+ + Transcriber's Note: Some obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a list please see the bottom of the document. The one Greek word is transliterated and marked with +'s. + +
THE MAN IN COURT
FREDERIC DEWITT WELLS Justice, Municipal Court of New York City
G.P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1917 Copyright, 1917 by Frederic Dewitt Wells The Knickerbocker Press, New York
CHARLES E. GOSTENHOFER
OF THE NEW YORK BAR
IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HIS AID AND SUGGESTIONS
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
The author has tried to show the point of view of the ordinary man in a law court, as the various proceedings of a trial take shape before him. To the initiated, the whole book may seem too obvious; but it has not been written for them, but for those to whom these proceedings are unfamiliar. There are many who have a certain curiosity about the courts, and at the same time a real respect for justice, mingled with amusement at the panoplies and antiquated forms of legal procedure.
F. DEW. W.
NEW YORK, January, 1917.
I.—A NIGHT COURT 3
II.—THE CIVIL COURT 21
III.—THE JUDGE 39
IV.—THE ANXIOUS JURY 57
V.—THE STRENUOUS LAWYER 75
VI.—THE WORRIED CLIENT 93
VII.—PROGRAMS AND PLEADINGS 111
VIII.—PICKING THE JURY 129
IX.—OPENING THE CASE 149
X.—THE CONFUSED WITNESS 165
XI.—THOSE TECHNICAL OBJECTIONS 183
XII.—THE MOVEMENTS IN COURT 201
XIV.—THE HEAVY CHARGE 235
XV.—THE TRUE VERDICT 251
XVI.—LOOKING BACKWARD 265
A Night Court
In the Night Court the drama is vital and throbbing. As the saddest object to contemplate is a play where the essentials are wrong, so in this court the fundamentals of the law are the cause of making it an uncomfortable and pathetic spectacle.
The women who are brought before the Night Court are not heroines, but the criminal law does not seem better than they. It makes little attempt to mitigate any of the wretchedness that it judges; in many cases it moves only to inflict an additional burden of suffering. The result is tragedy.
The magistrate sits high, between standards of brass lamps. His black gown, the metal buttons and gleaming shields of the waiting police officers, the busy court officials behind the long desks on either hand tell of the majesty of the law.
In front of the desk but at a lower level is a space of ten or twelve feet running across the court-room in which are patrolmen, plain-clothes men, detectives, women prisoners, probation officers, reporters, witnesses, investigators, and lawyers. Beyond in the court-room a large crowd is on the benches. There are witnesses, brothers and sisters, friends of the prisoners waiting to see whether they go out through the street entrance or back through the strong barred gate seen through the door on the left. Also there are the "sharks" waiting to follow out the released prisoners, to prey upon them as the circumstances may favor; and a number of curiosity seekers watching intently. For them it can be nothing but a morbid dumb show, for they are so far from the bench that not a word of the proceedings could be heard. Only once in a while the shrieks and imprecations of a struggling hysterical woman as she is hurried out of court can enliven the scene.
Fortified with a letter of introduction to the judge and a disposition that will not be too easily shocked at seeing conditions of life as they actually exist, the spectator may find his way past the policeman at the gate in the rail. It clicks behind him ominously and he wonders whether he will have difficulty in getting out. Finally through clerks and officials who become more kindly as they learn he is a friend of the judge, he is seated in a chair drawn up beside the bench. The magistrate is a hearty round-faced man who seems almost human in spite of his gown and the dignity of his surroundings. The court looks different from this point of view and he may easily watch the judicial enforcement of the law supreme.
The organization of these courts is simple. There are not many rules or technicalities. The judges are patient, hard working, understanding, and efficient. The trouble is with the laws they are called upon to administer: Laws which are as absurd, as farcical, and as impracticable as the plot of the lightest musical comedy.
At first the visitor can hardly understand what is going on. A pale-faced man is in the witness chair, on his left a bedraggled little woman is standing before and below the judge, her eyes just level with the top of the desk. Clerks are coming with papers to be signed: "commitments," "adjournments," "bail bonds"; others are trying to engage his attention. In the meanwhile the case proceeds.
"I inform you," says the judge to the woman, "of your legal rights, you may retain counsel if you desire to do so and your case will be adjourned so that you may advise with him and secure witnesses, or you may now proceed to trial. Which will you do?"
She murmurs something. She is pale-faced with sullen eyes, drooping mouth, an over-hanging lip. A sad red feather droops in her hat.
"Proceed," says the judge; and to the policeman who is called as a witness, "You swear to tell the truth, the whole truth mm-mm-mm—you are a plain-clothes man attached to the 16th Precinct detailed by the central office, what about this woman?"
"At the corner of Fifteenth Street and Irving Place," says the witness, "between the hours of 10:05 and 10:15 this evening I watched this woman stop and speak to three different men. I know her, she has been here before your Honor."
"What do you say?" the judge asks the woman. She is silent.
"What do you work at?"
"Housework, your Honor."
"Always housework; it is surprising how many houseworkers come before me." She smiles a sickly smile.
"Take her record. Next case," says the judge. Outside it is a cold sleeting night in early March.
"Witnesses in case of Nellie Farrel," calls the clerk.
Nellie Farrel stands before the desk beside a policeman; she is tall with fair waving hair. She must have been pretty once; even now there is a delicate line of throat and chin. But her eyes are hard and on her cheeks there are traces of paint that has been hastily rubbed off. She looks thirty; she is probably not more than twenty.
A callow youth, who seems preternaturally keen, swears that on Thirteenth Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place the woman stopped and spoke to him; and he tells his story as though it were learned by rote.
"Do you know the officer who made the arrest?" the judge asks him.
"I do." A suspicion arises that there may be an interest between the witness and the policeman.
A dark-haired, smooth-faced woman who is standing by the prisoner says: "Your Honor, she's my sister. I'm a respectable woman, my husband is a driver. I have three children. It's disgrace enough to have the likes of her in the family. If you'll give her another chance I'll take her home with me; my husband is here and he's willing." The accused looks down piteously.
"Discharged on probation," says the judge, and the family go out.
"That's the third time that's happened to her," whispers a clerk. "Every time the sister comes up like a good one."
A horrible old woman with straggling gray hair, shrivelled neck, and claw-like hands grasps a black shawl about her flat chest. "Mary," says the judge, "thirty days on the island for you."
"Oh, your Honor, your Honor, not the workhouse. Oh, God, not the workhouse," and she is borne out screaming and fighting and invoking Christ to her aid. The judge turns and says in explanation, "an old case, an example of what they all may come to."
A dark-haired little French woman is brought in with crimson lips, bold black eyes, and expressive hands. A detective testifies that he went with her into a tenement house on Seventeenth Street west of Sixth Avenue. Charge: Violation of the Tenement House Law.
"Qu'importe," says the woman. "I go in ze street. I am arrested. I stay in ze house. I am arrested. I take ze room. I am arrested. Chantage—Blackmail. C'est pour rire."
Who are these women who are brought in a crowd together? One of them older than the rest is a foreigner plainly dressed in black silk with a gold chain. She does not seem particularly evil, but rather respectable. The others are in long cloaks or waterproofs hastily donned and through which are glimpses of pink stockings. They have hair of that disagreeable butter color which speaks of peroxide. There has been a raid on a west-side street of a house of ill repute. Some testimony is given and the older woman, the "Madam" is held in bail for the action of the Grand Jury while the rest are held for further evidence. The judge tells us there will probably not be enough testimony and they will be released in the morning. But unless bail is found they will spend the night in cells.
A nervous, excited woman comes in—two policemen are with her. She has been arrested for disorderly conduct on Sixth Avenue near Thirty-first Street. She has been fighting with a man who has also been arrested and taken to the men's Night Court. Hers is a hard, tough face of the lowest type.
"Why should you try to scratch the man's face? What did he do?" the judge asks. "Is he your husband?"
"My husband, your Honor? Yes, I guess you can call Al that. We lives up town and when I went out he says to me, 'Hustle, kid, you got to hustle, the rent's due and if you don't get the money I'll break your neck.' The slob won't work. Well, a night like this you couldn't make a cent and I only had half a dollar and I wanted to get a bite to eat. I hadn't had a thing since four o'clock, and then I met Al going down Sixt' Avenue an' he tries to swipe me fifty cents off me and I was that wild I wanted to tear him. I'm sorry; I guess it was my fault. I don't want to see him jugged, so please let me off, your Honor, and I won't make no trouble."
"Take her record," said the judge, "and hold her as a witness against the man."
A string of women are brought in for sentence who have been having finger prints taken in the adjoining room. The judge proceeds to impose sentences according to the previous records which are shown. Some of the women are those who have passed in front before. The little bedraggled woman with the red feather has been arrested seven times in sixteen months. Another has spent eight weeks in the workhouse out of a period of seven months; another has been sent already to the Bedford Reformatory; another has been twice to houses of reform. Before the judge gives his sentence he refers the prisoners to the probation officer, who talks with them in a motherly way.
After talking with the little prisoner she addresses the judge. "She says its no use, your Honor, she does not want to reform—it will not be worth while to put her on probation."
"Committed to the Mary Magdalene Home," says the judge, and the name brings a startling surmise as to what He of Galilee would have said.
The foregoing is only a typical session of the court. Night after night, from eight o'clock until one in the morning, the scene is repeated. The moral effect and its reaction upon those who conduct the proceedings—the judges, officers, and the police, cannot but be deplorable; the evil done to those forcibly brought there could not be over-estimated.
Substantially the law is that the women may not loiter in the streets nor solicit in the streets, or in any building open to the public. They may live neither in a tenement house nor in a disreputable house. The law makes it a crime for the women to walk abroad or stay at home. Their existence is not a crime, but only in an indirect way the law makes them outlaws. Anyone wishing to prosecute or persecute finds it easy to do so. The worst enemies of these unhappy women are to be found, curiously enough, among both the best and the most evil people in the community. The unspeakably depraved are the men who, either as procurers, blackmailers, or the miserable men who live on a share of their earnings. The excellent people who oppose any remedial legislation which might relieve the situation, seem equally responsible for the present condition, however well-intentioned they may be.
One effect of the present system is the practically unchecked transmission of disease. A reform in this direction would not solve the basic problem, for there would remain full opportunities of blackmail and extortion, but it might still remove a menace to the health of the community which is probably more serious than tuberculosis.
A statute to this end was enacted in New York State a few years ago: an act for the medical examination of the women. It was declared unconstitutional because of one word. It should have read, "the judge may"; instead, it read, "the judge must." Far more difficult to deal with is the opposition of the people who believe that the moral sense of the community would be jeopardized by any laws suggesting that prostitution is unavoidable.
In ironic contrast to the failure of legislation to prevent the spread of disease, is the success of an ill-advised statute making adultery a crime. Under it, a married man having relations with a prostitute and the woman herself, are subject to criminal prosecution. It affords a fresh field for extortion, how largely used it is impossible to say.
The history of the passage of the adultery act presents one of the most ghastly jokes ever perpetrated by a State Legislature.
For years such a bill had been introduced in the New York Legislature and had been passed by either the Assembly or the Senate without comment and then quietly killed in the other house. It was obvious that such a law could not be properly enforced and its blackmailing possibilities were manifest, yet no one, not even Governor Hughes, who was then in office, could be openly opposed to its passage.
The tender morality of the community would not allow a public discussion.
It was said, at the time, that when the representative of a society for the suppression of vice called on one member asking him to introduce the bill, he declined to do so on the ground that he represented a Fifth Avenue District and it would make him too unpopular among his constituents. When the bill had been introduced by another member and came up for final passage, it was decided, since Governor Hughes had vetoed many political bills of members of both houses, to put him in a dilemma. If the bill were presented to him he would have to sign an absurd statute or declare himself the friend of unrighteousness. He signed it and the bill became a law. Since its enactment there have been ridiculously few convictions under it.
The successive carelessness, timidity, and levity of the Legislature is depressing, but there is an encouraging increase of interest on the part of the public. The average man is not merely interested in the problem; he appears to take the sensible view that the "social evil" is not so much a moral question as a condition, a problem to be met like other problems. We have become less concerned with the private morals of our fellow citizens than with their health, safety, and the prevention of unnecessary suffering. We perceive that the courts are only our agents and are not directly responsible for what they do; they are following instructions given by our ancestors and which we have neglected to abolish or modify.
The visitor leaves the Night Court with a strange sense of having his social values overthrown. He feels almost sympathetic with the women whom he has seen. They may be offenders against morals and the social order, but they are human beings over whom the waters of civilization seem to sweep with relentless flood. The frightful waste of life and energy seems inexcusable. And it is as though some mill dam had burst and was flowing in a terrific torrent down a river bed along which a few are drawn white and drowned.
The ordinary man knows that the women who go under are such a small proportion of those who escape, that it seems either a ghastly joke or a terrible tragedy. The whole paraphernalia of the court-room merely accents the contrast between those who are caught and those who go free.
But all criminal courts are always unpleasant. And humanity if seen only in the setting of a criminal trial would be a discouraging object. Turning to the more civil court, we find an almost equal unfitness between the courts and modern conditions.
THE CIVIL COURT
In a twenty-four-story office building, on a smooth gliding elevator, up seventeen stories, down a low-ceilinged corridor, past fireproof doors labeled: "Clerk's Office," "Judge's Chambers," "Witness Room," we find the typical modern court. The old idea of a very pseudo-classic courthouse on a placid village green to which the neighboring county squires have ridden, and where the jail is in the cellar and the town recorder in the attic, is fast disappearing. The old courthouse in the city, of red sandstone with battlements and turrets, minarets, and a clock tower, seems out of date.
The white marble palaces of the higher courts wherein broad stairways, paneled mahogany, stained glass, and soft noiseless carpets giving an air of repose and refined culture, are not altogether consistent with the modern spirit. The man on the street does not understand whether the marble statues on the roof are symbols of justice or late presidents of the United States. The usual courthouse of twenty years ago was a mixture of armory and Gothic church.
In the larger courthouses where there are many terms or parts in one building, there is an air of confusion. Rotundas, corridors, stairways, and elevators are constantly filled with a moving crowd of lawyers waiting for their cases to be tried, clients who have had appointments, witnesses who have been subpoenaed to come to court and when they get there find it is not one court, but thirty. The latter are found wandering dazedly about asking anyone who will stop to listen if they know in which part the case of Martin vs. Martin is being tried. Lunch counters, telephone booths, and a feeling of awe are in the building.
What that terror of a court of law comes from is difficult to analyze. There is the impressive majesty of the law; always about a court is the inspiring sense of something more than human. Even an empty court-room is not as other rooms. Like an empty theater there remains an atmosphere of glamour, of mystery, and yet equally true there remains a substantial, strong odor of crowds.
It is said that every theater retains its own peculiar smell. The scientific investigation of the psychology of odors is too subtle to be understandable. The question of analyzing the exudations of a nervous crowd seems interesting, but the remembrance of an anxious humanity is always present. In former times the attendant placed a small bunch of herbs and aromatic flowers on the judge's desk, and glasses of the dried bouquets remained in a row for long periods.
Hygienically considered the courts are unsanitary. If the windows are opened the cold air is apt to draw directly on the heads of the jury and the stenographer. In summer the noise of city streets, the cars, the elevated, the cries of children, the hand-organs, the flies, are not at all conformable to the supposed dignity of the court. It is well-known that the crowded and unhealthy conditions of the courts are conducive to disease as well as discomfort to the inhabitants.
The connotations of the name court are generally impressive. There is the suggestion of jail, of punishment, of something final, of absolute judgment. Also it suggests the courtyard of a tenement house, an alleyway or something shut in and confined. The philology is from the old French cort or curt. It is curious that it means something narrow. There are the suggestions of the lists, of heralds, of trumpets, of banners and knights in armor, of prancing steeds, of fair ladies watching, of joust, tournaments, and trials by battle. There is something royal about the word. We think of pomp and magnificence and purple robes, of kings on their thrones, with courtiers standing about. The conception of Diety to the simple man who visualizes, immediately takes on the form of a court. We speak of the Courts of Heaven. The pictures of Godhead represent him as sitting in the center on his raised throne with the surrounding tiers of attendant angels.
The modern court-room is only an adapted continuation of a medieval idea. On the raised dais under an unsanitary and dusty canopy of green plush sits the judge; instead of a sceptre he holds the gavel. This gavel, by the way, is falling more and more into disuse. As a symbol of authority, a little wooden hammer has become a trifle ludicrous. If a judge were to shake it too violently there might be a fear on the part of those watching that he was about to throw it at the spectators or at one of the arguing lawyers.
The judge sits at an imposing high-railed desk with standard lights at either corner. The top of the desk is usually above the level of the eyes even of the lawyer standing. This is an arrangement which is conventional and convenient; it would not be consistent with the majesty of the law if the judge should be discovered writing a personal note or taking a glance at the stock market reports in the evening paper.
The judge's chair is ordinarily a revolving one with a dip backward. Stationary chairs are trying, for those who have to remain quiet for so many hours at a time, and the swinging back and forth and twisting about gives a little relaxation.
In front of the judge's dais are the counselors' or lawyers' tables, and at one side in front and below usually another table for reporters. It is somewhat like the arrangement in baronial halls where there was an upper and lower table and some sat below the salt and others above.
On one side, opposite, but not as high, is the jury-box. This is a pen with twelve seats within a high-sided inclosure like an old-fashioned pew. What the object of the inclosure may be is uncertain, unless it is a relic of a time when it was necessary to imprison the jurors. Jury duty has doubtless always been arduous and disagreeable, and in earlier days men were probably as anxious to escape serving on the jury as they are to-day. In one of the courts, which was not supposed to be for jury trials, twelve men once sat on a case without any jury-box in plain chairs and at the side of the room. They were extremely uncomfortable themselves; their legs were exposed and they seemed shockingly unconventional.
Between the judge's desk and the jury-box is the witness chair, an ordinary chair placed not quite so high, but beside the judge's and where he can look down on the witness. The position of the witness chair may be accountable for the feeling of protecting the witness that exists in the minds of the judge and jury. There is a natural sympathy for him, as though he were being attacked by the examining counsel. The witness in former times stood in a little enclosed box and in Italy, where court scenes are more intense, the prisoners to this day in criminal trials testify from behind iron bars.
Below the witness chair is the stenographer. The former idea of the aged scrivener or court clerk with white hair and green eye shade has vanished. The modern stenographer, who keeps the record of a trial, is probably an energetic young man, who has passed high on the civil service list, knows something about law, is studying for a better position, or is connected with a very profitable stenographers' business on the outside.
The court proper is divided from the rest of the room by an iron or wooden rail guarded by a jealous court attendant, who is always a strong advocate of court etiquette and very properly maintains the dignity of the court. He is in uniform with a shield or badge of office conspicuously displayed and being taken from the civil service list whereon war veterans and retired firemen or policemen have a preference, is generally of a certain age. Naturally, being old and having to stand so much, he has tender feet, and with the customary effects of all secure and salaried positions, acquires both a slow and shuffling gait and the ordinary characteristics of his class. He is subject to many petty annoyances, foolish questions, repeated inquiries, people talking or arguing, little disorders pursue him on every hand.
The object of the attendant in the court is to maintain order and preserve dignity. They are almost avid in their pursuit of the ignoramus who comes in with his hat on his head or covers himself on going out before he reaches the door. Their salaries are not large but their duties are not arduous. They may seem solicitous to the judge and sometimes overbearing to the litigants and lawyers, but they are only in the position of the supes or ushers in the theater. Yet they are understanding and wise as regards the human drama constantly played before them.
The lighting of the court-room is unusually dramatic. There are no foot-lights, but the best theory of stage lighting is that there should be none. One of the most effective scenes in the modern theater is the court setting in Galsworthy's Justice. The lighting is indirect and the spots of red and green lights at the judge's desk, the corners of the jury-box and the shaded ones at the clerk's elbow, give a remarkable impression of mysterious terror.
Whatever may be the cause, there exists a marked resentment against the courts. Not only is there a complaint as to the cloying technicalities of procedure, the long and fatal delays of the law, the absurd forms and mannerisms of the trial, but underneath them all a fundamental distrust of justice itself. The complaint is heard of the inequality of justice. That there is a law for the poor man and another law for the rich. The stage gives expression to the feeling, and modern literature voices it. The high-priced millionaire escapes and the low-browed pickpocket goes to prison.
Cases are cited where the rich woman returning from a debauch of European shopping with a few thousand dollars' worth of pearls sewed in the lining of her winter bonnet is only fined, whereas the little milliner from the lower end of the city is sent to jail for trying to smuggle in a new coat. The impressario of art collections is caught at a gigantic scheme for defrauding the government of thousands of dollars on imported pictures. He hobbles into court and on the ground of ill health escapes a prison sentence and is merely fined, while the little Italian fruit vender is summarily jailed for bringing in a few dried mushrooms. The high financier who wrecks a railroad or a bank serves a light prison term and emerges like a phoenix to buy new steamboat lines or float new enterprises. But the peddler on the East Side who sells a few dollars' worth of stale fish is punished to the limit of the law.
The facts exist and to the popular mind seem unexplainable. There undoubtedly must be a reason, and what it is, is not hard to find. It seems one of the mysteries of judging and of justice, as though there were an unwritten law in the back of the human mind in favor of property rights. There is an explanation and not an inequality of justice. The facts are not as they are popularly stated or supposed to be. The public gets only a portion of the picture, and from an enormous group of cases, a few contrasted ones are picked out for the sake of the dramatic effect. The limelight of public notice is upon them and the softer lights and shadows are omitted. The public does not see the gradation. On the one hand we see the rich woman, the millionaire art dealer, the financial pirate being leniently dealt with, on the other hand we see the little milliner, the Italian fruit vender, and the peddler receiving harsh sentences.
The sharp contrasts make good newspaper stories that are appealing and touching. What the public does not see is the whole picture of all the cases of alleged inequality that come into court. These are only six out of seven hundred cases, chosen because they are melodramatic. There were nearly seven hundred other offenders that were let off with suspended sentences or light fines, of whom nothing is heard, but these three are conspicuous on account of their wealth, and the cases of the milliner, the mushroom vender, and the peddler are reported for the same reason—of being conspicuous. They are unusual on account of the sentences. The harshness of their sentences is remarkable. There may be special reasons. The six hundred and ninety-odd who are punished lightly in the same way as the rich man are not noticed.
As a matter of actual experience, the rich man has a harder time in court than the poor man. The inequality of justice, if there be any, is rather against him. Because he is rich and notorious the public prosecutor cannot let him off. If, for example, a poor man who is undoubtedly insane, commits a murder he is not tried, but is sent to an asylum for the insane. If, after several years, he recovers and is released, nothing is said about it; the public does not know. But let it be a rich lunatic and the public prosecutor is bound to bring him to trial. Public attention demands it. He may know him to be insane, but he must still prosecute him. The jury declare him insane. After years he is released from the asylum, the public thinks it a miscarriage of justice, forgetting in the meanwhile the inconspicuous poor man who unnoticed has gone through the same experience, and been released years ago.
The delays of the law are partly due to the system of courts and partly to the dullness of court procedure. The inefficiency of the system of courts and judicial procedure is shown in the practical workings of the civil courts of New York City. The antiquated organization of all the courts is like a patchwork quilt where each additional one has been added or increased as New York has grown from a village below the Indian stockade at Wall Street to its present size. So that there exist within the city limits now seven different kinds of civil courts and five kinds of criminal courts, in nearly each of which there is a separate set of rules, different customs, and distinct methods of procedure, and of them all the most technical and the most complicated are often those where they should be the most simple and easy of understanding.
Wherever the court may be the surroundings are substantially the same. The scene is laid and the carpenters have left. The spectators have found their places. The stage is empty however, there is a sudden bustle and shifting of feet, a rumor has gone abroad that something is about to happen. The court attendants take their places. One of them straightens up and with a commanding voice cries out: "Gentlemen, please rise. Hear ye, hear ye, all persons having business draw near and ye shall be heard." Enter his Honor, the Judge.
With a rustle of his gown and a bow to the court-room the judge takes his seat on the bench. The trivial pleasures of being heralded and having the spectators rise when he enters have lost their charm, but he would feel uncomfortable without them. The gray-haired clerk hands him the list of the cases for the day. The anxious court attendant asks if he shall open a window. The judge sniffs audibly and orders the steam heat to be turned off. The court attendant does so and brings his Honor a glass of water. When the judge sits down in the revolving chair he is on the bench and the court is in session.
The fact of the matter is the judge is a pretty decent sort of person. The trouble is that the surroundings are all against him. In the first place his whole job is one that makes him live up to a part. For five or six hours a day he has to sit still in a stuffy court-room on a leather chair under a silly canopy of wood or plush and pretend that he is the whole thing, that he knows it all, and that whatever he decides is absolutely right. Let him waiver or be uncertain in his decisions and woe is it to him. No one thinks much of a judge who does not know his business or at least does not pretend to know it.
How anyone who has been long on the bench can retain any sense of proportion is remarkable. Whatever he says and does in court is final and apparently approved. If his decisions are reversed they do not affect him seriously; he has tried so many cases that were not appealed, and the greater proportion of those that have been are affirmed. The reversal comes a long time after and does not hurt his feelings. In any event, he was trying to do the best he could and human nature may be fallible, although, as far as he can see, the whole world of the little court-room where he sits has conspired to show him that he is divinely endowed.
His position is not exactly one of bluff, but he is the central figure of the stage; like the actor's profession the judge's job makes him an egotist. Take for example the essential elements of his knowledge of the law. He is the Jus Dicens, the one saying the law, the name of judge being derived from the two Latin words. He is supposed to know the law, at least he ought to know court procedure, and the law of his State thereon by heart. In New York State, for example, the Code of Civil Procedure is five hundred thousand words long. He is bound to take judicial notice without being told of all the statutes of the State Legislature, which are being passed at the rate of six hundred a year.
He is also supposed to know the laws of the United States passed at Washington, and to be thoroughly familiar with the latest decisions of the Supreme Courts of the United States, and those for the past 125 years. He must understand and look as though he knew beforehand any decision of the courts of his own State cited, which are conveniently and neatly printed in 219 New York Court of Appeals Reports, 173 volumes of the Appellate Division Reports, and 96 volumes of the Miscellaneous Reports, to say nothing of the opinions and decisions of other courts that are not printed at all. His knowledge of the law is a fearful and wonderful thing; he must have an oceanic mind.
It is told that one of the leaders of the bar had formerly a young man in his office who with advancing years and reputation was elected to the bench. Before the first of January when he was to take his oath of office, the old employer and friend sent for him. When he arrived he was greeted as follows: "Joe, I've sent for you because I wanted to see you before you become a judge. I am very fond of you and I wanted to see you once again as you were, because after you go on the bench you are bound to become a stuffed shirt, for they all do."
That so many escape is one of the wonders of human nature. That they retain their humanity is due to a disposition of Providence to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. The position necessarily takes away all initiative. In politics the judge is recognized as being a "dead one." After a few years on the bench only the exceptional man can fling off the shackles of his profession and get back into real life. He ceases from fighting, he is not energetic.
As a good judge he must be firm but restrained. He may not be too emphatic. Every inducement is toward making him lazy, fat, and easy. Before him everyone bows and waits for him to speak. He is the absolute boss within the four walls of his court-room. The only restraining influences are the reactions from the lawyers and spectators who are before him. Their opinions can not be openly expressed; they are reserved until afterwards. If a judge really has any idea of the high esteem in which he is held, let him find out what is being said of him after the case is over, as the clients and lawyers are going down in the elevator, or what the rear benches have been whispering.
He probably has a suspicion of this, but no matter how tolerant he desires to be, there is the temptation to show that his authority is supreme; that when the lawyers begin arguing a point on which he has formed an opinion to cut them off; when the witness is trembling on the stand as to whether the accident happened on a Thursday or a Friday, to ask her, "Don't you know that Thursday was on the 16th of April last year," which of course she does not. There is the temptation to feel that he can never be wrong; that a question may be reargued, but that he is not going to change his opinion.
The possibility is that the judge is a mild sort of bully. But it is not always safe to go on the assumption that being a bully he is also a coward. He may be, but on a trial the odds are too much in his favor. If the lawyer wants to fight the judge, he has a great deal at stake; he may awaken so strong a prejudice that the judge knowing the rules of the game better than he does, may beat him on a technicality. On the other hand it is a mistake for the lawyer to be subservient and too cringing. Being a bully, the judge is apt to take advantage of his position. The best policy is to appeal to his human instincts as a man. He may be decent in spite of critics of the courts to the contrary notwithstanding. If he is kindly treated he will respond.
In New York judges were appointed until about 1846, when there was a popular upheaval and the constitution was changed, and they have ever since been elective, with the exception of some of the minor courts. The advantages of the two methods is an open question. The arguments in favor of appointment are that it makes for an independent judiciary and that it secures better men for the bench, whereas the other does not, because the highest class lawyer will not go through the turmoil and supposed degradation of a political campaign. These arguments are not sound.
The argument for the election of judges is that it keeps the bench more humane, modern, and in touch with the will of the people. The one is the aristocratic idea, the other the democratic. A court as at present constituted is an autocratic institution but the judges should be democrats. A feeling prevails that the man who has gone through a course of political sprouts involving the training of election campaigns, is more understanding of the wants of the people whom he is to serve, also that courts should be arranged on a business basis.
An amusing aspect of an elective judge is that he is in an anomalous position. If he plays politics, endeavors to make friends either by his decisions on the bench or obeying the mandates of a superior political boss as to appointment of referees and receivers, he immediately becomes a corrupt judge. The stench of his unjust decisions will sooner or later come to the nostrils of the community and his chances of reelection are forfeited. He runs the hazard of charges and removal.
If, on the other hand, he forgets the organization that has elected him either in the matter of patronage or the refusal of some desired court remedy, and so conducts his court that there shall be neither fear nor favor, he is a political ingrate and deserves neither reelection nor promotion. Of course these are the two extremes; fortunately human nature is not what the sociologists and political theorists would make it.
The political boss is not the unscrupulous ogre that the muck-rakers picture. He does not order the judge to decide the hundred-thousand-dollar-contract case in favor of his hench man. He might like to have him do so but he does not ask. Neither does the judge lean over backwards in the other direction and imprison the contractor because he is a friend of the boss. The movements for the non-partisan election of judge show the recognition of some of these incongruities.
The fierce bright light that plays about a throne also makes the judge conspicuous. If he sneezes, if he coughs, if he takes a glass of water he is probably feverish and cross. If he keeps still he is going to sleep and not paying attention. If he gets up or sits down it is noted as indicative of how he is going to decide the case. Every movement is watched. The position of a judge is not enviable. He is the concrete object to which the evils of the court-room attach. To the popular mind he is the court, the law, the method of procedure, the source of all the technicalities, and the delays. The beaten side will bear him a grudge, and the winning side think they ought to have got more.
If he be lenient in interpreting the law, he may be called to account for inability; if he be too strict, he is accused of irritability. If he be too polite, he may seem to be extending favor. A justice of one court, wishing to be kind, once asked a young counselor whose case had been dismissed through a technicality to come up and sit on the bench with him. The young man afterward complained to his friends that the judge wanted to shame him and make him conspicuous.
There are few judges who dare to cut short the examination of a witness, although the length and direction of a trial are supposed to be within the discretion of the judge. He is hindered by the technicalities of those who insist, hoping for a reversal on appeal, and sometimes the same technicalities are used to prevent the actual facts being brought out. The solution probably lies in extending the powers of the judges over the conduct of a trial.
He has a position of interest and authority and one that commands respect. In England he dresses for the part in silk stockings and is next to the king in importance or about equal to a bishop. In Germany he is a little better than a Herr Pastor or a doctor, but inferior to a young lieutenant in the army. In France the salaries of the judges are pitiable. The highest, the president of the Cour de Cassation, gets $5000 a year and the lower judges only a few hundreds, with no possibility of earning anything by practicing law, but there the judges are persuaded to take out the balance of what they should have in salaries in the honor of their position.
We are so shockingly frank and matter of fact, that we believe that the conventionality of pomp and circumstance have been too much regarded in courts and court procedure, that dignity is not accomplished by wearing a wig, knee breeches, or gowns of ermine and silk. It is consistent with a plain-spoken people to feel a contempt for state and symbols. Any attempt to return to the conventionalities of Europe is met by the contempt of a democracy.
In rebelling at form we have been so occupied that we have not been awake to a change in substance that has been demanded by modern conditions. The courts are gradually reaching a simpler basis. Formerly they may have been surrounded by more pomp and magnificence, but the work is now being better laid out and the course of the proceeding is on more modern lines. Changes in practice acts will revolutionize trials. People smile at the dignity of their courts and judges. The modern spirit is for greater frankness, simplicity, and directness.
If he is a sane and reasonably simple man the judge tries to do his duty according to the light that is in him. He knows some law, has seen a quantity of human nature and passions flowing before him. The court-room, his position of authority, the respect of the community, the human drama, the abstract and intangible demand of something above the actual awakens in the judge that passion for justice which is a quality almost divine. The man himself becomes patient, understanding, and humane. Nearly every man, no matter how small he may be at the beginning, rises to the responsibilities of his position. So it is with the judge.
It is undecided whether the judge is entitled to more respect from the lawyers and laity or whether the laity is entitled to more respect from the judge. The judge sits indolently crumpled up in his easy chair; before him a leader of the bar is arguing. In an eloquent manner he is pleading for a young attorney who is about to be punished for "Contempt of court."
"And so your Honor will realize that in the heat and excitement of a trial, in the turmoil of the legal battle, in the intensity of a forensic struggle, the young man may well have forgotten the respect and deference which is ever due from a member of the bar to the representative of high-minded justice."
The judge seems unaffected by the appeal. The young man had been rude and impertinent, the fine of $250 must stand as punishment for his misbehavior.
Suddenly the pleader with a wave of his hand and a twinkle in his eye says: "Look at the difference between the position of a lawyer who, alert with restless energy, momentarily forgets his manners in fighting for his client, and on the other hand the calm"—pointing to the judge who is still half reclining in his chair—"the calm, I repeat, of complete judicial repose."
There is a smile through the court-room. The judge straightens up, sees the humor of the situation, and the fine is remitted.
There is a constant play of opposing influences upon the judge. As an upholder of the law he becomes a formalist and a reactionary. The insistent demands of humanity which the statute law can never satisfy, tend to make him a revolutionist. The saving element for him is that he is only a part of a system for which he is not responsible.
When the judge has had the list of cases for the day called and has disposed of the applications for adjournments, he turns to the clerk who begins to call the roll of the men who are to act an important part on the stage—the jury.
The solution of the matter so far as the judge is concerned is to give him greater power. Let him be absolutely responsible for the conduct of a case in court. His position should not be that of an umpire who remains quiet until a dispute arises, but rather that of a head enquirer into merits, assisted by the two lawyers and the jury.
THE ANXIOUS JURY
The main characteristic of the jury is that it does not want to be in court. The name comes from the French word Jure, sworn, or the man who has taken an oath. There is probably no reason to suppose that the word is derived from the state of mind in which a juryman finds himself, nor does it mean the words he has expressed with reference to his duty: more properly it is the men who are sworn to do justice. The implication of the word serve is that there is some punishment or penalty attached to jury duty. It is not regarded as penal servitude by the average man, but it seems near to it. While he is serving, his business goes to pieces, his wife misunderstands why he does not come home to dinner and his whole life is disarranged. When a man has served on a jury he gets a discharge paper.
Jury duty is one of the obligations of citizenship and its highest duty; at the same time it is one of its privileges. Foreigners and idiots cannot serve. Doctors, soldiers, journalists, clergymen, and others, besides those who are deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled, are exempted. The experience of serving on a jury may be annoying but it is broadening and gives an opportunity of seeing human nature in a way that few appreciate. To serve on a jury is to become a part of the judicial system of the State and for the time being to belong to the governing class.
"All day long," says the court officer, "they do nothing but grumble and grumble at being kept away from their business but when they get chosen on a case, they realize it does not do any good so they settle down to do what is right." The country man may not have much to do and may look on jury duty rather as a diversion or vacation from farm work but the average town man feels the $2 a day he receives is only lunch money compared to the amount he is losing in his business, and so he hates it.
The first warning of trouble that a juryman gets is when he comes home and finds that a policeman has been looking for him. It is to be hoped that he has a guiltless conscience. He inquires further and learns it was only a court officer summoning him to court for the trial term next month. His first concern is to see what can be done in a political way. If he belongs to the local club of the district—but here let the curtain be drawn. Besides he may accomplish very little, so many of the judges do not seem to remember their political obligations. Then he tries to reach the judge through a friend and when that fails he makes his way resignedly to court on the appointed day.
When he comes there for the first time he smiles at the court attendant and tries to make friends, but the court officer who has been there many times before is not at all susceptible. Perhaps he hurries around to the judge's chambers and manages to see the judge's secretary, who is sympathetic over the fact that the month is December and the busy season of the year in the florist business and that there is only one assistant in the shop, but the judge is busy and will only see him from the bench. Finally he goes into court and waits for his name to be called.
After the roll call, he goes timidly up to the rail and stands there waiting until his Honor will take notice of him. His Honor is busy blowing his nose or signing papers. Finally the court officer points him out. The judge scowls and asks him what he wants. Tremblingly he explains his difficulty: that his business needs him or that his wife is sick and that he will serve any other month if he can be let off now. The judge reads him a lecture on the duty of citizenship and the responsibility of jury duty and says he is sorry that he can not excuse him.
Afterwards when the judge finds that there are enough jurymen in court for the needs of the calendar, he may privately send word to the juryman by a court attendant that he is excused for the term or for a few days until the Christmas rush is over or his wife is better. Judges are often humane, but if they were to excuse the juror openly they would find all the others in court clamoring for the same exemption. If the juryman merely wants to dodge the duty he probably does not get excused. The judge seems surprisingly intelligent and discriminating and able to pick the sheep from the goats. The man who merely wants to escape serving usually has to, and the man on whom it is a hardship is sometimes let off. Uniformly the jurymen feel that it is a necessary evil, but not so bad when they are once in court.
Until a case is called for trial they sit about the court-room or walk in the corridors. In the meanwhile, the judge is arranging the calendar, and they have been watching the maneuvers of the lawyers to have their cases put off, or they may have seen the amusing little by-plays when one lawyer crosses the aisle of the court-room, button-holes his opponent, and whispers something to him. The other lawyer motions to his client and the party moves to the hall where there is a secret conference about a proposition of settlement. Something is agreed upon or they may not come to terms and decide to go on with the trial. If there is to be a settlement the two lawyers walk up to the rail and say:
"Will your Honor excuse us if we interrupt and mark the case of Allen against Brewster settled." The judge smiles with pleasure; he does not mind at all being interrupted for that purpose. He is pleased to have one more case off the score.
When the time comes for the selection of a jury they wait for their names to be called with the thought that the axe is about to fall. As they are examined they answer the questions of their occupations and opinions truthfully, but if for any reason they are excused, they leave the box with a smile at those impaneled and a sigh of relief as at danger escaped.
Like many honors, the position of foreman of a jury is an empty honor. He has the first seat and he heads the procession when the jury walk in and out of court; he also announces the verdict, but he has no actual power either in the jury-room or in the court. If there is a vote to be taken, he has no deciding voice, but in the deliberations he quickly falls to the level which his attainments justify.
During the trial a feeling of resentment at court procedure grows. It is not the judge any longer who is keeping and delaying them. The witnesses appear like fools it is true, but the lawyers make them act more foolishly than need be. Why does the judge make such absurd rulings? The law must be an unreasonable thing and the judge evidently knows a great deal about it. Why can't the witnesses tell what they know? The most tiresome parts are when the lawyers begin arguing about the testimony. One side wants the witness to tell something and the other side does not. The judge keeps still and lets the lawyers go on talking as though it were something important, perhaps he can not help it. The lawyers or the judge can not have much to do. The judge it is true is paid to listen, but the lawyers must be pretty hard up when they will go on talking in that way. No juryman would stay here wasting his time during business hours, and afterwards there are the newspapers, supper, and taking the family to the movies, all of which is far more sensible.
"Say, it's like a vaudeville show to see those two go on," thinks the juryman. "You couldn't beat it if you put it in an act. Georgie Cohan or Joe Weber could make their fortunes if they only hired the lawyers as actors or came into court for their material."
Occasionally the judge calls the lawyers up to his desk and together they talk over something which the jury can not hear. The jury look as though they did not care. If they want to talk some more—well, let them. Perhaps they are planning some game, and the jury will wait until their turn comes. In the jury-room they can show them what's what; that is where they know their chance is coming. Even if the judge is only trying to find out something about the case, that is a sensible thing to do. Why don't the lawyers come over and talk to the jury like that? In a few minutes they could ask them some questions that would settle the whole matter.
The strange part is when a witness has said something and told how he or she feels about the whole case, which is exactly what the jury want to know, one of the lawyers jumps up and says he moves to strike that part all out and the judge strikes out. The lawyer having scored a hit, then says:
"I ask your Honor to instruct the jury to disregard the testimony just given."
"Gentlemen," says the judge, "the evidence just given has been ruled out by the court and is not relevant to the issue, and I must instruct you to disregard these words of the witness and in arriving at your verdict not to consider them."
Of all the absurdities that happen in court, the jurymen think that is the worst. Does the judge or the lawyer believe for a moment that because they say so the jury are going to forget what the witness said, especially when it was the very thing they wanted to find out? They watch the stenographer and they notice he does not even take the trouble to cross it out of the notebook.
Occasionally a juryman becomes particularly interested and wants to question something. Usually he is too self-conscious to run the risk of being snubbed, but sometimes he is bolder and ventures a question.
"Why," asks the juryman, "didn't the defendant give back the goods if they were not what she wanted?" Both lawyers are on their feet. There is a mute appeal to the court; both sides are afraid to object to the question for they think the juryman may have a prejudice if he were stopped. The judge usually comes to the rescue and tells the juryman that he is sorry, but that his question is manifestly improper in form. The evidence should be whether the defendant did a certain thing or did not do it. The reason why he did it is not in point. After two or three attempts of this kind the juryman subsides and sits patiently through the trial without any suggestion. He thinks that there is a hopelessly complicated game being played before him and he does not attempt to interfere.
There may be some truth in the theory of the attorney who says:
"Always look out for the juryman who asks your witness questions. He is against you. If he absolutely believed the witness he would let it pass without questioning." This reasoning may be used as an argument either way, for if the juryman believes the witness he may feel that he should like to have him tell more. Or if he does not accept him as truthful, he thinks it will not be worth while to ask him other questions. An inference may be drawn as to the juror's attitude for and against.
An inexplicable thing to the jury is when the judge takes the case away from them and directs a verdict or dismissal of the complaint. That the jury should be compelled to listen to all that mass of testimony and then at the end not have a chance to decide is unreasonable. If the plaintiff did not have a case, why did the judge let them go on? He should have found it out earlier instead of wasting all that time.
After the whole case is in, it may happen that both sides move for a direction of the verdict and then the jury have nothing to do. The judge says:
"Gentlemen of the Jury, I direct you to find a verdict for so-and-so." Before they have a chance to say whether they will or will not, the clerk announces a verdict for so-and-so. This is very annoying and discouraging, especially when the jury were going to find a verdict directly contrary to the way the judge decided. Technically they have a right to refuse to find a verdict as the judge directs, but if they did, only a mis-trial would result.
It is an illustration of the difference between the function of a judge and a jury. The jury pass on the facts, the judge on the law. When the judge dismisses the case, he is saying that the facts may be so and what happened may be truly stated, but even then it does not make any difference. The law is that those facts do not make out a case. Only when the facts make out a case do the jury have any function. Then it is for them to find out whether the facts are as the plaintiff claims them to be or as the defendant. The jury are usually puzzled and do not understand the distinction. In certain cases the judge determines both the facts and the law and decides the whole matter. In those cases, and in what is known as equity, there are no jury, but a judge may always ask for a jury if he wishes one to determine the facts.
A jury is supposed to be advantageous to the defendant in a criminal action and to the plaintiff in a civil action.
"One judge is better than twelve," says the advocate of the non-jury system. "Law is a technical thing and you can not put a technical case plainly enough so that twelve men could thoroughly understand it."
A discussion of the jury system is not in place. The jurymen have already been summoned and are in court and until the structure of the law is changed they will remain. They are ready to try any case that may come before them. The judge feels a sense of relief at not having to pass upon the facts. The law being laid down, all that remains for him to do is to see that the facts are fairly and plainly presented to the jury, that both sides conduct the case in a reasonable manner and that the trial be as open-minded as possible. The anxious attitude of mind toward the jury is that of the parties who are to be judged, the lawyers and their clients.
The jury do not become very excited over the wrongs of one side or the other. They certainly do not enjoy the trial or look upon it as an example of a good fight although under the present system of procedure that is what it is supposed to be.
THE STRENUOUS LAWYER
Of equal importance in the cast are the lawyers. They play the parts that represent action. The judge and jury are the heavy characters. The clients who make their entrances and exits as they take or leave the witness chair are of minor importance. The lawyers occupy the center of the stage the greater part of the time. Their clients sit watching, the judge and jury keep silent and listen to them.
In order to make a trial or a contest there must be two sides. There may be three or more lawyers, but usually they divide themselves into two groups and take sides. The attacking party,—the plaintiff, complainant, or prosecutor,—naturally the more aggressive, and the man who is defending himself.
The latter's lawyer is the one who is wary and alert. Sometimes the attacking lawyer having gained a position sits down and defends it. During the trial there is a constant change of attack, the taking of a redoubt, charges and countercharges, trenches captured and forsaken again. The intellectual and legal battle is as bitter as any physical one. To the understanding observer and the participant it is momentous and intense.
While the contest is waging there is no intermission. The fight is always hot, keen, bitter. Quietly as the lawyer may handle himself, underneath his calm exterior he is ready to fight, bite, scratch, shoot, kill, slash, but always he must do so under the rules of the game, never hitting below the belt. What the battle is about is the issue, the result is called the verdict, or the decision, and the formal statement of the court as to the result the judgment.
The contest is so real it soon ceases to be a play. It is too much in earnest and whatever humorous quality it may possess never loses the underlying intensity of human conflict. One noted trial lawyer says that he always feels the loss of a case in the pit of his stomach, another that he can never begin a trial without mopping his forehead for fear that beads of perspiration might be apparent. However ordinary and accustomed court trials may become to the participants, there will always remain the deep underlying stress of human passions.
As lawyers are watched, they may appear alternately as jumping up and sitting down like jacks-in-the-box or those weather figures, where if one goes in the other comes out. Their appearance differs in the different courts from the higher courts where the well-groomed eminent leader of the bar, with thin lips and white side whiskers debates in a frock coat before the appellate court, questions of international importance, or the anxious-eyed little attorney where in one of the lower courts with a showy diamond ring and a handkerchief sticking out of his pocket in the shape of an American flag, argues, while chewing gum, whether his client shall pay the fourteen dollars rent or not.
There is never any peace between them. Occasionally there is a truce when they come together to agree on a certain state of facts, or conclusions of law, but essentially they are at war; otherwise they would not be in court. The only reason for their being there is an issue to be decided.
Often so eager do they appear that physical violence seemed impending. It is as though they were on the point of breaking into fisticuffs. The judge says: "Gentlemen, gentlemen." They appear like two naughty schoolboys who have to be controlled by their master. First one is restrained and rebuked, then the other is held strictly to the rules of the game. Like schoolboys, although they may be fighting one another, they appear at times to be in league against the judge. As in a baseball game, both sides join against the umpire. There is a common class feeling between the lawyers leaguing them against the judge. This may be explained perhaps by a rather subtle psychology.
The lawyers are primarily in court to please their clients. Every ruling of the judge against them on even minor points of evidence, any adverse decision is fatal to them from the point of view of retaining the client for the next litigation. They watch the judge with lynx-like eyes. Is he going to drive the client away from them? Should he reprimand them or speak severely, their client would think that they had angered the judge and so they had lost the case. Defeat in a case is so important that if a lawyer loses a case he probably loses his client.
In one of the lower city courts on the East Side, a young attorney came in one morning with a scar across his cheek, a scratch on his nose, and sticking plaster on his chin. The judge had often seen him before. After the case was over he called him to the bench and said that he was sorry he had an accident, and asked him what had happened. "Oh, not much," said the lawyer, "last week I simply lost a case for a client."
The complaint of the lawyer against the judge is always that he has forgotten that he was a lawyer once himself. He does not realize how important it is that the lawyer should make a good impression on his client. His feeling is, if the judge cuts him off when he is arguing, the client will think that he is talking foolishly. The judge overrules his objection. The client thinks the judge does not like him. The judge denies his motion to strike out, he evidently does not look on the lawyer favorably. The lawyer's chance of display is in talking. If he is not allowed to go on he feels the judge is unreasonable in not listening to him.
The nice lines to be made by the judge between consideration for the feeling of the lawyers and insisting that justice be fully and speedily accomplished, are hard to draw. On the one hand there are the courts where no limit is put to the digressions of attorneys and where they may wander on and on, apparently merely to display their oratory to their clients, and other courts where the undoubtedly bad manners of the bench to the bar are unforgivable.
Control of the trial is necessary because it is a struggle in a court on a defined area. It is an intellectual ordeal by battle, a capping of intellects. It is like a game of chess in which luck is eliminated, the board is free, the pieces are equal, the way in which they may move is fixed by the rules of the game of court procedure. The element of chance is made not by the court or the procedure, but by the fact that the pawns, the castles, and the knights are not of ivory, but are human and mutable.
The lawyers are discontented with the courts, while the judges feel that the deficiencies are the fault of the lawyers. The lawyers, they say, do not cooeperate with the judges in the administration of justice, and are too busy with their own game. Here enters that academic question of whether a lawyer's duty is first to the court and justice, or first to his client,—should he defend a man he knows to be guilty. The dispute is sophomoric. He is the advocate of his client first, foremost, and all the time. That is the reason for his existence. He is the agent for his client; his tongue, brain, and energy belong to his client. He is undoubtedly justified in whatever he does, if he keeps to the rules. Justice is best promoted by heeding the rules of justice to the utmost.
It is to be remembered that the lawyer occupies an uncertain position. As an officer of the court he is sworn to promote justice; as a champion in the battle he is under the deep obligation of performing his utmost for his client. At times the conflict between his duties seems real. As an officer of the court he has the privilege of the floor. He can be heard and is admitted to the court. It is as though he had joined a club in which dueling or gaming is permitted. The obligation resting upon him is to act as a gentleman and obey the rules and not to cheat. If he keeps to the rules he is presumably a gentleman and can do what he pleases for his clients.
If there is any complaint about the courts it is held to be the fault of the lawyers, if there are criticisms of the lawyers it is the fault of the courts. They are interdependent and indissoluble. If a club house is not suitable for its purposes, is old-fashioned, rickety, and dirty, it is the fault of the members. If the members do not behave the club house gets a bad reputation.
Courts are institutions, and not persons; the lawyers are the individual stockholders. If by his actions in court or in the club he brings disgrace on himself as a lawyer or upon his club, there is very little to be done about it. The club membership may be more limited and select, but the building will not be improved except that it may be swept a little cleaner.
The judge as the president of the club must see that the lawyers observe the rules, he can not rebuild the club house or materially change the rules. The only persons who can effect a change are the lawyers. As members, they are agents for their clients who are the public at large. Occasionally the public awakes to a realization of their power over both courts and lawyers, that they are their creatures; then happens a revolution in procedure and something is accomplished.
The lawyer waits about the courthouse for his case to be reached. It may take days or even weeks before it is marked ready. He wastes his time. The witnesses have been subpoenaed. They have to be told to come again the next day. There is little money in it for the lawyer. Office practice pays better than court work and except for the eminent pleaders there is but small honor.
During the trial the lawyer seems to be sparring. He takes the attitude of saying: "I want that point of law decided; it is such a nice point, it ought to be settled." As a matter of fact he only wants it settled in his own favor. It is not the abstract interest but the concrete fact in which he is interested.
The lawyer is vigilant from the beginning of the trial to the end. After the case is marked ready he watches the jury, the other side, and the judge; any movement may be of importance; if it escapes his notice he may lose his whole case. It is not safe for him to go on the assumption that the other side is as honest as he is. If they should attempt to put in some evidence that is not proper, to offer a paper that is not duly authenticated, to try by some trick or device to take an unfair advantage, he must be ready to pounce upon the incident. If he is quick he may turn it to the advantage of his own side.
The other lawyer among a bundle of letters offers one that is only a copy or is not signed. The lawyer notices it but keeps still and when at the proper time calls the attention of the judge and the jury to the fact, the plain implication is that the other side must have a very weak case if it needs bolstering up by such methods as this. The argument is that he let the paper go in without objection because he thought the matter trivial anyway, and he wanted the jury to see the underhand method of the other side.
The indefinable quality of personal magnetism is of much vaunted importance. It is like that horrid word, charm; no one knows what it means and seems to have a supernatural quality. The trial lawyer does not need either charm or magnetism. They are both nonsense. Like actors or fighters if they are sufficiently trained in their parts or know how to use their weapons, the lawyers' personal magnetism over judge and jury will come of itself. The judge is a fairly hard-hearted person. The jury may be governed by sentiment but they are an example of the average man and neither are going to be caught by smile or mannerisms. Sound qualities will prevail.
A fine-looking trial lawyer who thoroughly knew his business once had a hard case. His appearance and manner impressed the jury. They followed his every motion. The trial was long and tiresome. It was the days of those little iron puzzles to get two rings or anchors apart; occasionally he would take one out of his pocket and begin playing with it. The jury would follow him with their eyes to see whether he could do it. Whenever he thought the evidence for the other side was getting too interesting, out would come the little iron puzzle and the jury would pay more attention to its solution than to the witness on the stand. He won his case but that is no reason to recommend the playing of "Pigs in Clover" in the court-room. The reason he won the case was because he was the capable man and on the job.
The lawyers' profession is not a creative one but the value in the social structure is cohesive. He brings together the investor and the manufacturer, he amalgamates capital and labor on a sound legal basis. He adjusts conditions to the laws and laws to the conditions. His is the most large-minded of the professions. He is theoretically the layer of the law. In every community the eminent lawyer is the eminent citizen. No one commands greater respect. But there is no doubt that the inefficient administration of justice is the fault, to a large extent, of the legal profession.
The fine, kind face of the lawyer who, ripe in years and understanding, beams a genial smile is a living reproach to the detractors of his profession. Painstaking, scrupulous, broad-minded, and intelligent, with a twinkle of humor for the frailities of humanity, he looks on the pettiness of men with a wise tolerance. Beneath his ease of manner and cordiality of intercourse there lies a world of experience, of battles fought and won, of inherent force of character, of public honors received and gracefully borne. There are no limits to the admiration and love to which he is entitled.
Beside the lawyer, and watching him with worried eyes, sits the client, who unless he is in the wrong really wants the lawyer to bring out the facts in the case rather than to have him exhibit his qualities as a fighter.
THE WORRIED CLIENT
Like the financial backer of a play, the client does not figure largely on the stage. If he does appear as an actor he may have a small speaking part, but he is not a star. He owns the show, and if it does not pay he loses, or if he wins he gets a proportion of the profits. Consequently he hires the best talent he can afford. The star performer is the lawyer, but as the producer the client has not only the choice in picking the theme, but the play is about him and his troubles. Great drama consists in a conflict of emotions. The emotions of the two opposing clients make a court drama. The acting and the staging is the art of the lawyer.
The philology and derivation of the word client is significant. It does not mean the principal, but a follower. It is derived from the Latin word cluere and the Greek klyein, meaning to hear; one who listens, a follower.
An ordinary man has a horror of the entanglement of the law. A hard-headed man of business says he would rather pay a claim of $250 or less, although he had never seen the claimant, and the suit was utterly unfounded, than go to court. He would rather lose the same amount than bring a suit involving the trouble and expense of hiring a lawyer, requiring witnesses to waste their time, and wasting his own in waiting for a trial, which might possibly result in a judgment against him on a perfectly just debt, either through the miscarriage of justice, or the chance of not collecting the judgment. The typical feeling is that of the stockbroker who said: "Only blackmailing suits go to court, for if sensible men have a dispute they know it is easier and cheaper to settle it outside."
The client is in a darkened room. He only partially sees what is going on. If the whole case is thrown out of court on a question of law or a technicality he feels more than resentful against the judge; he is revengeful; he will spend every cent he has in the world appealing and showing that judge how wrong he is. In the first place, it is a disgrace.
"Why," he says, "the judge just kicked us out of court. We didn't have a chance; the judge must have been friends with the other side. Do you call that justice? I'd like to get that judge outside and talk to him man to man. No one can get a square deal in court."
The feeling of the client toward the courts and the lawyer is one of distrust, mingled with respect. He will say:
"I would rather take a friend's word as a gentleman that he would do something than to have it put in the form of a forty-page contract drawn by the best lawyer in the country. I could rely on the word of a gentleman, but if any question on that contract came into court, some clever lawyer would find a loophole to get out of it." Yet the fact is that the world does require legal documents. An interesting speculation would be to consider what proportion of the world's business affairs is conducted on a basis which could be provable or have the authority of enforcement in a court of law. The proportion of the business transacted in a so-called legal manner is insignificantly small.
The numberless transactions of the retail stores in a great city; such cases of proving that a pair of gloves were sold, delivered, and not paid for are extremely difficult to prove. The expense and trouble involved of subpoenaing the different departments and of breaking up the routine of the store, would prevent the stores becoming clients. The enormous transactions on the New York Stock Exchange, where a hundred million dollars' worth of business is reputed to be done in one day, is entirely on the basis of personal honesty. So far as the court goes, should one party to a stock sale not be willing to complete, there would be little possibility of enforcing it. Therefore the Stock Exchange makes its own rules and has its own method of settling disputes. The world at large is not a client in the court. The man who becomes a client in the sense of litigant is an exception. The courts would seem to be unrelated to the demands of actual business affairs.
Times have changed since the Victorian days when a solicitor was the client's deferential servant, the steward and custodian of the landed gentleman's legal affairs. Then the lawyer had a profession which he carried in his head. Law reports contained a few thousand, not a million decisions, and there were no title insurance companies to make a business of determining the ownership of real estate. Yet in those days the legal adviser was not a very exalted person, ranking beneath the soldier and standing hat in hand before the gentleman of property, to whom he owed his living. The citizen who wished to learn whether he or his landlord should clear away the snow on the sidewalk, went gravely to a lawyer's office and paid a fee for the information. It is obvious that lawyers do not make their living through small fees for giving advice. As a matter of fact, those whose work is more remunerative than a street-car conductor's or a carpenter's, make their living through business and not in small litigation.
To-day lawyers complain that their profession is slipping from them. But they have gained the prestige of business.
"I am a business man, not a lawyer," says the elderly leader at the bar, and scarcely knows whether he is, on the whole, gratified or regretful.
Their abilities are used in directing the conduct of business from a legal standpoint and protecting it from those who are ready to prey upon it. Business needs protection from other business, from accident cases, and libel cases. These frequently get into the courts. Citizens need protection from business and seek it in the aggressive form of suits for damages. Big business looks on the courts as instruments of blackmail, and the small citizen feels that the courts are inadequate to protect his rights. It makes a deal of difference which side they are on. But in any case the present-day successful lawyer is primarily a business man.
A corporation is a legal creation; a lawyer is its mother and nurse. The stockholders having the curious relation of being partners, one not liable for its debts—if its legal affairs are properly handled. And so the company retains a lawyer at a yearly salary to give them advice and that legal protection. Prominent lawyers are taken in as partners of the big banking firms. The large industrial companies have the highest priced lawyers exclusively attending to their affairs. Accident Insurance Companies have enormous legal plants as efficiently organized as factories for handling damage suits and against whom is opposed the inexperienced lawyer of the individual citizen.
Furthermore, the corporation, though composed, in reality, of individuals, is less personal than any one of its members. It is a client without keen emotions, without too distracting hopes, fears, or suspicions. Law is an exacting science, arduous and complex. The lawyer, to do his best, should work quietly, disturbed as little as possible by the human interests at stake. If then the lawyer is correct in preferring the soulless corporate client, it must be that the ordinary individual is either too poor, or too human. Naturally, the corporations are not only the most satisfactory, but the most desirable clients.
The client, although he is the originator of the drama is in reality only a listener. The client in court has so little to say and the lawyers have so much, that it seems unexplainable. The reason is that the lawyers are the fighters, the champions, the knights in the tournament. A legal battle is only enacted because the lawyers are expert fighters. The client having hired them, has little to do but watch. When men first went to law they had no champions; they fought and took what they could, but as civilization advanced men became too busy to engage in legal or actual battles and there grew up a specialized class of fighting men. The lawyers are the hired mercenaries of the commercial structure; and the clients are the ordinary business men. True, some of the lawyers are free lancers, but the majority have the sentiments and standards of their class. There is a natural class antagonism between the client and the lawyer. The client is afraid and mistrusts the lawyer; and the lawyer feels that he must act for an unintelligent client who is ignorant and inexpert. So long as the courts continue to exist on their present plan the difference between client and lawyer will be marked.
An example of a return to formalism and a reactionary development has been the change in what is known as the Poor Man's Court of New York City. It was originally planned as a court where the client or man unlearned in the law could come in to sue in a simple way. They were simple justice courts. The limit for which he could sue was $100, then $250, then $500, now $1000. Formerly the judges need not be lawyers. A trial was an informal affair. The judge would line up both the parties at the rail. One side would tell their story, the other side would interrupt and finally get a chance to tell theirs. The judge would figuratively pat them on the head, decide the case, and tell them to go home and be good.
The New York Legislature recently passed a law making the court a court of record, and making all the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure applicable. The code with its half million words is therefore a part of the procedure. So that the client now before he goes into court without a lawyer ought to familiarize himself with the code. Formerly these courts may not have been dignified. Pandemonium would break loose and the litigants begin screaming at and abusing each other. Often the judge was obliged to apply a somewhat arbitrary and paternal rule. Now the courts are more dignified and formal, but the clients are disappearing from view. They are in fact afraid to come into court without a lawyer.
While the dignity and efficiency of the court have been increased, it has almost ceased to be a court for the poor man; indeed the procedure is so technical that, although possible, it is rather unusual for a man to come without a lawyer. Of course, the attorneys who make their living by appearing in small suits where the fee is often a contingent part of the small amount recovered, or a fixed charge of $5 or less for trying a case, do not present examples of the best legal ability.
The point of view of the client is that he is loath to spend the money to hire a lawyer for defense. One litigant stated in court, when asked if he had not admitted the debt: "Well," he said, "I just went around to see the plaintiff to find out if I could not save a few dollars instead of hiring a lawyer." It is an open question which brand is the best for the client, the rough and ready justice or the formal and orderly kind.
While the jury are being examined and during the opening of the counsel, the client sits quietly, but a trifle self-consciously, at the counsels' table. The talk is about him and frequent references are made to him and what he has been doing. He tries to look as though he did not care and was accustomed to the surroundings, and when the taking of testimony and the wrangles over objections and motions begin, he falls quietly into the background.
If it is a criminal action he is not on the stand during the People's case. When his side is presented his lawyer does the best he can to keep him from the stand, whether he be innocent or guilty. The well-known expression is that the defendant hangs himself by taking the stand. In civil trials the client may be a corporation or the owner of the injured automobile or wagon, but not a witness to the accident. He sits silent by his lawyer if he is wise, realizing that his lawyer can fight better without being annoyed. If he is nervous, he keeps plucking at his sleeve and whispering advice. It is difficult for him to restrain himself. There have been months of preparation. The drama is being produced; to him it is vital. He knows more about the case than the lawyer. He wants to advise, suggest, and instruct. Why doesn't the lawyer ask the witness that question about what he told Smith or what he told his wife?
The client might be surprised if he knew what the lawyer was thinking of him. If asked, the lawyer would moisten his lips, draw a long breath, and then pause, not for lack of thoughts however. The best client in court for the lawyer is the silent client. One of the greatest calamities from the lawyer's point of view is when the client is on the witness stand and begins to get confidential with the judge and to tell him exactly how he feels about the whole matter.
"Why," said a lawyer, "I had a perfect case and then the judge asked a question and spoiled the whole thing. I think it was outrageous, the judge had no right to interfere."
The attorney's feeling toward his client is contained in the wish that he wasn't there. The legal aspect of the case, the real point at issue, is probably something very different to what the client has in mind. The lawyer has an uneasy feeling that, in the client's eyes, he will not do the case justice.
"How outrageous," thinks the defendant, "that I should be sued when I've been over-generous for years. And the jury ought to know exactly what these people are who said they'd call off the suit if I'd pay them a hundred dollars." The lawyer is aware of these views, because he has been told them more than once; he also knows that he cannot try the case in that way.
The counteraction of emotions and feelings between the lawyer and the client, the judge and the jury, the undercurrents that are constantly moving from one to another, make up the drama of the court. The characters are laid, the theme is selected, the actors are chosen, and it remains for the play to be prepared.
PROGRAMS AND PLEADINGS
Pleadings are the programs of the performance. They are printed beforehand and everybody gets a copy. Preparation consists in the rehearsal and the carpentry of setting the scene. Any lawyer knows how important the pleadings are, but nobody else does. The judge does not pay any more attention to them than he has to. Juries hardly ever see them; if they did, they could not understand them. The witnesses never hear of them, the clients have sworn they have read them and have sworn that they are true. Yet not one client in a thousand could give an explanation of them other than, "My lawyer told me to sign it, so I did."
Whenever anyone gets anxious to understand a pleading, there are so many volumes about the subject and so many bookcases of decisions they would furnish a house. All this may appear flippant, but the subject is so absurd, abstruse, and abnormal to a man of business, that it is almost impossible to make it understandable. A partial list of authorities on the subject sounds like a chapter from Alice in Wonderland: Pepper on Pleading; Perry on Pleading; Pollock on Pleading; Pound on Pleading; Puterbaugh on Pleading; Phillips on Pleading; Pomeroy on Pleading. The number of court decisions in which this branch of the proceeding has been reverently and gravely dealt with reads like a metaphysical discussion in the dark ages. The names formerly used were superb. Complaint, demurrer, confession and avoidance, traverse, replication, dilatory pleas, peremptory pleas, rejoinder, rebutter, and sur-rebutter.
On the other hand the clear, concise technical statement of a case is not a matter to be laughed at; no clear thinking is possible without it. No plain understanding of what the drama is about, nor what the issues of the battle are, can be grasped. Good lawyers are good thinkers and usually plain talkers. The present-day revolt against the confused pleadings may go to the opposite extreme and abolish them all, leaving the case to be presented as formless and loose. The vexed question of the proper form of a pleading may delay justice until it is determined on appeal from the City Court to the Supreme Court, then to the Appellate Division, then to the Court of Appeals. In the meanwhile the clients may die, the money in suit may be lost, while the audience is waiting merely for the programs to be printed.
In Perry on Common Law Pleading, reprinted in 1897, chapter thirteen is devoted to rules which tend to prevent obscurity and confusion in pleading.
RULE I. Pleadings must not be insensible or repugnant. RULE II. Pleadings must not be ambiguous or doubtful. RULE III. Pleadings must not be argumentative. RULE IV. Pleadings must not be hypothetical or in the alternative. RULE V. Pleadings must not be by way of recital, but must be positive. RULE VI. Things are to be pleaded according to their legal effect. RULE VII. Pleadings should observe the known forms of expression as contained in approved precedents. RULE VIII. Pleadings should have their proper formal commencements and conclusions. RULE IX. A pleading which is bad in part is bad altogether.
These are pleasant rules for a layman to understand, and any time he has a day off or a holiday he should study them.
"Shocking," cries the old-fashioned reactionary lawyer, "What! Do away with pleadings, you might as well do away with the whole case. Pleadings are like the rails for a train. No one on the train sees them, but take away the rails and the train would not go very far. Pleadings are the groundwork of the trial."
He grows more and more indignant.
"The trouble with the modern courts is that they do not know what they are about. If this business of loosening the forms of pleadings had not taken place, lawyers would be better prepared when they came into court and there would not be this floundering about. The good old common law pleadings were the thing. It was a great mistake when they were abandoned. Then everyone knew where they were. If there was a mistake in the pleading then the whole case was thrown out of court. That was as it should be. Men had to be good and careful lawyers in those days. The slipshod methods of the present time are abominable."
"You seem to be a little hard," says the modern lawyer. "Justice ought not to depend on forms."
"You can never have justice without formalizing and shaping the dispute," says the lawyer.
"Quite true," says the modern, "but there has been too much attention paid to the form of justice. Pleadings are the mere mechanics like printing the program or laying the rail."
However, this is all a question that does not come up in the court-room at a trial. Once or twice some reference is made to the pleadings. Perhaps there is some such dispute as this. The defendant attempts to swear that he "paid for the goods then and there." The other lawyer jumps up and says, "I object, your Honor. In his answer he does not plead payment. He only pleads a general denial." The judge puts on his spectacles. The lawyers gather, business stops while everyone looks at the pleadings.
Or again the plaintiff tries to show that when he was thrown from the wagon he bruised his right elbow. The counsel objects there is nothing about injuries to his right elbow in the Bill of Particulars, therefore he can not prove it. The Bill of Particulars says that he hurt his hand, scratched the forearm, and injured the right shoulder, but says nothing about the elbow. Grave consultation by the learned lawyers and the judge ensues. The defendant's lawyer is right, there is nothing in the pleadings about the elbow.
The case can not go on until that important question is settled. There is argument on both sides. The client looks anxious. The jury sit and wonder what that phrase of "the delay of the law" may mean. Finally a bright idea occurs to the lawyer.
"I move to amend, your Honor, so as to include the elbow." The other side looks shocked and disgusted. "What, move to amend in such a casual way as that. The pleading is a serious thing. It has been sworn to, you may not amend a sworn statement in that offhand way." The judge says that he will allow the amendment but if the other side is surprised he will grant an adjournment of the trial to another day. The other side says, "Pardon me a moment until I consult with my client." The judge smiles. The lawyer goes over to his client and the client says, "For goodness' sake don't adjourn. I've broken up my business for a week to come here now; what's all this fuss about pleadings; let's get on with the case." The lawyer returns to the bar. "We have decided to proceed."
"Amendment allowed," says the judge. The witness now tells about hurting his elbow.
The preparation of a case goes on behind the scenes and before the drama begins. The attempts to rehearse are piece-meal. First one witness is seen, then another, their stories are told, their statements are taken, and they are drilled in their parts. They are told as to what facts they must testify. In one large company that has a quantity of damage suits, there is said to be a school for witnesses where there are dress rehearsals and they are taught how to behave in court.
The greatest farce that occurs in the court-room is the part of preparation that is involved in getting a case on for trial. There being no limit to the time to examine witnesses, to hear arguments, to listen to objections, it is said to be impossible to tell how long a case is going to take. Consequently the calendar having been called, the cases following are answered ready, by office-boys with no expectation of their being immediately reached.
The grave and reverend judge looks over his desk and calls the case of Bowring vs. Bowring. "Ready for the plaintiff," answers a rosy-cheeked boy. "Ready for the defendant," answers another. They look rather young to be trying a case. It is marked ready and the office-boys sit about the court and telephone to the lawyers when they think there is a chance of being nearly reached. This often takes several days. In the meanwhile the cases ahead of the Bowring case have been dragging out their slow and weary performance on the court stage. Matters of fact that should have taken five minutes to bring out by the present usual laborious system of proof, have taken two hours. Argument of counsel on abstruse questions of law have worn and confused the jury and the clients, who have become exhausted and impatient.
The clients and witnesses may have been sitting, trying to understand and becoming more and more mystified.
The dealings of open-handed Justice ought to be plain, prompt, and understandable; instead to the spectator she seems a mysterious jade with no understanding of everyday life. She keeps them waiting there without reason. If the case is marked ready it ought to be ready. The business man feels that Justice is extremely tardy in keeping her appointments.
His natural reverence for abstract Justice prevents him formulating these thoughts, but he continues to wonder. Not understanding the cause he becomes dissatisfied and his experience in court leaves a profound contempt for the system of jurisprudence. He thinks that if any man conducted his own business on the method and plans on which the courts are being run he would soon be bankrupt.
"Why," he says, "does not the court get in an efficiency expert on this calendar evil and have it arranged on a business basis?"
During the days the case has been on the calendar the lawyer has had to hold himself in readiness to try the case. The managing clerk has been sending out for his witnesses. They have been served with subpoenas and paid their fees to come to court on the day the case was first marked ready. They arrive and are told to come again the next day. They also have a respect for the court and are glad to come to do their duty and tell the truth. The truth is mighty and will prevail; but in court she can only speak through witnesses. Unless the witness be treated with consideration it would seem that she will not speak very willingly.
In place of having them return and return again, some system soon will be devised of giving them timely notice when the case is to be reached. Exhausting the patience of the men who are the props and mainstays of truth does not seem reasonable, and after a few visits to court they are not anxious to come again. If possible they will escape the process server.
A man who has witnessed an accident to a woman by a street car, in spite of his humanitarian instincts will run around the corner for fear of being called as a witness. The man who hears at night the call of "Police! Police!" in the street, jumps out of bed and begins to put on his clothes, but thinks better of it for the same reason. If a man is in a taxicab that is run into by an express wagon, and the resulting suit is brought by the taxicab company for $110 damages, he may have to attend court five separate days as a witness and the case may not be called. He has to leave the State to avoid being annoyed by the subpoena server, who dogs him at his club and at his home. The witnesses have lost their time and their patience.