My first trial — San Pellegrino blues, Part 1
- Subtitle: Trial by Fire
First to arrive in the courtroom, I rush to put on my newly minted barrister’s robe. Then I calmly lift my chin and — for the very first time — Velcro my wing collar around my neck, as if to the manor born.
Coach Kenobi enters the room in a calm and determined manner, puts down his briefcase and fixes his gaze upon me. With an air of mock disdain, he asks:
- First time you’ve ever put on a wing collar?
This is obviously not a question.
- Um, yes . . .
I answer, my wing collar askew and the price tag still on the sleeve of my robe. While Coach Kenobi patiently adjusts my collar, the lawyers for the other side enter the courtroom.
- Good day, Mr. Kenobi.
Hands and eyes still on my collar, Coach Kenobi returns the greeting and adds:
- Mr. Blunt, allow me to introduce Mr. Rheault, a young lawyer from our firm, whose wing collar will be perfectly adjusted in just a few more seconds.
Please rise, Superior Court is now in session!
After the judge enters, we take our seats at our respective tables. Maître Blunt introduces himself, followed by Coach Kenobi. I prepare to do the same, but Coach Kenobi pre-empts me:
- Madam Justice, I would like to present Maître Rheault. This is his first trial.
- For your first trial, your collar is very well adjusted, Maître Rheault; I’m impressed. Now, how long have you been a lawyer, and where did you study law?
I had imagined all sorts of things happening at the start of my first trial, but being examined by the judge was not one of them . . .
- Good morning Madam Justice, and thank you. It’s almost been a year since . . .
I saw that the judge was frowning, and Coach Kenobi elbowed me in the ribs. The judge then motioned to me to rise when addressing her.
- I studied law at the University of Montreal, Madame Justice, and was called to the bar nearly a year ago.
- Splendid! And . . . when I meet young lawyers, I always like to know what they do with their free time, if they have any.
- Um, well, personally I enjoy watching documentaries about, um, sea creatures. In fact, just yesterday I saw one about holothurians, which is from the Latin Holothuroidea, also known as sea cucumbers.
Coach Kenobi barely stifled a laugh.
- And what is so special about these sea cucumbers, Mr. Rheault?
- Well, first of all, Madam Justice, they’re not cucumbers at all — they’re actually animals, not vegetables. They can grow to up to two metres long, and they generally move at the rate of about 15 centimetres per hour.
- That’s most interesting, Mr. Rheault. My daughter did an internship at an NGO dedicated to protecting undersea fauna in Southeast Asia. And don’t worry, Mr. Blunt, I’m not going to be biased toward Mr. Rheault’s client on that account.
- Really? Where in Southeast Asia? Sea cucumbers are primarily found in . . .
- Pardon me, Madam Justice, this is all fascinating — I happen to have a penchant for an undersea vegetable, seaweed — but wouldn’t it perhaps be appropriate to begin the trial?
Friday, 5:05 p.m.
So that was how I began my first trial — a bit like a fish out of water. And this first week of trial was to have an equally memorable ending: Tonight was my first date with Melissa, arranged since my last article in August.
In the taxi on the way back to the office, I mulled over the past week. I had thought we would spend it arguing points of law, at least some of the time. To my great surprise, however, the law had not yet been summoned to make an appearance at the trial, which was a pity because it was law I had studied at university, not facts.
All our efforts this week had been spent prepping our witnesses so their testimony would be solid and consistent with the facts. And I have to say after a week of hearings that we were proud of them and of the work we’d done.
Now, 12 witnesses having been heard, 64 exhibits filed by both parties, nine bottles of San Pellegrino drunk by Yours Truly (make that eight — I doused my plant with one in an attempt to restore its bubbly personality), several new friendships struck with assorted taxi drivers and the imminent death of my plant (I will win this case in your honour, dear Lily, I swear), I have finally come to realize the importance of the facts.
Junior lawyers often err by thinking only of the law, but the law always emerges from the facts. Set out the facts logically and convincingly, and the law becomes self-evident. Law is, after all, supposedly based on common sense.
I arrive in Coach Kenobi’s office, eager to explain my latest legal theory, based on an obiter dictum of a dissenting administrative judge in the Cayman Islands (a favourite haunt of sea cucumbers, by the way). He says, like so many times before:
- Sit down and take a deep breath.
Then, referring to my draft outline of how we should argue the case, he says:
- I’ve read your plan of argument. It needs a bit of work. It’s very long on the law and very short on the facts. Not only that, but the way you’ve presented the facts, the judge would have no choice but to decide against us. So I’d like you to completely redo it and make sure I have it by six on Monday morning.
I go back to my office and, with a guilty glance at the yellowing foliage of Lily, who’s obviously in her terminal phase, open my 10th bottle of San Pellegrino, steeling myself for another long weekend of work. But first I have to get a far more difficult piece of advocacy out of the way — pleading for a postponement of my first date with Melissa.
TO BE CONTINUED …
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