The metaphorical brick wall was rebuilt a couple of weeks ago, as I was sent a notice requiring me to give evidence in a case where we had been responsible for delivering court documents. This type of thing has happened so rarely in the history of our particular firm, that it was rather a surprise when Kelly, (my friend and now office colleague) had also been sent a subpoena to go to court, to give evidence in a different case, where she had served a paper. The recipient was claiming that she had not been properly served. Kelly was (understandably) a little nervous about going to court, and as I had experienced a similar situation within such a short space of time, she asked my advice on how to remain calm, and stay in control. I would make a request, now, for those who know me, to stop laughing hysterically. I can do, 'calm' and 'in control', in an emergency, albeit occasionally and, in hindsight, perhaps my initial response of, 'Oh my goodness, no!', and 'You poor thing; how terrible', were not the comforting words of wisdom she was looking for. However, I regained composure and due to my recently acquired, self-ascribed, expertise in the subject, I did have some insight as to what she could expect. When I told her that one of my methods is to stare directly at the left ear of the cross-examiner, she looked to Samantha for reassurance. My daughter explained that asking me for advice, in this matter, was tantamount to expecting me to be the comforter, during a turbulant air trip. It was futile! When I continued with the explanation of building the brick wall, she decided that it was time to devise some methods of her own. Going from the frying pan into the fire, she went to talk to Dana, who told her that it certainly was not a frightening experience. Standing in a witness box, next to a judge, and being accused of lying, shouldn't be intimidating. We both agreed that a few Valium would be a happy medium.
Unlike Kelly, my experience of being a witness for the prosecution was not new. About a year before Richard was born, I was walking back to my office where I worked, in London, when I heard someone call out, 'Policeman'. A man ran across the road, closely followed by the person who had called out, and dropped something into the top of a traffic cone. Being very observant, (nosey is such an ugly word), I walked slowly passed the cone, pausing long enough to peer into the opening, and saw a cheque book. As I considered myself to be a law abiding citizen, I reported it to the police, and shortly thereafter found myself having to go to court, to give evidence. Between the initial hearing, and the trial, I had given birth. Everyone whom I trusted to look after my baby, was either on vacation, or lived too far away, but as the trial had been postponed several times, due to my not being able to travel during pregnancy, and the fact that I was the key, if not only, witness, they were not going to wait for me to find an appropriate baby sitter! No pressure there then! As his father did not want me to make the trip to London alone, we took Richard along. Being rather naive, I believed the rumours passed around by a certain plain clothed individual, that I would be called first, but the day wore on, and Richard was getting rather hungry. Walking around a criminal court with a young baby, no one questioned me as I entered an empty room, being followed by a young, shoeless, girl, who started to chat. 'Your old man up 'ere too?' , she asked. Looking about fourteen years old, I assumed she was talking about her father, rather than a husband, but I was wrong. I explained that I was actually a witness, and fortunately, for me, it was not in her 'old man's' case. She continued to tell me that she swore she would leave him if he got 'sent down again'. However, she knew he was innocent, and had proof. Of course, I suggested she tell the prosecuting attorney everything she knew, but her proof was that, 'he was on another job at the time!' The cliche, 'wish the floor would open up', was never more apt. 'No one hears you scream in space', it would appear, would refer to any empty space, as my plea of, 'Get me out of here', went totally unnoticed.
By the time I was called to the stand, I was a quivering wreck. Staring at the left ear of the barrister, I explained that although I remembered most things, there were a couple of details that had slipped my mind, and when I reread my statement, I realised that my memory had been compromised. I apologised, and said that I recalled the main details with clarity, but could not bring to mind minor points, but my original statement was, indeed, a correct version of events. It was during this stage that I built my metaphoric brick wall, and I believe that the exact words I used to convey, were more like, 'If I wrote it down and signed it, that is what happened!', and it was probably this phrase that convinced the judge to allow the prosecutor to treat me as a hostile witness. Yes, I was a witness for the prosecution; yes, I was the key witness for the prosecution. In my defense, the court misinterpreted my nervousness for antagonism, but it made me realise that I was in control; they needed me and as long as I was not held in contempt, I would not need them! (I also had a new found friend who could probably show me the ropes, and perhaps, together, we could find her shoes!) I was finally allowed to stand down, and I left the court hoping never to repeat the episode. I was informed that the jury did not find me so reprehensible, and found the defendant guilty, due to my evidence, as charged!
I would not say that what happened over a quarter of a century ago, haunted me, but the though of giving evidence, once again, was not appealing. As I was called to a hearing at a lawyers office, and not in a courtroom, I attempted to fool myself into thinking that it would not be as nerve-wracking, but I was merely leading myself into a false sense of security. As I sat down, I was asked to raise my right hand. Being directionally challenged, this was enough to send me into a tailspin. Playing the hokey cokey, for one, my hands went up, down; up, down, until the stenographer said, 'That one, keep that one up!' Once sworn in, and having been introduced to opposing counsel, I was asked to relay, in my own words, the events that led to the papers being delivered. Speaking very clearly, and in my best English accent, I read from my notes. My previous experience had at least taught me to be prepared! The prosecutor was far kinder than the previous attorney, and I was lulled into a safe place. Turning the questioning to the defense caused me to tense, slightly, but the first comment was somewhat anticipated. It was geographical, but one that I was able to answer in confidence. Yes, I was from England; just outside London to be precise. It was suggested we would, 'return to that later'. As I had expected that the possibility of my ability to understand Texas Law may be brought into question, I started to answer questions, siting statutes and rules, by number as well as definition, and case law. I cannot be certain which direction the lawyer intended to take, but the subject of my birthplace was not revisited.
Being a witness, I understood that it was my duty to be both unbiased, as well as honest. I was, of course, under oath, despite the time it took to work out which hand was which. Honest I was, which in turn caused me to be unbiased. Unfortunately, my answers were reportedly very similar to those given by a previous witness. Had I seen the transcript of the previous person? I answered that I had not. Had I discussed the testimony? I replied that I had not. The defence attorney started to get slightly irritated. Who was being hostile now? I realised at that point, that perhaps, I was in control. Right ear in focus, which enabled me to concentrate on building my wall, I continued with my testimony. The facts were the facts, and I could not provide answers on hypothetical scenarios, as I did not have all the variables. Apparently this, too, was the answer given in previous testimony, and again I was asked, 'Have you discussed this case with anyone?' Understanding that I could be tripped up, and if he shouted much louder, my wall could be like the one at Jericho, I did not deviate, (nor digress!!) and chose not to give my opinion, that if we both gave the same answers, did that not prove that we are reporting the truth? The ordeal was finally over, and I had to drive back to the office.
I went into free fall as soon as I walked into the building, and when Dana asked, 'How did it go', I started to giggle, then hyperventilate. It took every bit of self restraint to stop myself from screaming. The need to 'debrief' was chronic, and it took virtually all day. At various intervals, I would blurt out, 'Then he asked me....', which caused Dana to burst into laughter, He could not, as one might gather comprehend my inability to let go! Well they do say opposites attract!
Kelly did not use the brick wall, and I assume by the lack of detail regarding facial extremities, she did not check out a right ear, but she did find some of my advice, that of a more practical nature, to be most helpful, and she appeared to have conducted herself in a far less fearful manner. Her need to debrief was in fact very brief. I hope not to have to find out whether in my lifetime, a 'third time is a charm', although it would definitely be.....another story.