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VOL. 129 | NO. 11 | Thursday, January 16, 2014

Vic Fleming

Modern Eloquence?

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“Ladies and gentlemen, if he who made the sun and the moon and hung the stars on high could be merciful and just, then so can you.” Thus began the closing argument of a defense attorney.

“I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that if you convict my client on the testimony of thieves, rogues, whores and disgruntled politicians, then never again will the nightingale of a clear conscience perch upon your pillow to sing you to sleep at night … ,” he continued – do you think he had a feel for which way the jury was leaning?

He concluded, “… but that the ghosts of the wicked and the perjured shall be your companions until your dying eyes shall turn to read the rapt and mystic meaning of the stars.”

The lawyer was from Louisiana or Mississippi. This was sent to me by an appellate judge, who, sadly, was unable to hear the remarks.

Ah, eloquence! (If, indeed, the above may be said to illustrate the same.) A fine dictionary defines eloquence as “discourse marked by force and persuasiveness; also: the art or power of using such discourse.”

The following is from a pleading filed by one man against another for alienation of affection – in a medium-sized county in northwest Arkansas, circa 1955:

“After having so loyally and competently served his birthright, flag and nation, within foreign boundaries, plaintiff returned to this country, went to his supposed home at or around 3:00 a.m. and …his suspicions aroused by whispers and the rattling of change in a man’s pants pocket, did enter through the front door and then and there observe the defendant making a rather rapid and hurried exit through the rear door, out into the all-enveloping darkness of night.”

Had enough? OK, the next sentence reads, “Said exit was made so speedily that defendant was forced to leave parked for the time being a rather valuable piece of personal property, to-wit: a 1953 Coupe DeVille Cadillac, and was forced to return later, at an unseen moment, for same.”

In conclusion, here’s an excerpt of a response of a witness who, down in Texas somewhere, was asked to swear to tell the truth: “I have always been against the ritual of oath-taking, for the simple reason that if a man is capable of lying, he can lie even while he is taking an oath. His oath can be a lie.

“And if the man is a man of truth, the oath creates a dilemma for that man, … for it means that he is capable of lying – that is, without the oath, he will lie; with the oath, he will say the truth. … I will take this oath, just to play the game of this deposition. I will follow the rule. …By taking the oath, I am lying in the first place. It is against my philosophy of life, … against my being and my existence. Now, just to play the game, I will take the oath.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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