Timing is everything, especially in court.
Part 1 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
(May 29, 2003)
Would you just look at all these lawyers. The glare from all that dental work is worse than the TV lights I’ve been staring into lately. I’m glad I remembered my sunglasses. Lawyers. You’d think this case was going to set off a litigation frenzy the way they’re swarming.
I just hope none of them gets a good look at me. I swear, if one more photographer wants a copy of my face, I’ll take his in trade. It’s gotten so bad lately that I’ve even started to avoid looking at mirrors.
Crap. Now what? Hey, wasn’t that the chatty brunette I passed on the stairs? Well, maybe I can keep out of sight until the doors open. I’ll duck between these two knots of high-priced lawyers and lay low for a while.
Great. Now she’s right behind me. “Yes?” What is that, a grimace or a smile?
“I was hoping to get a few words with you before the proceedings get underway.”
“About what? I must have repeated the same boring story to a thousand reporters by now. What can they possibly have missed?”
She flashed one of those ‘now I’ve got you’ smiles. “Plenty. I’ve been following the whole sordid affair for months now, and every one of the interviews you’ve given has focused on the details of the scandal. They grilled you on names, dates, places and even account numbers, but the one thing they all seemed to have overlooked was the astonishing precedent that this case will set.”
I’d been unconsciously averting my eyes since she first started talking, but by the time she was through, she might just as well have been the only other person in the hallway. “Precedent?”
“Then I have your attention?”
“Sure, unless you didn’t really mean that.”
“Oh, I meant it, all right.” She grimaced again, and glanced over her shoulder.
“Look, can we go somewhere a bit quieter? There’s a bench around the corner.”
Without waiting for an answer, she turned and strode confidently into the gabbling crowd, disappearing behind a pair of preening prosecutors.
I hate being manipulated. Still, at least her passive aggressive thing isn’t as bad as the overt browbeating I got at Consolidated Communications. Oh well. I mean, what are the odds? It’s probably safe. What the heck, I might as well go see what she wants.
She watched me approach, and waited until I sat down beside her before opening her mouth. But before she had a chance to say anything, the hallway resonated with a low moan as the bailiffs opened the big double doors and started herding people in.
“We don’t have much time, Mr. Starling, so I’ll be brief. By now, everyone knows what you did. They know that you reported what appeared to be a minor irregularity in some paperwork, and that it led to a major investigation and a slew of federal indictments.” She looked around nervously. “It’s the timing that interests me, though.”
“The timing? Why?”
“Because as far as I can tell, you knew about that error for months before reporting it. But instead of saying anything, you waited.” She glanced towards the rapidly thinning crowd. “Care to tell me why?”
This could get sticky. Does she already know, or is she just fishing? “Not really. Does this have something to do with the precedent you mentioned?”
“It has everything to do with it. Were you aware of the Federal Court ruling about SandHill Realty that was handed down the day before you contacted the FBI?”
“I’m afraid I don’t read the Daily Realtor, or whatever it is that covers such things. Why do you ask?”
This isn’t going well. Damn. Where are those bailiffs when you need them?
She lowered her dark brown eyes seductively. “That case set the stage for what’s about to happen. SandHill Realty finished a process that has been going on since just after the Civil War. Corporations are now no different from people. The distinction between natural persons and artificial ones was discarded by the judge.”
I glanced back towards the courtroom. Finally. A bailiff. “So?”
“Come on, Mr. Starling. You might have merely reported a minor error in Consolidated’s books, but that error led directly to significant proof of negligence on the part of the company’s manufacturing division. The fact that several people died as a result of that negligence means that the corporation could be tried for—”
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” the bailiff said. “This is a closed session, and Mr. Starling is required to be in attendance. You’ll have to finish this later.”
Whew. That was close. “Thank you.”
I didn’t look back, so I don’t know if she came away from that encounter with any more proof than she had when we began. As the doors swung shut behind me, and I walked to my seat, I wondered if any of the megacorps that covertly ran the world realized what was about to happen.
None of them was likely to ever forgive SandHill’s lawyers for winning that case. Not after Judge Clary hands down his verdict. Not after they realize that the penalty for murder in this state is death. Even if you’re a corporation.
[Afterward: It doesn’t end here. Read what happens next in “Full Circle“.]
Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack