Tour Stop No. 2--Justice Can Be Bought
By the middle of 1996 it began to appear that Shearer vs. The Partners in Evil was the Wandering Jew of lawsuits. Attorney G discussed with Attorney T an alternate route to justice, which he then offered to me: a system known as Rent-a-Judge. In situations like ours, Attorney G explained, people can hire retired judges who conduct full-blown trials, utilizing all the rules of evidence and procedure that Simpsonophiles have come to know and revere (a 352 objection, anyone?). The rented judge's ruling is final, unappealable. The buck makes the case stop here.
We would even have our choice of jury or nonjury trial, although it's still difficult for me to conceive of how they recruit jurors for rental trials. You can't send them official-looking summonses, can you? My only reference point was the obscure TV shows in Hollywood that, unable to draw audiences of volunteers, used to bus spectators in from mental hospitals. This, of course, was back in the golden days of television, when they had mental hospitals.
Attorney G's working relationship with me was based on the controversial principle of the contingency fee. This is the practice (which the British just now are thinking of adopting, while anti-lawyer activists in this country are trying to limit or abolish it) that allows attorneys to work, as they say in Vegas, "on the come," for a percentage of whatever the eventual award may be. However, it was costing the Partners--actually the Heiress, since the old-time producer had long since severed himself from the partnership and the suit--time on the meter for each twist and turn through the Labyrinth of Justice. Ultimately, both sides agreed to divert the case to the free-market judiciary and, after the now-normal amount of squabbling about scheduling, we agreed on a jurist, the Divine Judge O (think Hoagy Carmichael, not Bette Midler--always good advice). My lawyer knew the judge to be a distinguished retired jurist before whom Attorney G had contested several cases, both before and after his ascent to rentalhood.
"He's a lot smarter than [either of our public judges]," Attorney G advised. "He'll get it."
Given his presumed prowess, and the additional cost of a jury trial, the parties agreed to forego the pleasing theatrics of playing to the 12 folks in the box. This was a bigger concession by our side, since I had my celebrity-charged charisma with which to dazzle the jurors, while the retired old-time producer, still on the hook as a witness for the defense, was a sure bet to repulse anyone sentient enough to be swearable.
The trial wardrobe came out of the closet one last time, and my attorneys and I spent one final week re-reviewing the depositions, rehearsing cross-examination, war-gaming. The day before the trial was to start, Attorney G walked me from his Pershing Square suite to an anonymous office building on the seaward fringe of downtown (the perpetually to-be-redeveloped Center City West), took me up to the 14th floor, and walked me into our rented courtroom. Carpeted, decorated in muted grays and pastels, soundproofed like a recording studio ... this was a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton of a courtroom, compared with the Motel 6s of the Simpson saga. There were video facilities behind a glass panel in the rear of the courtroom (Mr. Harris, the Elmo, please), three rows of spectator seats just in front of the panel, computer-equipped tables for attorneys and clients and, along the chamber's west wall, a set of windows that afforded a splendid overhead view of the Harbor Freeway, one of Southern California's most historic.
Down a short hallway from the courtroom was a little office kitchen and, farther down, just inside the double glass entrance doors, sat a pretty blond receptionist, looking rather bored. Drinking water wasn't supplied; so, every day of the trial, she took some change, went around the corner, and brought back bottles of Crystal Geyser. The main business of the suite of offices surrounding the courtroom was to serve as the locus for depositions, and business appeared to be slow. We never saw anyone else in the suite during the course of the trial. Coupons on the receptionist's desk offered us a $50 discount on our next deposition.