Lawyers love to armchair quarterback the trials of others. We strategize, we second-guess, we substitute our own brilliance for the wit and experience of learned trial counsel. It’s our professional equivalent of Tuesday Morning Football.
However, on the rarest of occasions, there comes a time when a legal strategy is just so outrageous that our armchair quarterbacking risks incurring hoots of derision.
I’ve been reading about a particular trial for the past few weeks (yes, it’s now, at the time I’m writing this, in week 6 of what could be a 9 or 10 week trial). I believe, officially, that I’ve now crossed the line from armchair quarterback to voyeur. I use that term specifically, for reasons that will become evident.
The former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, Tommy Sheridan, was accused in late 2004 by the News of the World newspaper (in a series of articles) of having been an adulterer and having visited sex clubs. Mr. Sheridan, who had just resigned as leader of his political party before the articles were published, sued the newspaper for defamation.
Mr. Sheridan was successful in his action against the NOTW. He was awarded a judgment of £200,000 (approximately CDN$430,000 at that time).
The News of the World refused to pay, claiming that a number of witnesses had perjured themselves, and that the newspaper would appeal the judgment.
The Scottish authorities began an investigation into the newspapers allegations of perjury. Approximately a year later, Mr. Sheridan was himself charged with perjury. His wife would also later be charged with perjury for her testimony during the civil defamation trial.
Mr. Sheridan is now defending himself in his criminal trial. He had a lawyer, but has recently determined that his own legal counsel would be a better bet. Now, he’s not a lawyer, but he is currently a law student (my lawyer and law school colleagues will get a chuckle out of that particular fact).
This is a judge and jury trial (my lawyer and law school colleagues will howl with laughter at that particular fact).
As mentioned, the trial is now in week 6. The Court anticipates that the trial will last 50 days.
Witness after witness after witness has testified about Mr. Sheridan’s admissions of visiting sex clubs (plural). More than one of Mr. Sheridan’s alleged mistresses (again, plural) have testified (in excruciating detail) about his infidelities (just assume everything’s plural unless I state otherwise).
His (presumably now former) best friend has testified – at length – about a clandestine video tape that he made of Mr. Sheridan’s admissions regarding his, ahem, “activities”. Now, to be fair, his friend’s credibility has been questioned and, having read some of the allegations and past activities of the friend, I believe it’s been questioned fairly.
However, the tape has been played for the jury.
Mr. Sheridan’s argument against the video (yes, video) tape? “It’s not me”.
My favourite part so far? Mr. Sheridan argued that the video (again, I repeat, video) tape had “fatal flaws that undermine its authenticity”, including the fact that the man identified as him (Sheridan) swears 115 times in 38 minutes of conversation. His legal argument in support of this contention: “That is just wholly unrealistic. You must know that I’m a relatively eloquent man who doesn’t swear very often.”
Now, I’d like to think that I’m also relatively eloquent man, but he’s got to be effing kidding.
This is a jury trial. He’s got 15 (it’s 15 in Scotland) people listening and watching him, as they have done for the past 6 weeks. Then they watch a homemade video tape of (oh, I’ll play along – “allegedly”) the same guy they’ve watched and listened to for the past 6 weeks.
My armchair quarterback opinion? If he thinks that his best argument is: “wasn’t me”, he’d better get used to the smell of concrete and iron bars.
[Ed. note: this search of the Guardian website for [tommy sheridan trial] turns up 60 results at the time of writing this post.]