determine from where the sound is coming. Only when you see the grizzly bearing down on you does your insensate being say to run! Morfitt was like that. Expecting a compliment — a “wondrous” or something — he couldn’t make sense of it at first. He smiled, trying to form the appropriate modest thing to say.
But when he realized that the “snap” he’d heard had been a grizzly bearing down on him, his smile faded. The corners of his mouth went from a cocky upward slant to a sideways slit and then sullen downhill slide. It formed the rough shape of a cantle.
Watching Morfitt rock from the pointy toes of his cowboy boots onto his heels, I couldn’t help but think of Billy Clanton staring down Virgil Earp’s Single Action Colt Army at the O.K. Corral.
When at last Morfitt found his tongue, all he could come up with was, “Pardon?”
Remember the scene from “The Wizard of Oz” when the Wicked Witch of the West is finally doused with water? “I’m melting. I’m melting … ” Remember that? Well, when the gravity of the judge’s words sunk in, that was Morfitt. The Hindenburg went down. Bambi in the forest was eviscerated by Godzilla. Clayton took a bullet to the heart. The Wicked Witch evaporated into a steaming greenish puddle.
Tuck the theatrics in your back pocket was the message. And leave it there.
Most times, calm and steady wins the day.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Portions of the foregoing are excerpted from Robbins’ latest novel, “How to Raise a Shark.”
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