Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Quote unquote."

When I write blog posts, articles, and even books, I operate largely on intuition and feel. That is, I can't articulate the rules of the English language -- such as where to use a dash or a semicolon -- yet somehow I have a decent idea of what to do. And when it comes to speaking, I, like most people, use language in a fairly sloppy manner, at least compared to my writing. So, given my own imperfections -- which I admit are deep and many -- I am very tolerant of the blogs, articles, and books that I read, and even more tolerant of the podcasts to which I subscribe. But there are a few things that bother me like a fly buzzing around my ear. Let's start with the phrase "quote unquote."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

“Judge, have you been studying this at all?”

I’ve written numerous posts—for example, here, here, and here—about defense attorneys trying to put on evidence of innocence during a trial, only to have trial judges shut them down cold. As I explained in those posts, this happens most frequently when the prosecutor objects to a defense lawyer’s line of questioning as calling for “hearsay.” In most cases, however, the testimony isn’t hearsay at all. So the surprised defense lawyer does his best to play educator, and tries to teach the judge about the definition of hearsay. Yet, because many judges just cannot grasp this incredibly important concept, they sustain the prosecutor’s objection in knee-jerk fashion. The defense lawyer—much like a patient whose surgeon doesn’t understand basic human anatomy—is dead in the water (or on the operating table, as it were). 

Now, I don’t mean to make light of this incredibly serious and utterly unacceptable state of affairs in legal education and, consequently, in the judiciary. But when I saw the following short video clip, I couldn’t help but think of physicist Brian Greene as the frustrated defense lawyer, and the other character in the video as the completely uneducated judge, incapable of grasping the lesson. (If the embedded video does not appear below, you can find it on YouTube by clicking here.) Enjoy.

Government Shutdowns: A Modest Proposal

All of this federal government shutdown business got me thinking about a possible state of Wisconsin government shutdown.  If that ever happens, which government services would be considered essential, and which would be nonessential and, therefore, suspended or even eliminated?  My modest proposal (for a hypothetical state-government shutdown) is that we could do without the services of many of our appellate courts.  Why?  The story begins with a recent Wisconsin criminal case, where the trial judge prevented the defendant from testifying in her own defense.  If that sounds shocking to you, it should.  Few things (if any) are more fundamental than a defendant’s constitutional right to testify at her own trial.  So why wouldn’t the trial judge let the defendant—here, an eighteen year old girl—take the witness stand?