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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pleasant memories: disorder in the court

By Charles Memminger

I wish I had kept a journal of all the stupid, funny or amazing things I saw during my years as a newspaper court reporter. Sadly, only a few come back to me now, like the time well-known Island attorney Earle Partington showed up late for a hearing in front of U.S. Judge Sam King.

Partington has been known to get on the nerves of some judges, which he succeeded doing in this instance. As the lawyer attempted to explain why he was late, Judge King interjected, "Keep it up, counselor, and we're going to have a Partington of the ways."

In a federal tax case, a hapless defendant was explaining to a visiting judge known to have a short fuse that he had not paid his federal taxes because he believed that under the Constitution, paying taxes was voluntary. The judge glared over the bench and yelled, "Yeah, you volunteer to do it OR SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS TO YOU!" He then sent the man to prison.

The same visiting judge told a man who had been injured in an accident at Pearl Harbor, as he hobbled slowly toward the witness stand: "Speed it up, Mr. --------, there's no jury here!"

These come to mind because I came across a very cool website, Phenomenica.com, that has some amazing stories and photos relating to mysteries, phenomena, history and science. It also has snippets of actual court testimony, including a well-known verbal battle between a lawyer and witness:

Lawyer: "Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?"

Witness: "No."

Lawyer: "Did you check for blood pressure?"

Witness: "No."

Lawyer: "Did you check for breathing?"

Witness: "No."

Lawyer: "So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?"

Witness: "No."

Lawyer: "How can you be so sure, Doctor?"

Witness: "Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar."

Lawyer: "But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?"

Witness: "Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere."

As a court reporter, you LIVE for that kind of exchange. Here's another:

Lawyer: "I show you Exhibit 3 and ask you if you recognize that picture."

Witness: "That's me."

Lawyer: "Were you present when that picture was taken?"

How about one more?

Lawyer: "What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke that morning?"

Witness: "He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?' "

Lawyer: "And why did that upset you?"

Witness: "My name is Susan."

When the stately old Supreme Court building was still being used for criminal trials, city prosecutor Chuck Marsland was at war with certain judges. And so were his deputies. In one case a deputy prosecutor during an argument with a judge turned his back to the bench.

"Why are you turning your back to the court?" the judge demanded.

"To hide my contempt," the attorney said. As I recall, he did not pass go or collect $200, he went straight to the slammer.