Monday, January 31, 2005

Justice, ain't it grand?

The beginning of jury selection in the trial of Michael Jackson takes me back to the many courtrooms in which I sat scribbling notes.

The most dramatic jury summation I ever witnessed was delivered in Galveston by Craig Washington, the former congressman from Houston's 18th District, in the murder trial of then-Texas prison inmate Eroy Brown. After delivering a highly charged, emotional, stem-winder of a final argument, Washington collapsed ont he floor and was carried out of the courtroom on a stretcher. There was, of course, speculation that Washington was engaging in the performance of his life. That may be. Or may not be. In either case, he blew everyone away that day, and his client walked.

The most comical moment occurred in a courtroom in Angleton, 6-7 years ago, in the capital murder trial of a guy charged with killing his estranged girlfriend, a male friend of the woman's and three of her children. A police officer was testifying about arresting the suspect and told the jury that the man on trial defecated in his pantaloons upon his apprehension. Defense counsel immediately objected to the jury hearing this testimony. It would be prejudicial, etc. etc.

Judges, of course, have to be careful when they rule on such matters. One faulty move could cause a conviction to be thrown out in appelate court. So the judge listened carefully to both sides discuss the unfortunate occurence in the defendant's britches, considered the matter thoughtfully, then issued his ruling.

"Strike the bowel movement from the record," he intoned, without a smirk or an eyeroll. Now that's judicial restraint.

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