Capital Idea

 Oct 29, 2017 7:00 PM
by Marcel Strigberger

One of the best lessons lawyers can learn is, know your judge.

I fondly recall a case I had where a client pled guilty to impaired driving. She operated a car after having consumed a glass of wine too many. Maybe two glasses. OK, so her blood alcohol level was about 3 times the legal limit.

Unfortunately she had a similar offence conviction 5 years earlier, drawing a fine. This time the judge remanded the case for sentencing, dropping a subtle hint that jail was a possibility, saying, "When you leave here next time you will not be passing GO and collecting $200.00."

My client was a young woman originating from the Maritimes. The judge was a visiting judge. I recalled the words of my student days' mentor, Henry, "It's not how well you know the law; it's how well you know your judges that counts most".

I asked around and all I could determine was that His Honour was a heavy hitter who especially abhorred alcohol offences. I also discovered that he was a tenth generation Ottawa native and that he was very proud of this fact.

The crown incidentally was out for blood. He was looking for something like a life sentence less time served. He would have been more favourably disposed to Lizzie Borden. At least she wasn't drinking while she was whirling that hatchet, doing a piñata on her parents' heads.

The big day arrived and with trepidation of the kind I had not felt in years I started my submissions:

"Your Honour. My client has committed a dastardly crime."

His Honour interrupted, looking over his moon shaped spectacles, "Yes and she will be punished accordingly. Continue counsel."

I resumed, "My client originates from Digby, Nova Scotia. Her family still remembers that great explosion in the Halifax harbour in 1917, just a year after the Parliament buildings burnt down."

"And that was quite the disaster wasn't it counsel. The pride of Ottawa’s architecture up in smoke, “His Honour commented.

“My very point your Honour, my very point. This woman's life has been filled with many disasters. She wanted always to be an artist. But in Digby opportunity was scarce. There were not many world-class museums, like the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum or the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. In fact the highlight of her teen age years was making that high school trip to Ottawa."

"She liked Ottawa, did she?" His Honour queried.

"She talked of nothing else. Every spring around the time of the Ottawa Tulip Festival, she would purchase a large bouquet of these delightful flowers to remind her of that lovely experience."

The crown attorney interrupted, "Well let her set up her bouquet in jail this spring Your Honour."

"Mr. Crown, where is your sensitivity? Go on Mr. Strigberger. Why did she drink and drive?"

‘I was getting to that your Honour. You see she had a number of paintings on display at an exhibition at a small museum in Toronto, on Parliament Street."

"There is a Parliament Street in Toronto?"

"Yes sir. There is even a market place, called Kensington. It's something like Ottawa’s Byward Market but they don't sell beaver tails. No pastry in the world holds up a candle to a Byward beaver tail."

"It certainly doesn't counsel. Beaver tails with powdered sugar. Heavenly. Go on counsel, I'm listening."

The Crown busted in again: "I say we send her tail to jail Your Honour."

"Counsel, do not irk me. I am trying hard to follow Mr. Strigberger' most interesting submissions. Go on please."

"Thank you sir. You see the public loved her paintings, especially her depiction of the Gatineau Hills country-side. It won a blue ribbon."

"There is scenery and then there are the Gatineau Hills", commented His Honour.

“Exactly Your Honour, exactly," I conceded. "And after the awards presentations the museum hosted a reception. A couple of toasts were made. My client realized she had drank a glass or two too many only after she got into her car and drove for a few minutes. She noticed she had difficulty reading the time from the Old City Hall clock tower. "

"Old City Hall clock tower?"

"Yes Sir, that Toronto cheap imitation of the Peace Tower."

"Oh yes, of course. Pure fake. Go on sir", His Honour said encouragingly.

"No it's not, Your Honour. It was built before the Peace Tower. The Peace Tower imitated the Old City Hall, and Big Ben," the Crown interrupted.

Triple bogey. His Honour took off his spectacles and eye-balled my friend. "One more display of this xenophobic attitude Mr. Crown and you'll find yourself up the Rideau Canal without a paddle."

I continued, "At that time she immediately tried to pull her car over. But alas she got arrested. I ask Your Honour not impose a custodial sentence. Thank you sir."

"Mr. Crown have YOU anything else to say?"

"Well, sir, I don't think..."

"Thank you sir. The offence is grave. But a judgment must be tempered with common sense and leniency where warranted. The accused is a poor young artist who came from a rather deprived area. Her heart was always in the right place. Just observe the subject matter of her paintings. She did not waste her time doing lighthouses. We cannot allow a moment of indiscretion to ruin her life. I order her to pay a fine of $100. She shall have reasonable time to pay. How’s ten years. After all she is only a poor artist, not the Royal Mint."

There is nothing like pleading a case before a judge with an open mind.

 


 
  

The Mouse in the House

 Oct 23, 2017 11:00 AM
by Marcel Strigberger

A mouse recently moved into my house.

I had not seen a real live mouse since my formative years in Montreal. In the 1950s, a mouse in a downtown Montreal tenement was about as commonplace as a smoked meat sandwich. You wouldn't think of complaining to the landlord. The answer would be: "Why are you telling me? Am I a cat?"

This uninvited guest did not sit too well with my wife Shoshana or my daughter Natalie. Upon seeing the mouse running across our kitchen, Natalie discreetly brought the incident to my attention.

"Eeek! A mouse!" she screamed.

This was followed seconds later by Shoshana pointing at me and shrieking: "Do something, now!"

I was at a total loss. This was certainly not something they had taught me to handle in law school. I pleaded for sanity. "Relax, we'll go to Home Depot and see what's available."

I urged my wife and daughter to be calm, aloof and methodical. That worked perfectly. Seven minutes later we were at Home Depot.

We examined the options. When I was a kid there was one mice solution: a wooden mousetrap. You'd insert a piece of cheese and pull back the bar. If a mouse approached and so much as sniffed the enticing cheese, the bar would come down on its head with a force rivaling the impact that hit Marie Antoinette.

This same trap is still on sale. But now you don't need the cheese. The package, in fact, boasts, "Never needs cheese." Instead there is a yellow, plastic-looking square that resembles a luscious piece of Emmenthal.

My daughter had different ideas. "This is violent. That bar can smash the poor mouse's neck."

I realized I was dealing with a closet member of PETA. "Okay," I said, "let's look for something more humane."

I asked a clerk: "Have you got something in a poison?"

The clerk showed us pellets that contained an anticoagulant, which thins the blood, causing the mouse to hemorrhage to death.

Shoshana interjected. "No way, Jose; that's too cruel."

 

I was on the spot. What did the ladies expect? Maybe I should just buy a bullhorn and try to negotiate. "Hey mouse, you have 60 seconds to come out. If you don't we send in Felix."

Had I bought those pellets, I am certain that in addition to any other sanctions my wife would have imposed on me, both she and my daughter would have initiated steps to have me tried at The Hague.

Natalie then picked up something interesting - an ultrasound device. You plug it in near the mouse hole and it makes some type of pitched noise that only mice can hear. It's supposed to drive them nuts, and they flee.

Natalie was all for it, but I vetoed the idea. For years, my kids have driven me crazy with their loud music. Now I empathize with the mouse. Furthermore, I had no doubt this form of warfare was banned by the Geneva Conventions.

As we were about to leave in frustration (I was, anyway), we noticed something called a live trap. It was a device whereby you catch the mouse, then release it alive.

The trap was an oblong box. You open a little door, put in some real bait and wait. The vote was unanimous.

We set up the apparatus that night. I figured I would get a good night's sleep. Then again, the Titanic figured it was unsinkable. At 2:30 a.m., Natalie woke me up saying: "I think there is a mouse in that trap."

"That might not totally surprise me," I retorted. "I'll inspect it in the morning, and if we have a guest I'll release him then."

It was not so simple.

"No way," Natalie said. "You can't just leave it stuck there all night. It'll get scared."

I realized I was dealing with a female Gandhi. Natalie was giving me that look, that "I hope you can sleep well, Slobodan Milosevic" look.

Suddenly I had to worry about that mouse getting a neurosis. I was drawing the line here. There was no way I was going to deal with this creature now.

I was outside my house in my bathrobe at 2:45 a.m. There was definitely something alive in that box. I walked to the nearby park, bent down and opened the little door. Out shot a mouse like a speeding bullet. Mission accomplished.

I sauntered back into the house.

"Aren't you happy you didn't kill it?" Natalie said.

I didn't think about what I had done one way or the other. I just wanted to get some sleep. I did, however, ponder whether there was this happy mouse out there asking for directions back to my house. How could he resist our five-star hospitality?


No mice were harmed during this event. 

I am now retired from the practice of law.  I have time and leisure to observe and laugh even more. I would be delighted to speak about using humour, avoiding trouble or otherwise amuse you and your group at your next event. Please email me at marcel@marcelshumour.com.

This is my new website, www.marcelshumour.com, formerly legalhumour.com.

Be sure to check out (and buy) my new book, - Poutine on the Orient Express: An Irreverent Look at Travel


 
  

Of Judges and Jedis

 Oct 17, 2017 1:00 PM
by Marcel Strigberger

A seemingly not too notorious criminal case made its way into the news. Twenty four year old Lavinia Woodward, a student at Oxford University, stabbed her boyfriend in the leg with a bread knife. She was apparently angry at him for telling her mom she had been drinking.She pled guilty to unlawful wounding. The offence carries a max jail time of 5 years.

The judge however, Ian Pringle, just gave her a short suspended sentence noting there were mitigating factors. These included that she had no previous criminal convictions and that she was, “genuinely remorseful”. Some British newspapers complained that the sentence was much too lenient and that she received special consideration given her connection to the elite university. I agree.

Parsing the decision, the judge is saying, “You have never done anything like this before.That’s a novel consideration.And you tell me your are really sorry and you will not do it again. That’s good enough for me. Mitigating factors. Given these circumstances we shall overlook the fact that you attacked your boyfriend with a bread knife, replicating that iconic scene from Psycho”.

To be fair, Pringle J also found that she had some eating disorder. Then again she did not plead not guilty by reason of insanity It’s not like the evidence was that she took out that bread knife and approached her boyfriend with intent to slice him up believing that he was a double rye. This would be a different story.

I wonder as well, re that eating disorder, if she garnered some sympathy given that the judge’s name was Pringle. Who knows? (Personally I prefer Miss Vickie’s).

This event certainly adds another dimension to Stephen Leacock's classic humourous essay, “Oxford as I See it.”

There is another story out of Saudi Arabia, where somehow someway some high school textbooks ended up photo-shopped a bit, containing an image of the late King Faisal signing the U.N. Charter in 1945 BUT sitting next to him is Yoda.

Naturally a senior official has been fired. Were this official to start a wrongful dismissal action, I don’t give him the chance of a snowball in the Sahara. I am sure there would be a finding of just cause. In fact it would also not surprise me that there is even some legal precedent where an employee gets canned for allowing infiltration into a school textbook of a photograph of a king sitting next to a Jedi master. I have not done a Quicklaw search.

The education minister is totally besides himself saying it was all an “unintended mistake.”I don’t know what will happen to him. Given the egg on his face, he might stand a good chance for some leniency if he would appear before judge Pringle.


 
  

 

 
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