Like you, I stayed up to watch the Vice Presidential debate.
And, like you, I find it hard to recall the content of what the candidates said. All I can remember is Joe Biden throwing his head back and laughing every time Paul Ryan spoke.
That’s the way it seems to be with these debates. What lasts in the minds of the viewers and what is discussed throughout history is some nonverbal occurrence.
Richard Nixon sweating. Al Gore sighing. Now add to the list Joe Biden snickering.
Joe Trippi was one of the commentators after the debate. He was a strategist for Edward Kennedy and Walter Mondale during their runs for president. He expressed concern that Mr. Biden’s message was drowned out by his behavior. He should know—he was Howard Dean’s campaign manager when that candidate self-destructed with a loud, inappropriate shriek-like war cry on national television.
Stuff like this happens in the courtroom, too. I recall a trial many years ago in Fayette County. There were two lawyers for the criminal defendant. The experienced one tried the case. The rookie sat at the counsel table and rolled his eyes when the witnesses for the state testified. After the jury convicted the defendant, one of the jurors told the young lawyer that he hadn’t helped his client by all of his disrespectful facial expressions.
That young lawyer was me. I never forgot that lesson. And I teach it to our prosecutors today.
During a trial, the jurors are warned before each break that they may not discuss the case with anyone, including each other, until the evidence is complete. So, what do they do? They discuss the uncomfortable chairs, the temperature of the room, their hope that the trial won’t prevent them from some activity scheduled later in the week. And, if it is noteworthy, they discuss the mannerisms of the lawyers.
You can see the glimmer in their eyes when a lawyer mispronounces a name for the tenth time. They exchange amused glances when the lawyer constantly tugs at his collar and stretches his neck like a turtle. They exhibit obvious disapproval when the lawyer ignores an admonishment by the judge.
Fortunately, these gaffes by the attorneys don’t seem to influence verdicts.
Not long after I was chided by the juror for rolling my eyes, I tried a divorce case. The other lawyer was awful. She was rude. She whined. She pouted when things didn’t go her way. She was downright hateful toward my client.
I had learned my lesson. I was courteous. I was patient. I was the model of professionalism.
When the jury returned a verdict, it was like most divorce verdicts—nobody was the clear winner.
After the trial all of the jurors told me how much they hated the other lawyer. Then they said, “We started to give your client everything. But, we felt it wasn’t fair to punish the other party because her lawyer was obnoxious.”
Fortunately for all the people stuck with unappealing lawyers, justice is blind.
Unfortunately for politicians, most voters aren’t.