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VOL. 129 | NO. 168 | Thursday, August 28, 2014

Vic Fleming

Counsel to the Council?

By Vic Fleming

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In the statewide daily I read each morning, the Aug. 13, 2014, “Judge Parker” comic strip featured legal secretary Gloria saying to senior partner Sam, “Rocky Ledge is talking about having Steve come aboard as corporate council” (sic). I’m not a reader of this strip. Or any soap-operaesque strips, actually. Though I can remember a time in life when I read “Mary Worth” on a regular basis. I just can’t remember why.

A site that promotes “Judge Parker” says it’s about “a no-nonsense, upstanding lawyer who stoically handles drama inside and outside of the courtroom.” This would be a reference to Sam, not the title character, who I understand seldom appears anymore. Replying to Gloria’s comment, Sam says, “The law practice I spent my life building is disintegrating! Wow …” Or maybe he says “Wow” first.

I go online to see if I can learn how a syndicated comic strip about a law firm could actually be published in major newspapers with “council” being used where “counsel” should be. The first thing I discern is that the major supplier to online editions of newspapers, Comics Kingdom, has the correct word, “counsel,” in Gloria’s statement. How’d that happen?

More puzzled than ever, I dig deeper. Which means I query the members of the cruciverb.com list-serve – i.e., my crossword buds and pals, who often have insights about a vast array of topics. The first to reply, Dan Chall, writes, “I can imagine three explanations:

“1) There was an error originally, and it was caught, and some of the customers did not get the correction in time for publication.

“2) Somebody at your paper thought ‘counsel’ was an error, and took it upon her/himself to fix it.

“3) It’s a coded message for some spy organization.”

Minutes later, Bob White refers me to a blog called “The Comics Curmudgeon,” authored by one Josh Fruhlinger. Each day, Josh posts a few comics, followed by a wry and/or sarcastic observation. On Aug. 13, “Judge Parker” was featured, and some of Josh’s readership homed in on the council v. counsel issue. Four of the 200+ comments were from folk who had spotted the miscue and knew it had been corrected soon enough for some publications to avoid it.

“You can do better in a legal secretary, Sam. Gloria can’t even discern between ‘council’ and ‘counsel’,” one wrote.

Another commented that when he/she had seen the strip in the “print edition of my local newspaper, ‘counsel’ was in an obviously different type, so somewhere along the line someone caught it. So glad the original ‘council’ version slipped through somehow.”

Another quipped, “Council? The legal literacy of this strip is even worse than the medical literacy of ‘Rex Morgan, M.D.’”

“You don’t understand, Sam,” wrote the fourth. “Steve is not being asked to be the ‘corporate counsel’ like every other lawyer; he’s being hired to act as the entire ‘corporate council,’ whatever the hell that is. Kick butt and take names, Steve!”

My sentiments exactly.

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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