The Case of the Non-Practicing Lawyer
I'm trying not to think too hard about the Trump AP interview because Lord have mercy! Besides, everybody's talking about that, so let's talk about Trump's favorite conspiracy theorist and child custody hearings.
I used to think Dahlia Lithwick knew something about the law. Now I think everything she knows she learned from Perry Mason re-runs:
What we will have learned in the aggregate is that we were foolish enough to suppose that putting an Alex Jones in a courtroom would force logic and deference and authenticity. This trial was a test to see whether Alex Jones would concede that any truth-seeking mechanism other than Alex Jones himself could be trusted. That’s the same test Donald Trump puts us to every day. What’s left to be determined is not what the truth is. It’s whether the systems that exist to test truth can recover from what we have become.
Only a person who had never set foot in a real courtroom during a real trial (or hearing, in this case) would suppose the courtroom was a "truth-seeking mechanism" that "would force logic and deference and authenticity." The courtroom isn't even a "system that exist[s] to test truth." We don't have those in reality, because reality is not scripted. No one confesses to the crime and submits to the absolute authority of "truth" because the world simply doesn't work that way. I mean, didn't we all learn this when O.J. was acquitted, or the cops who beat Rodney King to a pulp walked away free?
Lithwick's effort is a muddled analysis, which is unfortunate because she starts off on the right track:
Jones v. Jones isn’t going to be the trial of the century or even the trial of the week, legally speaking. It’s just going to be an excruciating display of what divorce lawyers see every day: parades of experts and paid professionals telling stories about missed visitation and forgotten teacher meetings. There may be an amuse bouche of shirtlessness and chili and ironic pleas for media restraint, but what this jury is seeing, day in and day out, is what it looks like when two wealthy former partners are prepared to spare no expense to destroy the other, with allegations about sex, booze, and money as tabs 1-1,000 in the trial binder.Yup. That's what custody hearings are like when both sides have the money for them. Below that high-priced arena level, custody battles are even more tedious. More often than not they involve partners with no money for experts, or one partner who has money and the other (guess who?) who has almost none. I represented a mother who had returned to her career of "adult entertainment" because she needed the money. Her husband used that against her to get custody of their child. That's more often the dynamic of custody battles; well, that and trying to get child support from a parent, or blood from a stone. One grows quickly accustomed to the number of people willing to work menial jobs for cash only, so they have no wages the court can garnish, so they can avoid, at all costs, the obligation to provide support for their children. Truth? Logic? Authenticity? Alex Jones is a model of probity compared to those people. But those people aren't famous, and can't afford lengthy jury trials, so we don't use them as our standard for how the courts should work. They remain invisible.
Alex Jones is anything but invisible; and any sign of comity is a sign of conspiracy:
Lest you think that is a judge trying to penetrate the tedium of a jury hearing with a note of wry humanity, or even gently nudging Mr. Jones' in his excessive concerns, oh no, it's not that:.@RealAlexJones One lighthearted moment: Court official refills water pitcher.— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) April 20, 2017
Judge smirks to AJ "don't worry it's filtered water"
*AJ smiles, fist pumps*
This is a performance of Jones-style paranoia in which even the judge winkingly plays her designated part as bartender to the paranoid fringe.Um...okay. This hearing is not, as Ms. Lithwick started out noting, about the character and value of Alex Jones as a public figure; it is about whether or not Mr. Jones is fit to be a custodial parent (and the same question applies to his wife). How the judge's comment compromises that issue is beyond my understanding, but then: I've actually spent time in a courtroom representing a party to a custody hearing. Ms. Lithwick seems to still believe law is about Truth, Justice, and the American Way. A notion even the most starry-eyed law student is disabused of after only a few hours in any courtroom setting.
Ms. Lithwick wants to turn the persona of Alex Jones into an avatar for what ails America, and what ails America most is Donald Trump. Mr. Jones becomes a representative of the no-accountability model that allowed Donald Trump to win the Oval Office. Mr. Jones is subverting the legal system the way Donald Trump subverted the political system:
The point of this litigation is not to ever get to the point of litigation. It is to persuade people that the trial is the show, and his authoritative and lucrative radio performance is what’s real.Except the only people who are going to reach that over-heated conclusion, besides legal analysts who think the legal system is completely divorced from the law itself (which is pure and holy, apparently), are the fans of Alex Jones. From what little I know about this hearing, I would be happy to be representing Ms. Jones. Her ex-husband is not doing himself any favors. Whether he destroys his public reputation or not (a dubious hope under the best of circumstances), he's not helping his claim that he's a model custodial parent. As for the idea exposure to the light should have made Mr. Jones explode like a horror movie vampire, or reveal him to his ardent followers as the cockroach he is, well:
Welcome to reality. Word comes today that only 2% of those who claim to have voted for Trump regret their vote this nearly-100 days in. Quelle surprise? "A man [sic] hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest." Alex Jones has a small audience, in absolute terms, and isn't all that important even if his audience includes the President of the United States. After all, Trump appointed Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon to White House positions, and how did that work out? Yes, Alex Jones is an incredible yutz, but in the real world even if the murderer did break down in tears in the courtroom gallery and confess to one and all that they did it, someone would still believe the confessor was innocent.
No system of law forces "logic and deference and authenticity" on the people. The law rests on the authority of the state to decide who is worthy of custody and who isn't, and enforces that decision with the police power of the state, if necessary. By and large we defer to that power, even as we grumble (someone always does) about the outcome. But do we all see the truth and acknowledge without equivocation who the "bad guy" is? In all of human history that's never happened before; why should it happen in a courtroom in Austin now?