Snapshots from a trying two weeks

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, April 26, 2014

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Reflections on a couple of weeks covering a lawsuit trial in Dallas…

Driving somewhere every day, you learn a few things, like:

  • Just take Interstate 30 east from Fort Worth so you don’t have to go anywhere near Interstate 35W (a big parking lot).
  • In Dallas, be in the right lane of the two left-exit lanes so you can turn onto Commerce and pass all the cars trying to get onto I-35E (a big parking lot).
  • Then, quickly get all the way to the left so you can turn into the garage (a big parking lot – but at least it’s on purpose).

About the time I finally got this down, the trial was over. If I can help it, it will be a long time before I go to Dallas again.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

I’m not a big fan of parking garages (too many violent movies). But this one’s not bad. There’s about a thousand empty spots, all marked “Reserved” (for who? and where are they?) so you keep driving and descend into the bowels of the earth until you find one you can park in.

The garage has motion-activated lights – as you walk, you’re flipping on the lights. After I stopped looking around to see who was operating the switch (yes, I am a hick) I thought it was kinda cool.

Probably went through security 20 times at that courts building. I gave them my glasses, phone (except for Monday, more on that later) and camera and never set off the alarm. If somebody came charging through there with a gun, I’m not sure those tired ladies could stop him.

The benches in the courtrooms are extremely hard and not contoured to the human backside. They are perfectly flat – exactly as my backside would have been if the trial had lasted much longer.

I should have taken the Decatur Eagles stadium seat I won at a Chamber luncheon a few months ago.

Judge Mark Greenberg of County Court-at-Law No. 5 is very, very good. Several lawyers pointed out to me that litigants seek him out because they know they’ll get a fair trial, and the law will be followed.

He certainly had a kind and understanding way of explaining things, including that you can’t use your phone to audio record the trial. The first day I was there, I did that. I missed his opening instructions, in which he said that was not allowed.

A young lawyer on the defense team saw me recording, told one of his colleagues and by the next morning, it had filtered up to the judge.

He didn’t single me out – just calmly reminded everybody that recordings and photography were not allowed. I was afraid I would be arrested. The young lawyer who ratted me out avoided eye contact through the rest of the trial.

He should know I hold no hard feelings. He could have just said something to me, but he probably figured I would be obnoxious about it.

The first day I was there, Fox 4 took video from outside the courtroom door. The back of my head (which has a small area uncluttered by hair) is right there on television, front and center.

I emailed the still shot to my entire family. My wife replied, “Your vortex (our pet name for my bald spot) had its 15 minutes of fame!” while my sister shot back, “You’re a shining star!”

I’m blessed with funny, funny women in my life.

If you have to be in downtown Dallas, here’s a good place to eat: across from the Kennedy Memorial Plaza on the first floor of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway building is the Mello Cafe. It’s Brazilian. Friendly people, excellent food, reasonable prices and cool music.

Gaps in one’s vocabulary are exposed in a technical trial like this one. I learned about summa canisters, VOCs, thief hatches (which I heard as “pea patches” the first few times – man, I am so rural), benzene, hexane, vapor recovery systems, FLIR cameras, MSDS sheets, vapor densities, lower explosive limits, odor threshholds and fugitive emissions.

Now that I know all those things, I’ll probably never need to know them again.

When I heard the oil and gas expert the defense called gets $395 an hour, I had another one of those “I went into the wrong business!” moments (reporters have lots of those). He’s probably worth it when he’s telling people how to get more oil or gas from their wells. Testifying? Nah, but more power to him.

Monday, the day the jury got the case, I forgot my phone entirely. I felt like the subject of the Discovery Channel series, “Naked and Afraid.” The worst part was not having anything to entertain me during the long, long breaks.

The second-worst part was how few people tried to call me that day.

The first day of jury deliberation, as the jurors engaged in a lively and sometimes loud discussion in a room just off the courtroom, the plaintiff’s attorney stretched out on the back pew of the courtroom and grabbed a quick nap.

It was an interesting moment: the jury room sounding like a tree full of grackles, the bailiff sitting quietly in his box, attorneys at the table looking at computers and a suited-and-tied lawyer snoring softly on the back pew.

I guess the hard bench doesn’t bother you if you’re tired enough.

Or maybe when it comes to discomfort, lawyers are immune. Maybe they’re just carriers.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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