Blogging can be fun, and rewarding, even if it does get you sued out of existence once in a while. But the real money is in script writing. Y'know, for the movies. Hollywood. In order to write for the pictures, though, you have to be a member in good standing of the Screen Writer's Guild. That, in general, lends itself to living in the Los Angeles area, which is an overcrowded shithole that has plenty of well-paying jobs and decent weather year-round. Go figure.
Still, I might as well pitch this thing over to my buddies out West, see if their people can't sell it... It's a courtroom drama.
In The Balance
Copyright Paul F. Heller 2016
RALPH FUELLE: The Plaintiff's Attorney
WILLARD FILLMORE: The Presiding Judge
CLIFF LOWMAN: The Defense Witness, an M.E. Investigator
RICO STYLES: The Defense's Attorney
CANDY SWEET: The Stenographer
RANDY: The Bailiff
SETTING: A typical, contemporary American courtroom. Ceiling fans whir almost silently above. The attorneys' papers are splayed out across their respective desks before the bench. As Bumper Music fades, we see Investigator Cliff Lowman being sworn in by Randy the Bailiff while Stenographer Sweet transcribes. Presiding Judge Willard Fillmore is settling into his seat.
PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY RALPH FUELLE: Thank you, Your Honor, members of the jury, opposing Counsel. I'd like to call, as my first witness, Investigator Cliff Lowman of the County Medical Examiner's Office.
(INVESTIGATOR CLIFF LOWMAN takes a seat in the box next to the bench as FUELLE stands up, stretches slightly and picks up a yellow legal pad in one hand and a silver Tornado pen in the other.)
FUELLE: Mr. Lowman, would you please state your name for the record?
DEFENSE ATTORNEY RICO STYLES: Objection, Your Honor. The witness isn't on trial today. He doesn't have to state his name. His name is already listed in the pertinent court documents and filings, and the witness's identity is already known to Counsel.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Objection sustained.
STYLES: Thank you, You Honor.
FUELLE: Very well. Mr. Lowman... Have you and I ever worked together before, in the food service industry?
STYLES (stands up): Objection, Your Honor. The witness is perfectly entitled not to answer that question, just based on his Fifth Amendment privileges. It might well be an incriminating statement, admitting that he knows Counsel, given what we know about him.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Sustained.
FUELLE (shrugging): Mr. Lowman, the matter at hand in this case has to do with erroneous reports, or false, if you --
STYLES: I object, Your Honor. Those are two completely different words. It's like calling an apple an orange. Completely different definitions.
FUELLE (Holding up a thick book in one hand): Your Honor, in Roget's Thesaurus, the words 'false' and 'erroneous' are listed as synonyms for one another. See Roget v Webster, 1852.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Overruled. Proceed, Mr. Fuelle.
(STYLES scribbles furiously on a legal pad with his Bic Biro Medium Point)
STYLES: Your Honor, I object. No public interest can possibly be served by reciting any information from any public record in such a sensitive environment as a public courtroom. It's unheard of in this day and age.
FUELLE: Your Honor, if it pleases the Court, these public documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they cost us $18.21 and are critical to our claim that the stated cause of death is erroneous, i.e. false, and we are requesting a change in order to remove this unfair conviction of a happy, healthy, beloved child's reputation, and that of his family.
JUDGE FILLMORE: The objection is overruled. Proceed.
FUELLE (as he strolls toward the witness box): Mr. Lowman, would you agree that the report that you submitted in regards to this case is what led the Medical Examiner to conclude suicide as the cause of death?
STYLES: Objection. My client doesn't have to "agree" with anything Counsel says.
JUDGE FILLMORE (eyebrows arched): Your client?
STYLES (flustered): Uh, I... The witness, I meant to say, of course. I misspoke.
JUDGE FILLMORE (shaking his head): Sustained. Plaintiff may proceed.
FUELLE (looking over his glasses at the witness): Mr. Lowman, the primary reason listed among "Suicide Circumstances" in your office's report says, "Recent suicide of friend/family". If you read it further, you'll see that it includes the statement, "by hanging". Could you please --
STYLES: I strenuously object, Your Honor. We've already closed the books on this one. It's a matter of public record, requiring no further justification. People just can't accept the truth sometimes, okay? We get that... And if Counsel wants to go fishing, he can do so in the oceans of public records that are his disposal. The witness isn't the Rand-McNally Atlas.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Would both Counsels please approach the bench?
(CANDY SWEET pulls out her iPhone and starts texting someone. RANDY shifts uncomfortable in the pair of shoes he's owned for far too long, the only nice pair he has. STYLES and FUELLE approach the bench, where JUDGE FILLMORE is leaning over. For his part, LOWMAN stares dispassionately at his fingernails in the witness box.)
STYLES: Judge, he's totally badgering the witness, plainly. He's demanding answers and stuff.
FUELLE (mildly gesticulating): Your Honor, we're trying to get this mute to talk. You know Clarence Thomas; you know how hard it can be.
STYLES (tartly): My client can talk, thank you very much. I'm sorry - my witness. The witness.
FUELLE: Then why won't you let him demonstrate it?
JUDGE FILLMORE: Gentlemen... Let's move the ball here.
(The attorneys return to their tables as RANDY warms up JUDGE FILLMORE's coffee)
FUELLE: Investigator Lowman, can you please tell the court who the alleged person was, the friend-slash-family member of the deceased, who had committed suicide in the days leading up to this accidental death, as is stated in your report? The identity of that person, please?
STYLES (placing one hand on his lower abdomen): Your Honor, move to recess... I have to urgently use the restroom.
CANDY SWEET (while typing): Oh, my God.
FUELLE: I believe him, Your Honor.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Motion denied, Mr. Styles. Get over it. Please proceed, Mr. Fuelle!
FUELLE: Thank you, Judge. So, who was it, Mr. Lowman? Do you have a name? A case number? I mean, you work for the Medical Examiner's Office, which would have had to conduct an autopsy on any body that came in under such suspicious circumstances as you described, isn't that correct?
STYLES: Objection! He obviously can't recall, Your Honor.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Sustained.
FUELLE: Your Honor, we ask that the witness be compelled to answer this question. Can I at least explain to the jury that no Lexis-Nexis search, no media outlet database anywhere in the country, no anecdotal evidence of any kind has ever shown any 12-year old boy anywhere to have --
JUDGE FILLMORE (hammering with his gavel and raising his voice): My ruling stands! Objection sustained.
FUELLE (bitterly): Fine. Let the record show that, given ample opportunity, the witness did not attempt to explain himself in any manner.
(JUDGE FILLMORE frowns. CANDY's nails clatter against the keys as she stenographs furiously)
FUELLE: Moving along, Mr. Lowman, your second listed "Suicide Circumstance" states as a reason for your errant belief --
JUDGE FILLMORE: Sustained.
FUELLE: Your second reason for your (ahem) belief, that this tragic accident was an intentionally self-inflicted death, is that the deceased had a "crisis in past 1 week". Please explain to the court what that 'crisis' entailed.
STYLES: I object.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Why?
STYLES: I... I just... Object.
(JUDGE FILLMORE glances over at RANDY, who affixes and maintains an angry glare in STYLES' direction)
FUELLE: What was the nature of the alleged crisis, Investigator? Who are the other principals who were involved in it? What evidence do you have as to the fact that any crisis existed at all? For that matter, does your office even have an actual legal definition of the word "crisis", and if it does, did you adhere to it in this instance?
STYLES: Objection, Your Honor, the witness is not responsible for reading, aloud or in silence, any or all of his employer's legal definitions. He doesn't make the rules.
FUELLE (turning toward STYLES): Well, then, you do it, Rico.
STYLES: And he can only answer one question at a time.
JUDGE FILLMORE (gaveling): Order in the court!
STYLES: Your Honor, the plaintiff has no right to pillory this person, to pepper him with damning questions in front of people whom he does not know. It would reflect badly on the witness's work as a professional, on his profession itself, indeed on his very employer, if he had to answer such questions on record.
FUELLE: Your Honor, I concur with most of Counsel's statement.
JUDGE FILLMORE (impatiently): Objection sustained. Try to gain some traction, Mr. Fuelle.
FUELLE: Yes, Your Honor, I'm definitely trying to... Mr. Lowman, please explain your third attempt at a "Suicide Circumstance", the part in which you say there were "other relationship problems." What were they exactly?
STYLES: I object. He can't just stand there and ask the witness to explain everything, for crying out loud. It's unduly burdensome.
FUELLE: Your Honor, can you at least have the witness stick his tongue out at Candy, or Randy, whoever, just so the Court can ascertain for a fact that he has one?
STYLES: Objection! Calls for speculation.
JUDGE FILLMORE: Sustained. Wrap it up, Mr. Fuelle. Last chance.
FUELLE (slamming his legal pad down on the desk): Okay, then... Mr. Lowman, do you still beat your wife?
CLIFF LOWMAN (leaping to his feet): WHAT? How the Hell did you find out about that?
NEXT WEEK: Chapter Thirteen - "More Like Guidelines"