It takes a spot of courage to stand up tall and a bit of derring-do to rise when you fall

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Darker Side of Things

Too many years ago to count I started a course to become a court reporter. Had I stayed the course, I would've been working all these years, making good money and having that house on Martha's Vineyard. Well, maybe not that house and maybe not there, but I would've been trained and had the option to work if I so chose. But because of having an infant and then moving in the middle of my course, etc., etc., I got derailed and didn't get back on track until recently. Now that my children are in school and no longer so dependant, the time seemed good to try to finish one thing I ever started.

Part of how I'm trying to get back into the swing of things is by watching Court TV online. It's great practice for me, it's real, it's live, it gives me an idea of what the courtroom scene is like and what will be required of me if I decide to go that route (as opposed to doing deposition work). This has been an excellent means of practicing my machine and improving my speed.

So there's a little background.
Here's the deal:

There is a lot of evil in this world. There are fractured people. There are stupid people. There are people in distress. There are evil people. And it seems that there is no limit to what greed or desperation or fear or arrogance will lead a person to do. What strikes me---beyond the realization that human suffering has no measurable depth---is what a game it becomes in the courtroom. This is not news, I know, but I have been struck anew by the very scary fact that it isn't about justice so much as it's about having a really good attorney. Sometimes the facts are so clear and unavoidable that they're hardly in dispute. But for the cases where the facts are obscure to the point of being almost invisible, where nothing is tangible---not weapon, not motive, not truth---it comes down to which attorney says it better. It becomes a game of words and painting a picture and just who is the better artist.

I've found that it's very stressful for me when a particularly unclever witness is on the stand and is getting leveled by Mr. Forceful Quick Intelligent Attorney. This is not a bash against attorneys. Not at all. I'm just thinking that if it's that stressful for me, what must it be doing to that flustered witness? And the witness may be saying the perfectly right thing and not confusing his or her facts at all but they come to believe that they are at the hands of a skillful attorney. I just watched a trained police officer become perplexed and confused by a particularly aggressive attorney. I heard the man's testimony, and he in no way contradicted himself but because the lawyer said things just so, the lawyer convinced the officer that he'd said two different things. I watched the man sit and try to organize his thoughts and I wanted to leap up and say "No, no. Here's what you said. Stick to it and you're fine. Don't let him confuse you." I'm sitting in the privacy of my room, so no one knows or cares if I jump up and down. I suspect it won't be looked upon so favorably, however, if I offer my opinion and in such a way in the middle of court proceedings.

A favorite cousin of mine started court reporting school the same time I did. Un-derailed, she finished and has been working for these many years. She recently switched from deposition work to the courtroom and she has said that there have been times when, because of the nature of the case and testimony given, she's had tears running down her face. How can you be human and not respond in this way? Though it wouldn't win any awards for impartiality, I would rather this reaction than to become so accustomed to the underbelly of society and human nature that it wouldn't render any response. Let me not get past the tears.

So the question for me becomes....can I do this? Can I listen to this year after year? Can I be witness to horror beyond imagining, to evidences of cruelty and abuse and callousness? Can I listen and not become hard? Can I hear and not lose faith in man, in the ability of the human heart to also harbor goodness and good will? I think I can. I really do. It makes me appreciate and value more what is truly beautiful and good. It makes me often want to gather my loved ones close, hug them tightly and be thankful for their innocence. May it always be preserved.


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