ON CAMPUS: Court counterpoints in inspiring fiction, awful reality

03/07/2013 11:38 AM

03/09/2013 1:39 PM

Two courtroom dramas juxtaposed themselves on my day, one full of shining hope and the other utter despair. One building futures. One destroying them

First, hope: Modesto High’s 25-student strong Mock Trial team practiced for the state contest under the tight tutelage of veteran attorneys. All except the golfers were dressed in courtroom attire: hose, ties, jackets, button shirts. The athletes, racing back from a school match, came casual. One munched a sandwich while cross-examining a witness.

The legal eagles on the team parsed the case details, learning how to approach a witness, pose strong questions and use objections to position their case. Other students, most future witnesses, did homework and called out questions or tips.

These bright, committed young people impressed the attorneys who coached them and pleased teacher and co-advisor Kerry L. Castellani. Every one of them stands poised to go far and make a difference.

What a staggering contrast to the case won by an attorney I’d spoken with just before leaving for the Mock Trial practice. The $4.75 million settlement won was a hollow victory, he said, reached with Lodi Unified after it was held liable for an employee’s horrific acts.

The massive judgment – a record – and the nearly complete culpability was based in part on the district hiring a bus driver despite a misdemeanor conviction and failure to check references, attorney John Manly of Irvine said. But the settlement reached the heights it did mostly from sheer stomach-churning revulsion, Manly’s description suggests.

Pivotal to the case were school bus videos of an 8-year-old with profound developmental delays being molested by the driver, then in his late 50s. Worse even than the view, Manly said, was the soundtrack where the barely verbal child protests in pain, and the perpetrator cajoles. The driver, Richard Dale Evans, was convicted of molestation and kidnapping in 2011.

Now 11, the little girl is nowhere close to recovering. Unable to understand or cope, the attorney said her inappropriate and angry behaviors complicate any school placement. “He emotionally murdered that child,” Manly said. Though the money will pay for treatment, he added, “at the end of the day, this is a very poor fix.”

In completely different ways and on supremely different levels, both examples showcase the legal system – its lofty ideals and its limits. At its core, the law is about sorting, weighing and moving forward, whether the next steps hold despair or hope.

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