Mom was a very bright woman. Perhaps the greatest bit of wisdom was her statement, “There are three sides to every story – yours, mine and the truth.”
While I prefer to believe that most people are basically honest, there is no doubt in my mind that some people will do or say anything simply to advance their own agendas. And all of use have, at some point or other, told a fib, a lie or an outright whopper. Most of those are relatively harmless – but there are times when they can have serious consequences – not only on our own consciences but on others.
Many years ago I found myself in a legal conflict with a person whom I thought of as a friend as well as a colleague and competitor. This fellow had an executive search assignment and was having difficulty filling the position. He asked me and my firm to help. As it happened, we already knew of the position and the office which specialized in IT had been working on it themselves for several weeks. I was unaware of that until I spoke with my manager in that office. As I said to my colleague, I would only enter an agreement with him after I had discussed this with the manager of that office since ultimately I left those sorts of arrangements up to the individual office manager.
Without going into the sordid details, we did fill the position and collected the fee. Contrary to the facts and despite several conversations with this fellow, he decided that he was entitled to half the fee and filed a law suit to collect what he considered his due.
At the bench trial, my colleague’s attorney called one of his employees to testify to the “facts.” He did so, and I thought his testimony was compelling. He specifically referred to a conversation that his boss and I had in which he specifically stated that I had agreed to “splitting the fee” which was the very question at issue. There was only one problem with his testimony. He was not present at this meeting or any other I had with my friend and his testimony was totally fabricated and fraudulent. With that “testimony” the plaintiff rested their case.
When I heard him testify, my heart sank and my mouth opened wide. I could not believe that someone would have the temerity to bald face lie – particularly under oath. I was about to turn to my attorney and tell her that this false testimony was totally untrue when suddenly she jumped up and moved for a verdict of “immediately dismissal” since the plaintiff had not proven their case. I didn’t see how, after listening to this damning piece of “evidence” the judge would possibly rule in our favor and grant this request. But he did.
As the plaintiff had called their various witnesses, I noticed that the judge seemed a bit bored with this case, as though he had an assignment to read a book for school but had no interest in the subject matter but was obligated to read it anyway. While he rendered a correct verdict, I thought that might be less because he had sorted through and sifted the facts (we had not yet presented our defense) than because he was late for a lunch date at a fancy restaurant. Perhaps my mother’s statement about the three sides to a story should be revised to, “Yours, mine and expedience.”
There are a number of corollaries between the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and another, earlier case – the murder trial of O. J. Simpson. In that case, of course, there was a black alleged perpetrator and two white victims. But that the sense of public opinion was very neatly divided, primarily on racial lines, suggests the comparison. If you were a black American there was nearly a ninety-nine percent likelihood that you believed O. J. innocent. If you were a white American you were eighty percent likely to believe him guilty. And most of the white twenty percent who believed that O. J. was being railroaded were Buffalo Bills fans.
Another similarity between the two cases was that in both instances, the media, sensing the smell of blood in the water and huge ratings, provided us with never ending coverage of the two events. And they had rightly gauged that they would develop an audience for this story. The day by day events of the Simpson trial were the subject of more conversation in the office than I would have preferred. It’s hard for a person to do his job when he’s discussing issues that are totally unrelated to it.
These two trials bring an important point to the foreground. During the O. J. trial, there were fears among the white community that if he were found guilty, rioting and looting would erupt countrywide. When the jury voted to acquit, there was a sigh of relief and a groan of disbelief that came from many of my white friends. In contrast, my black friends almost universally were of the opinion that “justice had been done.” A later wrongful death civil suit which O. J. lost, suggested that the criminal verdict was not one that was correct. Subsequent actions on O. J.’s part further suggest that he was not the American icon in which many of us had come to believe.
In Ferguson, MO we are receiving nearly as much coverage by the media as in the earlier trial. Sadly, we are primarily hearing only one side of the story. Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown has yet to be heard from. But we have the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon (D) joining the chorus of “justice for Michael Brown and his family” with the release of a video calling for justice to be rendered swiftly.
Perhaps that is a disguised call to quell the violence that has been occurring in that community. Perhaps that is a political statement to appeal to a black electorate that is crucial to his political aspirations in a very purple, even Republican leaning state. Whatever the reason, the governor’s statement is totally inappropriate. Should we not have justice rendered to both Michael Brown and his family as well as Officer Wilson? If we predetermine what “justice” means without having all the facts in evidence, there is likely to be none for any of us.
Reminiscent of the Simpson murder trial, a black female Democrat state representative is on record saying that “If the grand jury (which convened today) does not return an indictment, the violence we have seen in Ferguson will be dwarfed by what will ensue.” How does a statement like that do other than inflame an already tense situation? And, more importantly, if one of those grand jurors hears that statement, how might that influence his or her judgment as that person attempts to evaluate the evidence which will be presented?
Thomas More was convicted because of perjured “evidence.” As a result, he was beheaded. The following scene from “A Man For All Seasons” briefly describes how he as a lawyer, viewed how laws should be enforced, irrespective of who was involved in the disputation:
If we are willing to allow the subversion of what has been the fairest legal system in the world, albeit imperfect, for the purpose of achieving some immediate personal gain, we are inviting disaster on our heads. That is true whether we do so and justify our actions because of race, religion, sex or for any other reason. And then, as More asked, when the last law has fallen, where will we take refuge? We will bring in a state of anarchy of our own making, there will be justice for none and the Devil will have his due.