The old joke features a man who consults a lawyer about the possibility of suing someone over a business deal. He only wants to sue if the attorney believes they have a strong chance to win. He lays out the facts and, sure enough, the lawyer responds by saying it looks like an open-and-shut case in his favor. Yet the client looks crestfallen. “What’s wrong?” asked the esquire. “Didn’t I tell you the case was bullet-proof?” The man sighs in resignation: “Yes, but I just told you the other guy’s side.”
In school, we all learned the sad saga of Oscar Wilde. The great British wit, playwright and novelist took the Marquis of Queensberry (yes, the guy who wrote the boxing rules) to civil court for libel. The defendant was going around town tarring the plaintiff as a homosexual conducting a dalliance with the defendant’s son. Mr. Wilde, a married man, predicated his claim on the premise that Queensberry was promulgating a vicious untruth. To defend himself, the Marquis adduced incontrovertible proofs that Wilde was indeed his son’s lover.
Victorian England, like most governments before and after, preferred to honor the sodomy laws more in the breach than in the observance. They were hardly conducting roundups of discreet homosexuals, much less upper-class ones. But once the revelation had been so clearly effected in open court, they had little choice but to swear out a criminal warrant. Wilde jumped to initiate a suit which landed him in a jail jumpsuit. A quirky pathway in human nature, this: demanding redress for blows to an honorable reputation, despite its being knowingly false.
Two such stories are currently in the news, one concerning a very high government official, the other a widely respected cultural figure. Both dug needless, heedless ditches beneath their solid perches. One stands to lose his job and be jailed as a national disgrace, the second to lose money and prestige. Both played the Wilde card and fell from kings to jokers.
The first case is the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav. In July, just six months ago, he approached the Attorney General to complain that a former secretary was extorting him by threatening to claim sexual harassment. When Attorney General Mazuz interviewed the woman, she told him she had never intended to come forward on her own. She was content to lick her wounds in private and write it off as a learning experience. If they were going to put her on the spot, she was forced to tell the whole sordid tale.
There was more than just sexual harassment, using job pressures and power disparities to gain compliance. Actual rape had occurred when they were alone in the office after hours. She began producing all sorts of supporting evidence, audio and video and signed notes. Once her story leaked, other women who had worked in his office over the years came forward; a whole Packwood pack of babes out of the woods, you might say. Now Mazuz intends to issue an indictment for rape, an amazing charge to level at a sitting President. So far he has not resigned, but an impeachment committee has been formed in the Knesset. The likelihood is he will receive severe penalties, possibly even jail time.
Back here stateside, we have the pitiful story of comedy icon Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, the former Jessica Sklar, who withheld a one hundred thousand dollar real-estate commission from the broker who found them their multi-million dollar Manhattan apartment. The broker, Tamara Cohen, had indicated from the start she was an Orthodox Jew who did not work on the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. She had showed them several properties and they were satisfied with her work.
When she found the one they eventually took, it was near the end of the week. They decided Saturday would be convenient for them to see the place, so they went without her. Since she had not been present at the first viewing, they decided to cut her out of the deal. A judge this week just awarded her the commission she obviously deserved, leaving Jerry Seinfeld looking either spectacularly petty or desperately henpecked or both.
Don’t start a fight you can’t finish. Don’t brag too loudly about your spick-and-span closet if you know that skeletons are rattling around in there. The other guy’s pro bono lawyer might just wind up making your pro look like a bonehead.
[NOTE: Chapter One of my novel, "The Life and Times of Pfc. Ernest Taylor," has been entered into the First Chapters competition at www.gather.com. The winner will be determined by the ratings of readers and will receive a book contract. Please register, read and vote by rating it 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. One person, one vote. Voting is open until Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. Eastern time.]