Trials and judgments - Here and abroad

By Mark Levison

Sometimes trial lawyers have trials, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes events unfold as planned, but usually not so much.  2017 found me scheduled for about a half dozen trials during the last half of the year, and one overseas trip in the middle of all of them.  Some of the trials are short and judge-tried, while others are more time consuming.

The jury trial just before the trip lasted three weeks.  It had more personal aspects to it than the business cases I am used to.  It was a brutal pitched battle with lots of nasty things going on.  One of my old friends, Harry, was the chief trial lawyer on one of the opposition teams. 

The week after the trial finished, I was on a plane to Eastern Europe.  Transylvania—the land of Dracula, castles and horror movies—has taken on a mythological aura, something like Atlantis, Shangri-La or Amazonia.  I wondered when I got there if the locals would be selling crosses and garlic necklaces as preventative measures.  I didn’t see any of that.  There was, however, a little hoopla about Vlad Dracul (aka “Vlad III” or “Vlad the Impaler”).  Mr. Dracula was the apparent inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  I was able to pose for a picture in front of the house in which the Impaler himself was born. 

However, the lasting impression made upon me in Transylvania did not relate to blood-sucking bats (although the dead wolf I drove by along the side of the mountain road, a half an hour after I entered Transylvania, did get my attention), but rather it was the beauty of the area and the sophistication of its people.  The city of Brasov (a city where Vlad reportedly impaled a bunch of his enemies in 1459) was gorgeous and considerably more refined than most American cities.

On the way home, Turkish Airlines dropped me off in Istanbul where Cheryl and I had a three-day layover.  There have been a number of terrorist attacks in Turkey and two very significant attacks in Istanbul.  In early 2016, thirteen Germans were killed when a terrorist blew himself up near the Blue Mosque.  Cheryl and I visited Istanbul a couple of days after that attack. The bomb site was still cordoned off by police barricades, and the evidence of the explosion was everywhere.  We simply walked through the police barricades and stood where the tourists had been just hours earlier. 

Some of my fellow lawyers didn’t think going to Istanbul was particularly judicious then or now.  It is something you think about, and I try being mindful of my surroundings.  All terrorists don’t look the same, but if I see a rough looking guy with an inflated chest or backpack, I move away quickly. 

This time I hired a guide who had been at the Blue Mosque in 2016, and actually heard the explosion.  His friend, the female tour guide who was leading the German group, told him about it.  Most of the members of her group were in a shop, but she and others were outside when a guy with a backpack approached the group.  She heard a click and screamed at them to run.  She was hurt physically and mentally.

The city of Istanbul contains between 16 and 23 million people, depending on which taxi driver you believe, but the bottom line is, it is a very large, beautiful, bustling metropolis. Although thinking twice about going there, the trip was beautiful and had a few surprises. 

The people could not have been nicer.  While we were in Istanbul, 58 people were murdered in Las Vegas, and hundreds more shot, some in Las Vegas and others throughout the United States. 
Reportedly, in the 1735 days prior to the Las Vegas shooting, there were mass shootings in America—defined as four or more people shot in a single incident—on 1516 of those days.  If there is one thing that is clear, it is that violence is everywhere and our country has more than its share. 

The 2016 visit to Istanbul was a stopover on a flight to Paris that also included a side trip to Sicily. One night, on what seemed to be a peaceful street in Palermo, two individuals on a motor scooter drove alongside my wife. For some reason, she thought they were going to ask her directions, but the passenger snatched her purse.  They drove off with Cheryl in hot pursuit.  Since that time, she has been a little over protective in respect to her purse.

But back to the recent trip to Turkey.  After visiting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which is the fourth largest dome in the world, and, in fact, boasted the largest dome for over a thousand years, we were sitting in a sidewalk café sipping Turkish coffee.  Cheryl’s purse was at her feet when a napkin was blown off a table.  A 20-something male waiter bent down to pick up the napkin. Unfortunately, it was near her purse.  Cheryl caught sight of him in her peripheral vision.  Not at all being the timid type, she punched him and jumped up, knocking all of the coffee from the table onto my lap. It was a very big scene.  Cheryl did her best to cover by saying she thought the waiter was a bird.  I am not sure anybody bought that but it was the best she could do at the time.

Across from us was a weight-lifting, 40-something, tough Turk, mostly bald, in a black muscle shirt and black pants.  He was sitting with his wife and child.  The Turk immediately jumped up, grabbed the napkins from his table, and started cleaning up the mess.  He offered me the bottle of water he had just purchased so I could clean my pants. His words to me were, “Here brother, let me help.” 
Afterwards, he joked that his wife had spilled coffee on him many times.  When I left, I gave him a big hug. For me, that one incident was more significant and memorable than the haunting history of the Blue Mosque or Dracula’s castle.

At home, on my first day back in the office, the associate that I work most closely with was receiving an award for being a young legal star.  Also receiving that award was a young woman who had been on the opposite side of the three-week trial.  She wasn’t one of the lawyers trying the case; she was a key witness for the opponent, and I was the lawyer cross-examining her.  She had once said to my friend Harry that, “Mark’s the kind of guy who when you meet him and he is on the other side, you immediately hate him, but eventually you get over that.”  I walked up to congratulate her.  As she was posing for pictures with her new award, the lawyer who I had vigorously cross examined a few weeks before said, “Mark, come over and take a picture with me,” and she gave me a big hug.

So, in a world of international turmoil, and in a profession based upon extreme conflict, there are nevertheless moments, if we look for them, that demonstrate tranquility and harmony.   It is important to remember that there are more people in this world, like the Turk in the sidewalk café, or the lawyer who gave me a hug, than the likes of Vlad the Impaler.  

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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group.  Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer.  Contact Under Analysis by email at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2017 Under Analysis LLC

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