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THE LAW IS A ASS for 03/18/2003
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 188
Originally written as installment # 166 and published in Comics Buyer's Guide issue # 807, May 5, 1989 issue
Despite it's being about a lawyer, I didn't watch the TV show Matlock much. So what was I doing watching this re-run of the show?
Oh, yeah, remembering why I didn't watch the show much.
THE LAW IS A ASS
Installment # 188
I have a friend. (Stop snickering! I do so have a friend. Three, if you count the ones who refuse to be seen with me in public.) Anyway, this friend--who I'll call Warren, because that's his name--has a theory. When one of the suspects in a TV show is a labor union leader, he's always the murderer.
I suggested Warren watch Matlock on March 14, 1989, even though it was a rerun from back before the producers decided to help the star, Andy Griffith, get over his Mayberry days by adding a character played by Don Knotts, who's an egocentric eccentric, even if he isn't a dippy deputy. Subtle, huh?
I wanted Warren to watch, because Ben Matlock's client was the president of a labor union. So the labor leader couldn't be the murderer. Ben's clients, like Perry Mason's clients, are always innocent victims of circumstantial evidence.
Warren didn't watch. He thinks TV producers, who have suffered several strikes by creative personnel--like actors, writers, and directors--in recent decades, have an anti-union bias; so, the rules of Matlock notwithstanding, they'd still make the union president the bad guy. I did watch. I knew the Prez was innocent. Not only was he Ben's client, surely by the 80's, we've outgrown the petty bickerings of the Depression. And--call me petty--I wanted to say, "I told you so."
I was puzzled that the episode was titled, "People v. Matlock". Ben Matlock a defendant in a criminal prosecution? Ben was supposed to be defending the president of a construction workers' union accused of offing the reform candidate, who threatened to win the upcoming election and steal his cushy job.
Still, making Ben the defendant did make sense. How better to maintain Ben's string of innocent clients than by making Ben the client? Unless, the show was seeking a radical, new direction: "Your Honor, Ah ask we move the trial to Cell Block H. Ah was in a food fight and lost mah furlough privileges."
Ben and the union's Vice President disagree about how to proceed. Ben wants to; the Veep doesn't. Ben suspects a construction company owner framed the Prez. The Veep thinks Ben can't prove that and wants the Prez to cop a plea and hope for mercy. The conflict is solved, when one of the jurors accuses Ben of bribing him. To prove it, the Juror shows the Judge fifty thousand dollars in small, unmarked, non-sequential bills mailed to him in a manila envelope embossed with Ben's return address. Come on! Bribe money in embossed envelopes? I've seen better frames in the Starving Artists Sales at the Holiday Inn. Still, it was enough for the Judge. He declares a mistrial, so that the State can prosecute Ben for jury bribing instead.
The plot, as they say, thickened; but not as thick as the pate of the pinhead who penned this punk plot. Check out what happens in the next ten minutes of show.
Ben's bribery trial comes up, maybe, a week later. Okay, Georgia's tough on crime, but even Georgia gives you more than a week to prepare.
The female DA who prosecuted the Prez quits the DA's Office to defend Ben. With the confidential information she learned about the Prez's case by prosecuting it, the DA's Office would have had her removed from Ben's case for a conflict of interests.
The Judge who presided over the Prez's trial presides over Ben's trial. What, there's only one judge in Atlanta? The Judge had intimate knowledge about Ben's case and would have been a State's witness. He would have been disqualified from Ben's trial, also for a conflict of interests.
Oh well, at least they had an interest in the story. That put them one up on me.
Come to think of it, I know why the DA and Judge from the Prez's trial had to participate in Ben's trial, too. What with a Union President, a Union Vice President, a Construction Company Owner, a bribed Juror, an Assistant DA, and a Judge, the episode had already blown its guest-star budget. It couldn't afford a new judge and defense attorney.
Ben deduces the real murderer paid the Juror one hundred thousand, fifty thou to turn over to the judge as part of the Matlock frame and an extra fifty thou the Juror pocketed as payment. The real murderer did this to frame Ben before he could find out who the real murderer was. To prove it, Ben sics his private investigator, Tyler Hudson, on the Juror.
Tyler confronts the Juror and tells him he'll be in big trouble, unless he reveals who really paid him. The Juror's response is rational--like librarying Family Feud episodes is rational. He doesn't call the Police, who take a dim view of harassing witnesses. Instead, he returns the money.
At least, the Juror was smart enough not to use an embossed envelope. This yutz printed his return address on the envelope in block letters with a black marking pen. (A word of advice from a Public Defender with years of experience: don't put your return address on the evidence.)
Meanwhile, Ben learns his client was accepting kickbacks. As the victim's body was found behind the Prez's desk in the Prez's chair, which has a bullet hole in it, it looks like he was killed while rifling the Prez's desk looking for proof. Uh oh! Is Ben's client guilty, after all?
Not to worry. That was just the forty-five minute commercial break teaser. There's still the fourth act to go!
Tyler follows the envelope to its destination and learns the union Veep paid the juror. Ben deduces the Veep hacked into bank computers at night to transfer union funds out of union accounts and into his own accounts. Then, in the morning before the bank reopened, he'd transfer the money back into union accounts, but kept the posted interest in his own account.
Ben has a theory, now he must prove it--which is always the best part of the show. We learn Matlock doesn't know how to cross-examine a witness, the DA doesn't know when to object, and the writers don't know courtroom procedure from rancid avocado dip. All at the cost of only an hour's worth of electricity. And they said there weren't any bargains anymore!
Ben stares at the Murderer during cross-examination and says, "You see, mah client didn't kill the victim, you did."
There's an audible gasp from the audience. The Murderer smirks haughtily at Matlock. "You can't prove that." The Murderer always smirks haughtily. It's one of the requirements the casting director has for actors who play the Murderer.
"Ah think Ah can. What Ah think happened was this. The victim knew you were stealin' union funds, and he found the proof in your desk. (Second Public Defender tip: don't keep the bank books of your embezzled accounts in your desk drawers.) You knew he had you, so you killed him.
"Then you got worried. You figured if the police knew he was killed in your office, they'd know you killed him. So what you decided to do was to frame my client.
"You wheeled the victim outta your office on your desk chair and down the hall to my client's office. Then you put the victim behind my client's desk, so's it would look like he was shot there. Then you wheeled my client's chair to your office and set it up behind your desk, so it looked like your chair."
At this point the Prosecuting Attorney objects--finally. Never mind that Ben just delivered a soliloquy even Hamlet would have envied and violated the rule against attorneys testifying during cross-examination by speaking for hours without asking any questions. Why object over trifles? "Your Honor, the witness isn't on trial. All Mr. Matlock's offering is speculation."
"Your Honor, if Ah can just have another fifty-two years, Ah believe Ah can connect this up to the Court's satisfaction." Naturally, the Judge obliges. It's not that he has nothing better to do with the rest of his life. He's read the script. He knows Ben only has another six minutes, anyway.
"Then, after you framed my client, you tried to get him to plead guilty. Only I wouldn't let him, so you tried to get me off the case by pretending I had bribed that juror."
Cut to the Murderer. He's mildly concerned. Another casting requirement. "You can't prove any of this," he blusters.
"Yes, Ah can. You see, in all your chair switching, you forgot to change the height of the desk chairs. See, my client's shorter'n you. Your desk chair isn't at the right height for him. Ah'll bet if both you and him sit in the chair the police found the victim in, it'll be too low for him but fit you just right."
The Murderer shows the last casting requirement: sweating. Any guesses what happened when the two men sat in the chair?
Any suggestions why the police didn't happen to notice something as obvious as the chair height differential?
The next day I had the pleasure of telling Warren, "I told you so." The union President wasn't the murderer. It was the Union Vice-President. The President was just a crook taking kickbacks.
Isn't progress wonderful?
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