Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Ten Commandments Cross-Examination

Courtroom war stories are a bit off the beaten track for this blog, but I couldn't resist sharing this one.

Occasionally people have told me I’m too nice to be a trial lawyer, pointing out that I don’t even eat meat. My standard comeback is “yes, but I do eat lying witnesses...”

I represented a father in a custody dispute with the mother of their young child.  No need to go into details except to say the character of the mother’s new boyfriend was critical.

When she was on the witness stand, she described her boyfriend as being her fiancé. She also testified that he was a very religious person, that he said grace at each meal, and gave Bible readings every day.

Next day, it was his turn to testify.

He was a tall skinny guy with a little beard and very long hair, looking a bit like the caucasian Jesus pictures. He wore his stovepipe jeans tucked into cowboy boots and actually sauntered, I thought rather arrogantly, up the aisle and got into the witness stand.

My cross-examination went something like this:

DA:                 Yesterday your fiancée swore under oath that you are a very religious fellow. Are you?

Witness:         Yes. (What else could he say?)

DA:                 She swore under oath that you say grace at each meal. Do you?

Witness:         Yes.

DA:                 She also swore under oath that you give Bible readings every day. Is that true?

Witness:         Yes. (possibly sensing the paint brush in his hand)

DA:                 So ... what’s your favourite Bible passage?

Witness:         I don’t have to answer that.

Judge:            Yes you do. It’s a fair question.

There was a long pause while the witness stared off into a far corner of the ceiling. Just as I was about to say, “What’s the matter? Can’t you think of one?” he blurted out:

Witness:         The Ten Commandments.

DA:                 The Ten Commandments? That’s your favourite passage in the entire Bible?

Witness:         Yes.

DA:                 OK. I suppose different people have their own preferences. Are you familiar with the book of Exodus, chapter 20, verse 15?

Witness:         No. (dimly sensing paint covering most of the floor)

DA:                 Are you sure?

Witness:         Yes. (feeling his feet get sticky)

DA:                 Well, the Bible is right beside you. Why don’t you read it to us?

Witness:         I don’t have to do that.

DA:                That’s OK, I’ll read it (reaching over to pick up the Bible)

Judge:            Mr. Ashton, what is the passage you intend to read out?

DA:                 Oh, it’s the Ten Commandments, your honour. (The witness, just before losing consciousness, realizes that it isn’t paint on the floor, it’s his blood...)

Footnote: I am not a walking biblical encyclopedia [younger generation: An encyclopedia is an archaic multi-volume set of books with articles on a wide range of topics, something like Wikipedia but way heavier and not updated every second].

It was pure coincidence that I had written on my notepad, “Thou shalt not steal – Exodus 20:15,” and that Mr. Fiancé chose the Ten Commandments as his favourite Bible passage.

I was planning to use that quote in my next line of questions (You believe in the Bible, don’t you? You believe in the Ten Commandments, don’t you? You believe in “Thou shalt not steal”, don’t you? You would never steal, would you?) to set him up for the witness I had waiting out in the hall, a waitress from a local restaurant where he had recently done a “dine and dash”. Since he so obligingly shot his own foot off, I didn’t need to call her, and my client got custody.

I may get struck off the Buddhist blogrolls for knowingly publishing a blog post with no perceptible Buddhist content, but hey, I'm still giddy from surviving the Rapture....


  1. ah ha! You got him! I love it.

  2. A good story! I am asking myself, why she had to emphasize that he was a religious guy? Maybe to justify her breakup for herself? Why do you had to tell this? Why do I have to comment? :-)
    Interesting questions all over!



  3. Ah, those must be some of the most gratifying- if non Buddhist- moments in life! Good for you! Sometimes things just fall into place and for this little person, they certainly did.

  4. An interesting road to walk, David! I once worked as a tax collector for the feds many, many years ago, and though I wasn't a Buddhist at the time (am I now, hmm?) I did the job with what I felt was integrity and kindness. It's wonderful in my mind when these jobs can be done with awareness and intention.

    I was just reading about "bright and dark" karma last night. You are working on the bright karma side, I think!

  5. TMC Yeah, I must admit, I loved it too....

    MTK Good questions. Maybe this was a Buddhist post after all :)

    Thanks, Kate. It's not often you get to feel good that you helped someone and got some wicked pleasure at the same time! Maybe that's why I like this job...

    Carole, I had to look up bright and dark karma, and agree with you about working on the bright side. When we have the power to cause suffering, I think we have a bigger obligation to take care to use it with kindness.

  6. Dear David:
    A friend brought this blog post to my attention, because I am a lawyer of sorts myself-- and struggling with making sure that can be a "right livelihood." I have never met, in real or virtual life, another in my situation. If there is a chance to correspond with you, I can be reached at I would really like to speak with you about what I perceive to be shared issues. Thanks.


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