My brief career as a lead prosecutor

As I have noted here before, I lived in a lot of different places during my childhood. Not because we were a military family, but because when my parents divorced, my dad was rather a dick about it; he seemed to think that by not supporting his kids at all it would force mom to go back to him -or so much I have come to assume when looking at the situation with adult eyes. At any rate, we lived in many places that were either already condemned, or would become condemned and force us to move along. I’m not complaining about this, mind you, I think that the experiences I had all that time ago really hammered home the importance of preparing for the future -particularly, the uncertainty of it.

The huge downside to moving from place to place was the schools. Anyone who has ever been transferred to a different school in the middle of the school year knows how difficult it is to fit in with the kids, who can be brutal at that age, when they have already formed into their own little groups. It never helped matters that the teachers always found it helpful to force you to go stand in front of the class and tell them your name and a brief story about what brought you to the new school (no kidding, damn near every teacher made me do some form of this). So you quickly go from hoping to fly under the radar for a bit to being that new kid who can’t stop talking about himself. Most of the kids hate you on principle alone.

After transferring from school to school a few times, I began to learn that the kids who didn’t reject you at first were often the ones that you really wanted to stay away from. Like this one kid Bert, he was (so I found out later) a troublemaker, but he was friendly with myself and my brother on the first day at our new school (we were all of 10 and 11). A short while later, a rumor began going around (which may or may not have been truthful, but the fact that the parents believed it lends to its credibility) that Bert sexually assaulted a little girl in the town. No one saw Bert for quite a while after that, though we never really knew where he went. Of course we were at that age of grandiose speculation, so we surmised that he must be serving time in the dreaded Juvenile Hall (which sounds like a place that child superheroes would hang out, actually. You know “Later, at Juvenile Hall..”).

So after transferring to too many schools to count, I kind of gave up on making friends for while. The kids who were friendly to me right away were often of the same ilk as Bert, and the kids who weren’t were already established in their little social circles, insofar as one can have “social circles” at the age of 11. This probably has a lot to do with the way I am today actually. I have very few friends, but the friends I do have are the type that I would give a kidney to.

One of the few good friends that I had in my childhood after all the moving around started was a kid by the name of Art (and I can’t remember his last name, some friend, eh?). I met Art just as I was starting the seventh grade. The school was in Winston, Or., and was the middle school where kids from three different grammar schools would go before moving on to high school. The students there came in ready made groups, some coming from Tenmile Elementary, some from Sunny Slope, and some from Winston Elementary. I had moved to live with my father that summer, in hopes that the school hopping would stop, but it still left me as one of the kids that didn’t know anyone when middle school started. Art was the same way.

Art was a bit heavyset and abnormally tall for his (our) age (not freakishly tall, or even fat, but just awkward enough that the kids poked fun at him, as kids will do). It was within the first couple of days at the new school that we would meet, and even then it would be more from circumstance than genuine good nature. While I don’t remember exactly what happened, I know that Art made the cardinal mistake for a kid who was already on notice as far as “not fitting in” was concerned: he answered an unanswerable question in geography class. This was, of course, the quickest way to get everyone to shun you. It seems that kids really hate people who aren’t outright stupid, and there he is flexing his mental muscle.

When lunch came that day, Art was alone at a table in the furthest recess of the cafeteria. I would love to say that I was such a big person that I went to sit with him just to be friendly, but that is hardly how it shook out. The truth is that as I was looking for a seat at one of the more populous tables, backpacks, duffflebags, jackets and other such things began occupying the seats, as the “cool kids” pointed to Art’s lone table and told me to “go sit with the nerd”. As I say, Art and I were in pretty much the same situation as far as the ready made friends group was concerned, but I had theorized that since everyone already had someone to pick on, I would be able to sneak into the cool crowd unnoticed. No luck with that. I did learn, however, that one really shouldn’t be the only kid in the school wearing a dress shirt when it is his intention to fit in.

Art and I sat and ate lunch. I know that we introduced ourselves, but beyond that I don’t think we really shared in any conversation. The next few days at lunch, I would still try to make my way to the cool kids table, but would invariably end up again at the table with Art. After a few days, I wasn’t even trying to sit at any other tables, I would just go to that table in the back of the cafeteria and sit with him. It was just eating lunch, not as if this was going to be something that was seared into my memory, right?

One day, while eating lunch, Art saw the novel that I was reading (I think it was The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and began talking to me about it. It seemed we had something in common. While that was wonderful and everything, I was still holding out hope that I would eventually make it to the cool kids table, and sharing interests with Art wasn’t the way to get there. The thing about it was, Art and I shared not only this interest, but we also seemed to excel in the same classes (we were both in the advanced math class), and read the same magazines (if I didn’t get to the library in time, Art would already be looking at the latest issue of OMNI). I began to realize that it was foolish to think about trying to fit in with the other group when I had so much more in common with Art.

So over the course of the first few weeks of school, Art and I sat there at lunch together, but also began hanging out between classes. Of course our hanging out wasn’t in the form of slacking off and making fart sounds, we would be talking about science or the latest episode of Riptide or, a personal favorite, the miniseries V. In short, we would be geeking it up between classes. It was at this point that I realized I was never truly going to be one of the “cool kids”, my interests would never allow it. Sadly, Art would transfer to another school sometime near Christmas the following year. But for the year or so that I knew him, we became quite good friends.

One of the things that I remember most about Art was a project that we worked on for a grade in History class. Our teacher, Mr. LaFontaine, had a different way of handling our final reports, which was completely unknown to us when we wrote them. Instead of just grading us on our final reports, some of the final reports were picked out to be part of a court proceeding, which would be set up and run by the students, all of which was going to count as part of our “final”. Everyone was to be involved in the proceeding, which would include the accused, prosecution and defense councils, a jury, and the teacher would be the judge. The one thing that I don’t clearly remember is the jury; I know there was a jury, but I don’t remember if it was kids from the same class that were the jurors or if they were kids from another class. The class was given four days of class time (I think) to prepare for this all.

The court cases were all to deal with possible plagiarism (which is, of course, rampant on final reports in high school) on our final papers. The teacher had pulled a number of them that looked suspicious to him, and the people who wrote them would stand accused of it. Of course, the would be innocent until proven guilty, and would be given a defense team that would try to dispute the prosecution’s evidence. I don’t remember for sure if we were assigned to the teams or if we were able to choose, but Art and I ended up being on a prosecution team. It was our charge to prove that a beautiful and quite popular girl named Aurora actually plagiarised her final report.

Since we were UbergeeksTM, Art and I didn’t just use class time to put together our case, we were in the library after school, at lunch, even before school on a few occasions. We read through all of the books that she had listed as References in her paper and couldn’t find any sign of plagiarism. There was a great deal of paraphrasing, but that is far different that plagiarism. Hell if one couldn’t paraphrase, no paper would ever be written on the high school level. We couldn’t find any sign that she had actually plagiarised anything though, at least not in the books that she had listed as her sources…

The report was about some event in the American Revolution, so we began looking at every reference book we could find that had anything to do with that subject. If you were going to plagiarise, we surmised, you wouldn’t want to list your source right on the last page of the report. We found what would be our only evidence (at least our only compelling evidence) in a single sentence in one of the books. I don’t remember the whole sentence, but it was talking about a message being sent from one person to another, one of the books described that action as being done by “Warren via Roxbury”. That sentence used the word “via“, which was not a word that your average 11 or 12 year old is going to be throwing around. Yet, right there in her report were those three words, along with a paraphrasing of the entire sentence. The smoking gun, as it were. We had her.

We also had a problem. In the reference book, “Warren via Roxbury” was written just like that, obviously meaning that a message was sent to Warren by way of Roxbury. In her report, that was written “Warren Via Roxbury”, note the capitalization of the word “via”. It became pretty clear to me that she was paraphrasing the sentence and mistakenly thought that Warren Via Roxbury was actually someone’s name (or a royal title such as Von in Baron Von Ess). Of course it was our charge to prove that she plagiarised her report, and this was all that we had, so we had to use this as our evidence even though we believed that it was really just a simple misunderstanding.

I don’t remember much about the actual trial. I know that we made our case and that Warren via Roxbury was our key evidence. I know that I felt terrible about actually doing it, since I was almost positive that she hadn’t done it on purpose. I know also that we won our case. I can’t remember what her punishment was, though I would like to think that she just had to rewrite her paper (she went to the next grade with the rest of the class, so she obviously didn’t fail based on this). I know that after the trial, any hope of ever being even remote acquaintances of the “cool kids” was completely out of the question. Ahh, the joys of youth.

I started thinking about this this morning as I was watching some show on American Justice. You see, I felt guilty as hell about proving this girl guilty when I knew that she didn’t do it, and this was all small potatoes. I wonder how lawyers can do the same, or worse the reverse of that with a clear conscience. I mean, it is their job to provide a vigorous defense, even if they know that you are guilty as sin, even if you tell them, show them photos, take them to where the bodies are buried, they have to defend you. How can anyone actually do that?

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