Nate came to me the troubled father of young Jana. Jana’s mother had recently died of overdose. Nate’s own mother now challenged Nate’s custody of Jana. This grandmother believed herself a more able parent than her son. She belabored Nate’s misdemeanor joyriding conviction years ago; he unforgivably embarrassed her.
During deposition break, Nate confided, “I have another conviction. An assault felony in Colorado.” I withered. Opposing counsel had asked, not ten minutes before, if Nate had any criminal convictions besides the joyride. Nate answered plainly, “No.”
What to do? I sucked my teeth. I advised Nate to correct his misstatement. I also advised him that doing so would reduce his chances of retaining custody of Jana. My advice resembled that of the King of Hearts to the Mad Hatter at the trial of Knave of Hearts for stealing some tarts: “Give your evidence, and don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot” (Carroll, Alice in Wonderland). Nate muttered, “There are truths and there is truth.”
I speak truth for a living. That is not how most people see lawyering. Thoreau (American transcendentalist, 19th century) scoffed: “The lawyer’s truth is not Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency” (Civil Disobedience). Facts arrive on my doorstep, dirty and disheveled. I clean them up and buy them a tuxedo. But a pig in a tux is still a pig. All judges are farmers; they know their beasts. A warning from Confucius (Chinese, 6th century B.C.) lingers: artful words ruin one’s virtue (Analects, Book XV, §27).
Nate never corrected his deposition lie. Opposing counsel never checked Nate’s criminal record. Ultimately, the Court left Jana with Nate. That grandmother faded from both their lives. For that, I am glad.
Speaking truth perplexes me, balancing truths and Truth. Socrates (Athenian, 5th century B.C.) held, while on trial for his life: “The difficulty is not so much to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong, which is far more fleet of foot” (Plato, Apologia). I sometimes feel like a weekend jogger being run down by a marathoner.