On the recommendation of B. W. Barnett in this post at Liberty and Justice for Y’All, I’ve been reading And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi. Bugliosi, of course, is the famed prosecutor of Charles Manson et al., but in this book he describes his defense of a client charged with aiding and abetting her lover in the murder of another couple on Palmyra, a deserted atoll in the Pacific, in 1974. Not to spoil the ending (which I haven’t actually reached yet), but Bugliosi’s client was acquitted, while her lover, Buck Walker, was convicted in a separate trial. Walker (who now goes by the name Wesley Walker) was paroled in 2007, and his take on Bugliosi’s rendition of the case and events on Palmyra is here.
As Barnett promised, the book is amazing, and while “entertaining,” also has great value as almost a how-to manual by a legend on trying and preparing to try a criminal case.
In my reading thus far (I’ve reached the beginning of Bugliosi’s direct examination of his client), I found this aside worth highlighting:
The American people have an understandably negative view of politicians, public opinion polls show, and an equally negative view of lawyers. Conventional logic would seem to dictate that since a judge is normally both a politician and a lawyer, judges would be perceived by the public as being lower than whale waste. But on the contrary, the mere investiture of a twenty-five-dollar black cotton robe elevates the denigrated lawyer-politician to a position of considerable honor and respect in our society, as if the garment itself miraculously imbues the person with qualities not previously possessed. . . .
It’s always a great relief and pleasure to walk into court and find a judge who has had trial experience, knows the law, is completely impartial, and hasn’t let his judgeship swell his head. There are, of course, many such admirable judges in this country, but regrettably they are decidedly in the minority.
For whatever reasons (undoubtedly the threat of being held in contempt of court ranks high), the great run of lawyers are intimidated by judges and continue to be outwardly respectful even when publicly humiliated by them. The lawyers’ complaints are made in private to each other and to their families. . . .
The judge’s obligation in a jury trial is to be totally impartial, the decision on guilt being the exclusive province of the jury. But time and time again a judge makes it very clear to the jury which side he prefers. This is a corruption and bastardization of our system of justice by the very people whom the law entrusts with the responsibility of ensuring that it works properly and equitably.
Unfortunately, jurors usually assume that whatever the judge says or does in court is correct and justified. . . .