Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Criminally funny

Morticians do it, firemen do it, and bio-statisticians do it.

Okay, bio-statisticians probably don't do it.

I'm talking about humor. What the humorologists call Black Humor. You know, like this:

"If we do happen to step on a mine, Sir, what do we do?"

"Normal procedure, Lieutenant, is to jump 200 feet in the air and scatter oneself over a wide area."

See, not a funny subject, not even a bit. So why did you smile?

Below is a compilation of some of those moments that cropped up in court, moments that despite the gravity of our job, the subject matter, made people smile. And by "people," I mean me, of course.

The first occurred when I took over a hearing from an ADA who had to leave the courtroom on urgent business. She asked me to handle the hearing instead of my friend and colleague Luis (note: Luis was the perpetrator, and recipient, of numerous practical jokes. Yeah, one of those guys). So he decided to have a crack at me in front of a full courtroom:

Judge: "Where is Ms. Taylor, isn't she arguing for the State?"
Me: "No Your Honor, I'm taking over, she had to leave."
Judge: "I see. Very well then."
Luis, standing and grinning: "He is judge, but that doesn't mean the State is giving up."
Everyone turns and looks at me.
Me: "Correct, Your Honor. If we were giving up, Luis would be arguing for the State."

In a recent trial, our main witness was a self-confessed drug addict, a man aged about 50 with (it turns out) poor eyesight. During direct examination, and in the usual manner, the ADA paused then asked him:
"And the man who fired the gun, do you see him in the courtroom today?"
The witness took his time looking around the court, eying the judge, the jury and then finally... a wavering finger pointed towards the defense table:
"There, I think that's him."
The finger had shifted and a surprised deputy looked up, identified as the man firing off shots the night of the murder.
A surprised female deputy, in full uniform.

In voir dire, as I've explained before, one thing I do early on is present the elements of the crime on a poster board to the jury panel, so they know what I have to prove. It's a moment that captures the jurors' interest, partly because of what we're talking about, but also because it's the first exhibit or demonstrative I use. They want to see it, to know what it says.
And so with great gravitas in a recent voir dire, my tone and voice serious, I announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen, these are the elephants of the crime."
Crickets chirped.
A few people smirked.
A few more didn't bother smirking, just laughed.
I then explained, with a shake of the head and a smile of my own, that I have three little kids and I see a lot of elephants.

And for those of you who missed it, there was the witness who looked at me like I was insane when I asked him if he smoked dope the night of the crime.
"No, man, I don't smoke dope. I was smoking weed."
Which is when I learned the difference between the two.


  1. Mark, that is good stuff. I'm not a legal professional, but if I had to deal with those issues day in and day out I would very much appreciate such a sense of humor. I'm sure the jurors and spectators do as well.

    Years ago I was in family court awaiting my child support case to be called. The attorney for the guy just ahead of me on the docket was doing a hell of a job trying to keep his client out of jail - considering that the fact issue is fairly cut and dried; either you paid or you didn't.

    The state's attorney was amping up the drama with all sorts of inflammatory rhetoric, calling the guy a dead beat and otherwise just humiliating him and demanding he go straight to jail.

    While all this was going on the baliff stood directly behind the defendant, casually ratcheting his handcuffs, as if he expected the judge to order him to place the guy in custody at any moment.

    When the judge stood to announce that he would momentarily retire to chambers to research and consider the issues, the bailiff very quickly put the handcuffs on the prosecutor. This of course got everyone laughing and took the edge off the moment.

    As a layperson and onlooker, I appreciate court personel with a sense of humor. Thanks for the blog and the glimpse into the reality of the court system. Lord knows we have enough CSI and Judge Judy.

  2. Thanks anon, that was hilarious. I frequently try to get our deputies to clap handcuffs on the defense lawyers, but they always assume I'm joking...
    But you are right, we couldn't survive what we do without humor. Most of it isn't fit to print, I suppose, but in my humble opinion both DAs and defense lawyers are a pretty well-adjusted bunch and manage to keep the black humor in house, so to speak.
    One of these days, maybe I'll post about the transvestite prostitute trial I had a couple of years ago. Now that contained humor and, for the record, most of it was aimed at the "John" and not the prostitute!

  3. Mark, I was referred here from Grits for Breakfast's blog. I agree with him that it is refreshing to see a prosecutor of your stature help inform the public of the workings of an oft too secret public agency, even if it is just to sell a book.

    I hope your boss will let you speak freely and that you will stick around Travis county if and when your book makes you a popular author, and maybe one day run for DA yourself if circumstances warrant.

    In the meantime I have favorited your blog and I plan to comment and criticize you frequently, just as I do with Grits.

    Welcome to my blog roll :D

  4. Great stuff. Just exactly the sort of stuff I don't put on my blog, perhaps for obvious reasons.

    Also, Acerbic - your profile says no profile. What's the URL of your blog?

  5. Jaime, lets put it this way: I wouldn't want you handling my case.

    Mark shows a lot of respect for defense attorneys. I'm not one of them, but I would guess you're nowhere in the same league.

  6. And just for the sake of fair disclosure, I am Anonymous 4:01. I don't have a blog or a website. If you don't know how web 2.0 works, well that's not my problem.

    Mark is doing a great service by sharing what little he can. I happen to respect that.

    On the other hand, I have no use for ambulance chasing morons.

  7. And Jamie Spencer, AUSTIN DWI LAWYER is nothing but an attention whore.

    I'm not a lawyer, hell, I don't even live in Texas. But here this shyster is demanding I tell him how to find my website so he can investigate me...all because I told some ADA in a faraway place I thought his blog is cool.

    What a maroon.

    No wonder people hate lawyers.

  8. "I don't have a blog or a website."

    Dude, you said you put this blog in your blog roll which---as anyone who understands web 2.0 should know---sort of implies you have a blog.

    "this shyster is demanding I tell him how to find my website so he can investigate me"

    Er, you told us you had a blog, which is why Jamie asked for the URL, I would think...

    But now you're saying you don't have a blog? Okay, but then you don't have a blog roll either. You just have a list of blogs you like to read. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  9. Uh, yeah - what Windy said. I was actually gonna look at your blog (since "blogroll" means the links on the side of your blog) and then who knows, add it to my RSS reader so I could follow you.

    Not that I can deny the attention whoring shyster bit; I'm just pointing out that was a lucky guess :)

  10. Good thing you linked to his site, effectively insuring that he would get more (net) attention.

    No wonder people hate morons.

  11. Also Acerbic, "what a maroon?" Did you mean moron? Maroon is a color.

  12. In Acerbic's defense, for whatever it's worth, "what a maroon" is usually a Bugs Bunny reference.

  13. "Maroon", as in "What a maroon" - also a well known way of referring to me.

  14. I've been known to act like a maroon myself on occasion ;)

    Happy Holidays all!

  15. Er, you told us you had a blog, which is why Jamie asked for the URL, I would think...

    blog roll, dinner roll, drum roll...it's all so confusing.

    I said I don't have a website. "Blog" is short for weB log, which is a sort of personal journal within a website. You must therefore presume that I don't have a blog. This particular "website" is devoted to "blogs".

    When people such as Mark make a blog they often include a list of favorite links and references in the navigation panel, some of which are links to other blogs. And yes, this is often known as a "blog roll".

    Does this mean that anyone using the term "blog roll" when referring to their list of favorite vistited blogs is incorrect, or maybe even a little dishonest? That's a matter of personal opinion.

    Given the fact that "blog roll" is a relatively new and imprecise term, and that lawyers always over-analyze ever little goddanmed thing to the point of absurd, pendantic, anal retentive bullshit in the hopes of gaining leverage for no better reason than to invent a contentious issue to debate out of sport...I'm just laughing my ass off.

    The truth is that Jaime saw my Blogger name and wrongly assumed I had a blog to go along with it. Anyone can register with Blogger, you don't to have an actual blog to go with your username.

  16. Okay, just to end debate I am disclosing my blog now. You can see it here

  17. I know the sign at the zoo always saysDon’t feed the elephants, but I just couldn’t help myself.

  18. Wow. You guys totally hijacked this blog post - love it. BTW a maroon is something like an ignoranimous.

  19. Hey, around Travis County being a Maroon is a badge of honor -- a student or alumnus of Austin High School, the very best AISD high school and oldest continuously operating high school west of the Mississippi River. http://www.austinisd.org/schools/website.phtml?id=014 for those obsessed with URLs. Also scattered around Travis county there may be a few University of Chicago Maroons, from another really great school.


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