Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

I thought about Bill McKissack last evening while Mrs. RWP and I were watching one of those television programs that deal with apprehending criminals and bringing them to justice in the courts of the United States. There are many such programs. Some of them are dramatized series with actors working from scripts (Law and Order in its many variations, CSI in its many variations). Some of them are so-called “reality shows” that don’t employ actors at all but use footage of actual police interviews and courtroom proceedings. The First 48, American Justice, 48 Hours/Hard Evidence, and Dateline (to name a few) spring to mind. There are also scads of faux court shows (binding arbitration, really) on weekday afternoon television that have been presided over by the likes of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, Judge Hatchett, Judge Alex, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Judge Marilyn Milian, and before her, Judge Jerry, and before him, Judge Ed Koch, and before him, going all the way back to the dawn of time, Judge Joseph A. Wapner.

Bill McKissack, a man in his sixties when I was bidding goodbye to forty-something, was my boss’s boss in the big corporation. The sad end to his story is that on the very day we presented him with a “book of memories” at his retirement party, he went home, looked at some of the pictures with his wife, decided to lie down for a nap before dinner, and never woke up. You could say that his work was his life. But I digress.

Mr. McKissack would wander the aisles sometimes and engage us peons in casual conversation. Just to be friendly. Just to prove he was still “one of the guys.” Plus I think it could get rather lonely in the big office up front with the windows. Anyway, one day the conversation turned to our court system because someone in the group had received a summons to serve on jury duty.

“I remember the first time I was called for jury duty,” Bill said.
“I was just old enough to vote and still living with my parents in Jackson, Tennessee.”

When the judge asked the prospective jurors whether any of them had formed an opinion about the case, Bill (who knew nothing at all about the case) piped up, “I think he’s guilty.”

Since the proper answer would have been “No, Your Honor,” the surprised judge asked Bill, “Why do you think this man is guilty before you have been presented with any evidence?”

“Well,” said Bill, “the police don’t just go around arresting people for no reason.”

The judge looked at him sternly and said, “Young man, I see that you do not understand our system of jurisprudence,” and excused Bill from the panel.

We all had a hearty laugh, Bill McKissack went back to his office, and life returned to normal in the big corporation.

In our system of jurisprudence, by the way, a person is presumed to be innocent of any crime with which he or she has been accused until evidence has been presented in a court of law and it is determined, usually by an impartial jury of one’s peers, that he or she is guilty of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” (in a criminal case) or “by a preponderance of the evidence” (in a civil case) .

Somewhere, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) is saying to Charlie (Tom Cruise), "Eight minutes till Wapner."

I know how Raymond felt.


  1. Judge Wapner attended Hollywood High School where he dated actress Lana Turner for a short time.
    I'd like to see a court room show with Judge R. Brague at the helm. They could call it "Crimes With Plague" and each show would end with public floggings in Brown Park opposite the city hall.

  2. police are never wrong>.he was guilty