The problem with (and for) lawyers

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

'I told you.'

Alice had a smug look on her face as Pastor Walter Mitty walked in the front door of the Main Café last Saturday.

"Told me what, Alice?"

"I told you President Trump would be acquitted."

"But Alice," Mitty replied, "the Senate hasn't even voted yet."

The cantankerous server who has been waiting on the Saturday morning men's fellowship breakfast since Moses brought the 10 Commandments down from Mt. Sinai rolled her eyes and said, "They don't have to. It's all over. President Trump's lawyers shot holes in all of the House managers' arguments."

Alice followed the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church to the big table in the back where most everyone had already arrived.

"Happy Saturday, Alice." Dominique greeted the irascible waitress with a smile, hoping to defuse the rant he suspected would soon be coming.

"Well, lookey what we have here," Alice continued, 10 of Poplar Park's most loyal Hillary voters who want to remove our duly elected president in that hoax of an impeachment trial."

Dominique, determined not to take the bait, responded, "C'mon Alice, you know I vote Republican most of the time."

"You're all the same," Alice shot back. "You swallow everything the liberal press and those House managers say, and you can't accept the common-sense facts that our president's lawyers are laying out."

Alice had her mind already made up, so Dominique let her have the last word.

The men around the table felt their shoulders relax as Alice stomped back to the kitchen, muttering under her breath the whole way.

Eric Anderson was the first to speak. "Adam Schiff's closing argument was pretty compelling. To me he sounded kind of like a preacher more than a lawyer." Turning to Mitty all the guys at the table laughed in unison.

"Kind of like Obama, in that sense. Going above whether Trump broke the law to 'Was it moral?'"

"You all know that I, like Dominique, tend to vote Republican," said Asch, "but I have to admit that after Schiff's speech — actually after Nadler's speech too — I was leaning toward thinking that Trump should be found guilty. But then as Dorothy and I were running errands around town last Saturday, we listened to bits and pieces of Trump's lawyers' preview of their arguments, and I have to tell you, to me they poked a lot of holes in the anti-Trump prosecution.

"You see, my problem is that both groups of lawyers are smarter than I am, and I wind up being convinced by whomever I listen to last."

On his walk home, Pastor felt more uncertain than ever about how he would vote if he were a senator. He definitely thought Trump was an immoral person, but is that a good enough reason to convict him, especially with an election coming up in nine months?

n

As he passed by the History/Herstory Bookstore, he saw through the front window that Bernie Rolvaag had no customers, so he decided to use his friend to help him sort out his conflicting feelings and thoughts.

"Hey, Walt, what's happening?" Bernie greeted him warmly.

Mitty took the invitation seriously and launched into a 10-minute vent of his internal turmoil.

When he finished, Bernie said, "I hear you my friend, and maybe what's at the root of your struggle is that you feel like the lawyers on both sides are not really after the truth but only after winning the argument."

"But isn't that their job?" said Mitty. "Isn't our legal system called adversarial because the whole theory is that the prosecuting attorneys present their one-sided view of the case and the defense lawyers present their side, and then through that competitive presenting of sides, somehow the truth will appear to an impartial jury?"

"Exactly, but do you see the problem with that model? In the case of the impeachment trial going on now, what is supposed to happen is that the House of Representatives acts like a grand jury with the task of objectively deciding if there is enough evidence to bring someone to trial — not to convict or acquit — but enough to bring the case to court."

Mitty nodded in agreement.

"What's more, the jury — aka the Senate — is also supposed to be objective, to have no biases, no preconceived opinions."

Mitty nodded again and said, "It's not the fault of the lawyers, is it? They're just playing the game according to the rules."

"And I just had a thought about why those senators can't seem to be objective, Walt. It's like that guy I read back in college — Peter Berger I think his name was. He argued that every society has what he called 'plausibility structures.' You know, like patterns of accepted beliefs and practices in their minds which determine what statements of 'fact' are plausible and which are not."

"And you're comparing the two parties to like two societies looking at life through different lenses, right?"

Bernie nodded and added, "So you have people on both sides of the aisle looking at that transcript of the July 25 phone call and the Democrats are convinced they know what Trump meant even though he never said the words and most of the Republicans say that no crime was broken, as if that was all there is to it."

Mitty sighed, "Half the couples who come to me for counseling have the same problem — I'm right and you're an idiot."

Pastor Walt walked out of History/Herstory feeling his shoulders relaxing a bit. At least he felt like he understood what was going on inside him better, but he still had no clue regarding how to have a mutually satisfying conversation with Alice.

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