Denver Bar Association
March 2005
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We Are Not Kings!

by Craig Eley

Finally, justice for lawyers. It is still politically correct to tell disparaging jokes about lawyers. They can safely be told at Boy Scout meetings, political conventions (especially Republican ones) and even church pancake breakfasts. In fact, lawyers and blondes are the only classes of people remaining who can be publicly ridiculed without the joker risking a defamation suit, civil rights complaint, or a chastising editorial in the local press. Think about it — would Rush Limbaugh have been booted off his football gig if he had said that a player runs like a lawyer after an ambulance? And instead of making a racial comment, what if Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder had said: "I can’t decide who I like in that game. I have mixed emotions — like when you see your lawyer driving off a cliff in your new Ferrari!" Wouldn’t Jimmy still be on the air? Sure, he would, except for the fact that he’s been dead for nine years.

Finally, justice for lawyers. It is still politically correct to tell disparaging jokes about lawyers. They can safely be told at Boy Scout meetings, political conventions (especially Republican ones) and even church pancake breakfasts. In fact, lawyers and blondes are the only classes of people remaining who can be publicly ridiculed without the joker risking a defamation suit, civil rights complaint, or a chastising editorial in the local press. Think about it — would Rush Limbaugh have been booted off his football gig if he had said that a player runs like a lawyer after an ambulance? And instead of making a racial comment, what if Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder had said: "I can’t decide who I like in that game. I have mixed emotions — like when you see your lawyer driving off a cliff in your new Ferrari!" Wouldn’t Jimmy still be on the air? Sure, he would, except for the fact that he’s been dead for nine years.

But the tide appears to be turning, and none too soon. In January, two quipsters standing in a security check line in a Hempstead, N.Y. courthouse were arrested after they regaled their co-queuees with a series of lawyer jokes. A lawyer overheard them, reported them to the authorities, and they were detained, restrained and arraigned.

Now, it would seem to me that if you are going to take a fall for telling a joke, lawyer or otherwise, you would want it to be the granddaddy of all jokes. A joke that would live in infamy. A joke so great that they would carve it onto your tombstone. But the jokes that these guys told, as quoted by news sources, were the same old lame jokes that have been heard for years. Here’s one:

Q: What’s the difference between a vulture and a lawyer?

A: Wing tips.

Maybe I’m obtuse, but don’t lawyers and vultures have wing tips? Lawyers wear wing tip shoes (although the Rocky Mountain News so cutely refers to us as "the tassel-shoed ones") and vultures have wing tips at the tips of (what else?) their wings. So the joke doesn’t even make sense.

Good jokes or bad, these court jesters were charged with disorderly conduct. A spokesman for the court explained that the two were not arrested for just telling jokes. "They were being abusive and they were causing a disturbance," he said. "They were making general comments to the people in line, referring to them as ‘peasants,’ and they were causing a disturbance. And they were asked on several occasions to act in an orderly manner; not to interfere with the operation of the court."

One of the defendants admitted that he and his friend harangued the people in line with them, exclaiming loudly that the public was being treated like peons or peasants, while attorneys, who show their security passes to court security officers, don’t have to stand in line and "are treated like kings."

Being treated like a king — I know that’s why I love going to court. The last time I was treated like royalty in court, it was like Archduke Franz Ferdinand. But as benighted as our two droll cutups may be about how lawyers are coddled by the courts, perhaps they would be gratified by what they would find if only they would leave the East and mosey out Castle Rock, Colorado-way, where even the lawyers are treated like peasants.

It was on Nov. 30, 2004, at the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center, when another poor peon was fed up with waiting in the security line. A criminal defense attorney was being subjected to a security search, and was annoyed that police officers and assistant district attorneys were being waved through the courthouse security checkpoint. When he was finally ordered to take off his shoes, he drew the line and refused. News reports do not reveal whether the shoes were tasseled or wing tips, but they do state that the lawyer was denied entry to the courthouse. "I’ve never been told in any other jurisdiction to disrobe to enter a courtroom," the dissenting attorney explained. He complained that it was unfair that some get to breeze through the checkpoint because they work for the state, while others are made to undress.

I’m not sure that taking off one’s shoes is "disrobing," but the defense attorney may have a point. Why do some get a free pass while others must have a wand waved over their most personal anatomy? Is it because prosecutors and police are less likely to cause mayhem in a courtroom than private attorneys? Experience suggests otherwise. The only shootings in a courthouse in Colorado that I recall were committed by (1) a peace officer at his divorce hearing, and (2) a judge shooting out his courtroom window at another judge.

I can only conclude from these examples that being a lawyer in the West is much different from being one in the East. We Westerners sure don’t get treated like kings. And people make jokes about us all the time, and are actually permitted to continue living their lives with impunity. Mom always told me to wear underwear with no holes in it in case I got hit by a car on the way to school and ended up in the hospital. She never mentioned the possibility of being strip-searched on my way into court.

But then again, what did Mom know? She was a blonde.


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