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Law is a Ass by Bob Ingersoll
Join us each Tuesday as Bob Ingersoll analyzes how the law
is portrayed in comics then explains how it would really work.

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THE LAW IS A ASS for 01/14/2003

"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 179

Originally written as installment # 159 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 801, March 24, 1989 issue

Sometimes you feel like a nut.

And sometimes you're even sillier.


Installment # 179

"Yo, Blondie, up here.

I knew it couldn't last; I was actually getting some work done without interruption. Murphy didn't know the half of it.

I didn't look up. I recognized the voice, and who else would be hanging from the ceiling in my office. Beside which, I had the beginnings of a headache, and that cris-crossing pattern on his costume gave me eyestrain. I merely pointed.

"Visiting hours are from 2:00 to 4:00, Spider-Man. There's the door. Use it."

"Aw come on, Ingie, I need a legal consult."

"Don't call me, 'Ingie',".

"Fine, I won't. I won't call you, 'Perry White," either, if you'll just help me."

"Want legal advice?"

"Yes, me. Does that come as such a surprise to you, Chubby?"

"Watch the fat cracks, or else."

"Or else what?"

"For starters, or else I won't warn you about hanging from my ceiling."

"Why shouldn't I?"

"It's only made of acoustical tiles. Hang there much longer, you'll pull a tile loose and . . ."


". . . fall."

I looked at the red-and-blue crumple on my floor. It was crawling toward my wall. "Comfortable?" I asked. Spidey mumbled something that questioned my parentage using words that I didn't think Marvel characters were even supposed to know existed. "Now what's this about you wanting legal advice?"

"That's the second time you've used, 'you,' that way," said Spider-Man as he began to pace on my wall. I was grateful that the building's cleaning crew came less frequently than a good Burt Reynolds movie, because I didn't know how I was going to explain those footprints. "Why are you so surprised that I want legal advice?"

"Oh, I don't know. You and your wife sign a lease to a luxury condo, drop your life savings for a deposit and don't have your lawyer read it first. Hell, you didn't even bother to read the thing. You didn't notice that the lease wasn't for a definite term which made you tenants at will who could be evicted at the discretion of the landlord. You didn't even notice that the lease didn't grant you any grace period after you were evicted, so you could remain while you found a new place to live. Finally, when you were evicted you didn't get your deposit money back.

"And you wonder why I'm surprised that you're coming for a legal consult?"

"Hey, nobody ever gets their cleaning deposit money back. Besides, we're gonna sue the creep to get our deposit."

"Good plan. A civil suit in New York City can take five or more years to come to trial. Five years. You have any idea how long that is in Marvel-Comics time?"

"So I'll be old enough to get my webs with the Senior-Citizens' Discount. I'll still get my money back."

"Fine. Don't worry about it. Live on a free-lancer's salary forever. Now, what about Web of Spider-Man # 50?"

"What about it?"

"You don't know? You break into Winston Walker's Manhattan penthouse and steal a bunch of jewels just so you can trick Walker into thinking you're after the Maggia payment ledgers he's got hidden out on Staten Island and will go check on them to see if they're safe; all as part of a scam you and Silver Sable cooked up so you can follow him and find his secret hiding place?"

"That was the plan, yeah."

"Whose? Brother Power, the Geek's?"

"It worked for Sherlock Holmes."

"It worked in 'A Scandal in Bohemia', because Holmes faked a fire in the room where he knew the secret papers were hidden and he figured Irene Adler would glance their way just to be sure they were safe.

"You, on the other hand commit a theft in a Manhattan penthouse and figure the owner will want to make sure that his secret records hidden somewhere out on Staten Island were still safe. Why did you think Walker would even worry that his records on Staten Island were even in danger from a theft in Manhattan?"

"He did, didn't he?"

"Of course, he did. He had to be written dumb for the story to work. You were just lucky he wasn't a real person who could act on his own, instead of having to act a certain way for a story to come out right.

"That plan didn't have a chance of succeeding. Even if it did, why did you agree to it without consulting a lawyer, first? Someone who would have told you not to do it?

"Don't you know, that breaking into someone's house to commit a theft offense is aggravated burglary? Don't you know, you can get ten to twenty-five years in Attica?"

"Hey, Winnie was a Maggia laundryman and we got the goods on him. He's not gonna bother me."

"Not going to bother you? You committed a major felony. It doesn't matter that your motives were pure--it was against the law! Walker's going to put you away."

Walker's gonna be too busy plea bargaining and turning state's evidence against the big boys to bother with me."

"This guy is Maggia, you moron! They made revenge into an art form. And you're going to be the subject of his first painting.

"Do you know how long it takes to file charges, an hour or so. You know how long it takes to work out a plea bargain in return for testifying against Maggia big wigs? Months. What makes you think Walker won't use a couple of idle hours during those months to file charges against you and get back at you?"

"But I got proof that he was a bad guy."

"Which is not a defense to aggravated burglary, so Walker can still file charges and you can still be convicted. Why do you think Silver Sable hired you to do the break-in, instead of doing it herself or using the Sandman? Because she knew that Walker would press charges and anyone foolish enough to break into his place was going to prison.

"Even if getting the proof was a defense to aggravated burglary, did you do anything to help prove what you were up to? Sure you took pictures to prove what you were really up to, but did you do anything with them?"

"I offered them to the Dailey Bugle. Jameson wouldn't buy them, because they proved I was OK. What else could I have done?"

"I don't know. There's, what, four or five other daily papers in New York City; did you try offering the pictures to one of them?"

"Uuh . . ."

"I thought not. Look, enough of that. What's your prob-- Hey, maybe you'd better stop pacing on my wall."


"Because it's only wall board on studs and your weight is pulling it off of the . . ."


". . . nails.

"Have you ever considered a chair?"

Spidey hopped onto one of my chairs and perched in one of those wonderful double-jointed, Tod McFarlane poses on the arm. Some people just don't learn.

"Spidey, do you remember I work for the Public Defender?"

"Yeah, so?"

"We're a government agency. We get our furniture from the lowest bidder. I don't think that chair's going to hold you like that."

"Never mind that, what about my consult?"

"Fine. What's your problem."

"It's not mine, it's Robbie's. Twenty years ago he saw a contract killing on a federal dockyard in Philadelphia and didn't report it, because he was scared of the killer, Tombstone. Now the Feds are prosecuting him for Misprision of Felony, because he didn't report it. Can they do that?"

"Why not? Not reporting a federal crime--like a murder in a federal dockyard--is Misprision of Felony. It's in 18 United States Code § 4. Didn't you look it up?

"Oh right, you don't do that whole 'looking it up' thing."

"Cut the cracks, Ingersoll. Doesn't the Statute of Limitations prevent the government from prosecuting a crime which is twenty years old?"

"You actually know about the Statute of Limitations? There may be hope for you, after all. Unfortunately, the Statute of Limitations argument didn't work."

"Didn't work? What do you mean?"

"I mean Robbie's lawyer moved to dismiss the case for a Statute of Limitations violation and the Judge overruled her."

"How do you know?"

"I've been following the trial. You think you're the only one who cares about Robbie?"

"Why did the judge overrule the motion. Isn't the Statute of Limitations seven years?"

"Five actually. The problem is that there is no Statute of Limitations on a federal murder in the first degree charge, like a contract killing."

"So? Robbie didn't kill anyone."

"But Tombstone did, which means that the Feds could have prosecuted him anytime they got evidence that he committed the murder. The Prosecutor argued that because they could always have prosecuted Tombstone, every day Robbie didn't come forward with what he knew, he was committing Misprision of Felony anew. In other words, Robbie committed Misprision of Felony twenty years ago by keeping silent, and he committed it again last year by keeping silent and again last month by keeping silent. The Prosecutor claimed that the Statute of Limitations hadn't run out on the more recent occurrences, so they could prosecute.

"What can I say? The Judge wanted to make an example of Robbie--newspaper reporter turned Editor-in-Chief who shields criminals--so he bought the argument and overruled the Motion to Dismiss."

"Was he right?"

"I'm not sure. It's an argument and I'm not sure it's wrong. We'll have to wait to see what the Court of Appeals says about it.

"Meanwhile . . ."

"Meanwhile, Robbie rots in some prison. Sometimes life really . . ."


". . . stinks."

I tried to warn him about the chair.

Bob Ingersoll

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