TV Law, The Good Wife, and Barry Bonds

I’ve heard it said that lawyers are among the most avid watchers of law-related TV shows – from LA Law to Law and Order to The Good Wife” — but I must say I find that pretty hard to believe. Personally, I can’t watch them, and I’m a little surprised that other lawyers can; the picture they paint of the practice of law is just wa-a-ay too absurd for me, and it inevitably causes me to run from the room with my hands over my ears . . . The Good Wife, in particular, causes me to go temporarily insane. Their portrayal of life in a “big firm” is so preposterous — the client comes in on Monday with an antitrust case against, say, all of the drug companies; on Tuesday they find the critical case on the issue, which they use, that afternoon, to confront the other side during depositions; at trial — which seems to occur the following day — the judge rules on the critical motion, and the other side gives up in despair.

It’s just so idiotic. I understand that TV’s supposed to be idiotic — or, at least, it doesn’t really matter when it is idiotic, it’s just a little added silliness in our lives, and in any event, that’s why God put the “change channel” and “off” buttons on the remotes.

But actually, it does matter. I was thinking of this as I was reading reports about the Barry Bonds trial. I think if people understood better than they do what actually goes into preparing for a trial like this — the thousands of hours of lawyer drudgery, the poring over insanely boring and impossible to comprehend documents, the motions, the counter-motions, the discovery requests, the oppositions to the discovery requests, the requests for sanctions for having opposed the discovery requests, the witness prep, the mock depositions, the actual depositions, the motions to strike testimony or evidence, the jury selection . . . . — if people actually understood that better, they’d be a lot more pissed off than they seem to be that the government is squandering all of that to prove that Barry Bonds lied about whether or not he knowingly took steroids. This is a truly preposterous and indefensible waste of precious government resources — whoever made the decision to prosecute this case should be summarily dismissed. (And I gather that the equally preposterous Roger Clemens perjury trial is about to start as well). It’s not just that this is part of an extremely depressing and disturbing trend of high-profile prosecutions for perjury — Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby come to mind — where the government ends up with no good evidence that any law-breaking has actually occurred, so they end up going after the principals for lying to investigators about whether any law-breaking has occurred. Lying under oath can be a serious matter – I get that. But where the underlying criminal activity is, in the greater scope of things, relatively insignificant — if Bonds, or Clemens, actually obtained unlawfully-distributed drugs that they used to enhance their performance, I’m not sure the republic is seriously threatened — the notion that we’re throwing people in jail even when we aren’t sure that it occurred is more than a little troubling to me.

But even putting all that aside, the sheer magnitude of the waste of government money and time and energy is staggering. If life bore the slightest resemblance to The Good Wife, I wouldn’t care that much. But it’s not. There are, if I am not mistaken, serious problems that need prosecutorial attention. Lots of them. It would be nice if our prosecutors focused their attention on them.