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Outside the Special Proceedings Courtroom, on the last landing going down the steps to the atrium, the defendants and their entourage of attorneys gather at the bank of microphones set up for just this occasion, surrounded by media a few feet below them. Every once in a while, Sarah can hear a snippet or two: “You'll get our side this afternoon.... No comments now.... Ludicrous.… Unbelievable...” They don’t stay long, though, and are soon replaced by Benjamin Messick, clearly less comfortable there than in front of a jury. But Messick obviously knew that meeting the media like this was not only inevitable but necessary, and he came with a prepared statement, which he is reading.
“…very glad this trial has started. We’ve all waited a long time. It has taken thirty years to find a way to bring out the truth of AIDS. What you will hear in this courtroom in the next few weeks is probably going to shock you – the breadth and depth of the lies that have been told, and the lives that have been destroyed as a result. I look forward to this opportunity...”
A female voice interrupts him, “Is it true your best friend died of AIDS in 1994?”
Messick is obviously caught off guard. How the hell did they find out…what has that got to do with… “That's all,” he answers and quickly makes his way through the crowd to the exit, waving off the dozens of different questions being asked – more accurately, shouted at him simultaneously.
It’s a typical newspaper room with desk-filled cubicles occupying every possible square inch. Sarah makes her way to one in the far corner that she shares with three other part-timers. Writing one column a week doesn’t earn anyone very plush accommodations at this paper, or any paper for that matter, but Sarah doesn’t mind. She’s grateful to have the job and would put up with much worse if she had to.
Fortunately, although today is not her usual allotted time, the desk is free. She breathes a word of thanks and sits down, quickly moving some stacks of paper out of the way to gain access to the keyboard. She’s in the middle of arranging her notes when Sam Moretti, her boss, appears. Sam is a middle-aged, over-weight son of an Italian immigrant with a rough and tough exterior, but for some reason he has a soft spot for Sarah.
“So?” Sam asks as he stops and leans against her cubicle wall.
Sarah just looks up at him, wondering if he had been lying in wait for her arrival. Sam means well, but she sometimes wishes he didn’t treat her like the daughter he never had. When she doesn’t answer, Sam tries again.
“So, how’d it go this morning?”
“I’m not quite sure.” Sarah is a little surprised at her answer and suddenly realizes she really isn’t sure.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam sounds more concerned than anything else. And again, when Sarah doesn’t speak right away, he presses her. “How can you say ‘you’re not quite sure?’ Weren’t you there?”
“Of course I was there. Wouldn’t have missed this chance for the world. But….” Sarah frowns and starts to try to explain. “I still don’t understand. Why file this suit in the first place? There's obviously no basis in fact, so what's the motivation? Is it a publicity stunt, created specifically for the thirtieth Anniversary of AIDS? Is there some hidden political agenda that hasn’t surfaced somehow? Or is this guy just some greedy lawyer taking advantage of a few poor families, making them grieve all over again, trying to pocket a huge commission? I can’t figure it out.”
Sam pulls up a chair from the next cubicle and sits, partially in the walkway and partially in Sarah’s office. Sarah glances at her notes before continuing.
“Benjamin Messick is the plaintiffs’ attorney, and he just doesn’t appear like the type to do something this off-the-wall. He seems to be intelligent, even humble; and he comes across as very sincere – which makes all this even more of a puzzle.”
Sam decides to stay quiet and let Sarah try to figure this out on her own. She stares intently at her notepad and finally deciphers her next bit of shorthand, reminding her of what Messick said.
“But Messick is full of shit, no doubt.” Sarah knows Sam picked up on the anger behind those words, and she quickly brings herself back under control and tries to divert his attention. “You should see it Sam – this guy Messick by himself on one side and a whole boatload of high-powered lawyers on the other. It's almost laughable.”
It was the edge that Sam didn’t like. One thing he insisted on from all of his reporters was to stay objective at all times and keep their own emotions out of the story.
“Sarah, are you sure you want to cover this? I've got two other full-time people from Legal there as well....”
“Don’t you dare, Sam.” Sarah leans forward in her chair and into his face. “This is my story. Don’t you even think about taking it away from me.” She backs away a little, realizing it was just that kind of outburst that Sam didn’t want involved in the news, and decides to try another tack. “Besides, you need someone covering the health side of this trial, as well as the legal side.” That sounded so lame, even to Sarah, that she falls back to what worked with Sam to get the assignment to begin with, and should work again. “Anyway, I've earned this, and I want it. Please….”
Sam knew he was had and threw up his hands. “Okay. All right. It's yours. Can you get me your first column by deadline tonight?”
Sarah relaxes a little, pushes her chair back, and starts rummaging through her briefcase. She finally retrieves an energy bar.
“I think so. We go back for the opening statements by the defendants at two. If they go too long, I'll just focus on Messick’s opening. Either way, I'll definitely have you something by six.” She unwraps the bar and takes a bite. “By the way, can you help keep this desk clear for me while this trial is going on?”
“Maybe I can even find you another one that’s all yours for the time being. I’ll check.”
Sam turns and starts to walk away, then turns back. “Want some lunch before you start?”
Sarah shakes her head no, and raises the energy bar for him to see that she’s all taken care of in that department.
“Sarah…” Sam gently teases her, but with genuine concern, “…when are you going to eat some real food?”
Sarah dismisses him with a wave of her hand, turns to her keyboard, and “Googles” retrovirus.
The courtroom is buzzing with private conversations as Sarah walks in to take her seat.
The bailiff’s booming voice commands respect and obedience, and by the time Judge Watts appears in her doorway, the crowd is on its feet in silence.
Judge Watts is a distinguished-looking black woman, around sixty, known to run a tight ship from her bench. She doesn’t put up with much, doesn’t like public spectacles, and therefore doesn’t seem very pleased to be hearing this particular case. She seats herself in a large plush chair behind the huge podium that stretches from one side of the courtroom to the other, designed more for a panel of three or five than a single justice.
“Be seated. And before we go on, ladies and gentlemen of the press, we’re going to get something straight. I will not tolerate disrespect of this court, or I’ll empty it faster than a gas tank in a Hummer.”
The crowd wants to laugh but isn’t sure if it could or should, so all that can be heard is a snicker. But Judge Watts has already made her point and people are going to listen.
“So let’s talk about this morning. From now on, no one moves or says a word before I have finished speaking and left my bench. And if just one of you violates that order, I’ll throw you all out. Is that clear?”
Heads nod agreement as Judge Watts looks around her courtroom. Satisfied, she’s ready to continue.
“Mr. Crawley, are you ready to present your opening remarks?”
Thomas Crawley is Dr. Gallo’s personal attorney as well as the lead attorney for the defense. Even seated he is an impressive figure, with shock-white hair, a tanned complexion, and perfectly manicured nails. When he stands, his six-foot-four frame adds to the powerful presence. Sarah marvels at how well her David and Goliath metaphor is playing out.
“Yes, Your Honor, we are ready.” Crawley’s voice is arrogant and confident. “And if it pleases the court, I will be making our opening statement on behalf of all the defendants, rather than belabor the court with multiple remarks.”
Judge Watts seems relieved to hear that; Crawley has already made his first score.
“In addition, I want the court to know that I will be very brief.”
Judge Watts settles back in her chair with an approving glance at Crawley. Score two for the defense in the first minute!
“Very well. Proceed, Mr. Crawley.”
Crawley moves to the lectern and hesitates a moment before beginning.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Thomas Crawley. And I want to tell you first why my opening statement will only take a few minutes of your time. You see, the defendants, whom I represent, consider this whole trial to be an utter waste of time, for us, for the court, and especially for you, the jury. As Mr. Messick said, you see before you at the defendants’ table Dr. Robert Gallo. For years Dr. Gallo has been one of this nation's top scientists at the National Institutes of Health, and he is now the director of the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, Maryland. He didn't get there being stupid, or careless, or negligent. He, in fact, was co-responsible for identifying the cause of AIDS and spearheading its treatment. Mr. Messick claims that 300,000 people died of AIDS between 1987 and 1997. It could have been 3 million people if it weren't for Dr. Gallo. He deserves a medal, perhaps the Nobel Prize, not a lawsuit.”
While Crawley pauses to let the jury fully appreciate the stature of the main defendant in this case, Sarah takes a good look at Dr. Gallo, seated at the defense table. She can’t decide whether he looks more like a scientist or a bureaucrat. The only thing she knows for sure is that he seems annoyed that someone would dare question him or anything he did, as if he too believed he was Nobel Prize material and above reproach.
“Next to Dr. Gallo is the Department of Health and Human Services, represented by their attorney, Mr. Crenshaw. This is one of the most important departments of our government, charged with the responsibility of caring for our health and welfare. They also played a major role in keeping the AIDS epidemic from spreading into the entire population of this country. I mean, thirty years later, everybody knows that HIV causes AIDS! I don't understand why we are wasting your time on these issues.”
Crawley is definitely good, Sarah decides. And on top of that, he’s right. This is definitely not going to be a fair fight.
“Next to him is the Food and Drug Administration, represented by Mr. Fogerty. The FDA is our watchdog, making sure the food we take into our bodies is the best in the world, and protecting the American people from dangerous or ineffective drugs. If AZT was a problem back then, or a problem now, I can assure you that the FDA would have taken swift action, as they have in many, many other cases. In fact, if it weren't for the FDA's rapid approval of AZT in 1987, we could have experienced an AIDS epidemic that would have rivaled the bubonic plague.”
Crawley is already in the zone and Sarah can see it. It’s as if this is what he was born to do – manipulate people with words. She had heard rumors of his talent, and now she’s seeing it in person. She marvels at his style: so polished, so persuasive, so powerful. No wonder he’s considered one of the best attorneys in the country.
“And thank God for the research department at Burroughs Wellcome who could provide us with a drug as quickly as they did. They are represented by Mr. Gladstone. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Gallo and the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA and Burroughs Wellcome all deserve awards today, not some frivolous lawsuit. And I could produce hundreds of studies with thousands of pages of research to show you just how frivolous this lawsuit really is. But the amount of information you would have to understand – most of it written in complicated medical language – could literally be overwhelming.”
As Crawley was delivering his opening remarks, Messick had been sitting with his hands clasped together on the table, leaning forward on his arms, head slightly bowed. But as Crawley finishes that last sentence, Sarah sees Messick look up in disbelief. Apparently he thinks he knows what’s coming, and it’s also apparent he didn’t expect it.
“Besides, the plaintiffs gave us a list of their witnesses. That's normal, that's how our judicial system works. Many of the names on Mr. Messick's witness list are exactly the same names that would be on our witness list, and his list of plaintiffs’ exhibits is virtually the same as our list of exhibits. Now, I'm not totally sure what Mr. Messick is doing, but I am sure that his own witnesses and his own exhibits are going to tell a story very different from what he has led you to believe this morning.”
Crawley looks directly into the eyes of each juror in turn as he delivers the next line.
“It is the plaintiffs who are responsible for proving their case to you, and we know they can't do it. Let me say that again. We know they can’t prove their case….” Then looking directly at Judge Watts, he delivers his bombshell. “…and we will not dignify this travesty, this witch hunt, this preposterous case by putting on a defense.”
Before Crawley could finish his sentence, the courtroom erupts, and a few even forget the Judge’s warning just minutes earlier and bolt out of their seats, headed toward the door. Sarah just sits, stunned.
“Everyone sit down and shut up,” Judge Watts bellows as she bangs her gavel over and over as hard as she can until there is relative calm and quiet. “Now, what did I just say? You sit there, and you sit quietly, and you can stay. Otherwise, you’ll be watching this trial on TV with the rest of the world,” she says, angrily pointing toward the cameras. When there is silence again, she looks at Crawley, and the look carries a question and a warning for him as well. She doesn’t like theatrics in her courtroom, and she wants to make sure he knows he had crossed the line. But, to be honest, she is as curious as the rest, and as puzzled. She wants to hear what else he has to say. “Continue, Mr. Crawley.”
“Thank you, Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, don't get me wrong. I will object to things Mr. Messick does that he shouldn't do during the presentation of his case. I'm not going to let him run roughshod over the rules of our judicial system in the pursuit of his fantasy. And if I feel that he has confused you with his questioning of…our witnesses, I might cross-examine to clarify a thing or two. But when Mr. Messick has finished, you will see that not only has he failed to present even the slightest shred of proof for his case, but he has unjustly dragged my clients and the American people through the mud of sensationalism, and wasted your time and mine.”
Crawley had them all in the palm of his hand. He knew he could do anything with them he wanted, but what he wanted most was to put all the pressure on Messick from the very beginning. “We will not be part of that, except as required by sanity and logic and the rules of this court.”
Crawley once again looks at the Judge, as if to answer her unspoken question directly. “Have I been clear? We do not intend to defend ourselves from such…” looking for just the right words, “…ludicrous tripe.” Then he looks back at the jury. “When Mr. Messick finally sits down, I am totally confident that you will already be able to find these defendants not responsible without my having to say a word.”
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|Smashwords Edition, License Notes||Smashwords Edition, License Notes|
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