How To Pick An Attorney General (10/20/97)
The Buck Stops Where? (10/10/97)
And Now The News From Overseas (9/26/97)
Princess Diana's Minefields (9/5/97)
Our Days In Court
By Charles Bierbauer/CNN
WASHINGTON (Nov. 20) -- Louise Woodward and the Eappens, Terry Nichols and the people of Oklahoma City, Mir Aimal Kasi and the CIA employees, Theodore Kaczynski and those who received their deadly mail, and even Bill Clinton and Paula Corbin Jones -- their lives are bound together, tied in legal knots. And ours are tied to theirs as each courtroom saga seeps into our living rooms and our collective consciousness.
Whether we watch vicariously, voyeuristically or just obliquely follow the televised bits and soundbites, the bold headlines and the fine print, many of the central issues of the day are under examination and cross-examination in U.S. courtrooms.
The players are not nearly as important as what they have revealed about us and our society. Louise Woodward's murder verdict may have been set aside for a lesser charge, but the concerns about child care, working mothers and child abuse are not dismissible.
Woodward, the teenage British au pair, will be a footnote to the debate. A "Jeopardy" category -- people linked to sensational criminal cases of the '90s -- Lorena Bobbitt, Ronald Goldman, the Menendez brothers, Tonya Harding. We'll forget a lot of the names. It's what these trials were all about that needs to remain with us.
"The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones," Shakespeare wrote of Julius Caesar. Can it be reversed in these cases? Bury the evil and find the good that might come of closer examination and action.
The Woodward/Eappen case has made Americans think harder about the need for good, healthy and safe child care. I've had au pairs and nannies from at least seven countries help care for my four children while living in three countries. Most have been splendid. It's been a shared cultural experience. But one starts to thank his good fortune when someone else's misfortune comes into focus.
The last time we thought about child care was when we discovered President Clinton's nominees to high office were scofflaws who had not paid their nanny taxes. We scorned their arrogance and snickered at their stingy stupidity.
Matthew Eappen's death brought a different side of the issue to light. Not just child care, but also parental responsibility and the needs of working parents. Louise Woodward's trial functioned just as O.J. Simpson's did to bring to glaring light the problem of spousal abuse, leaving aside all else O.J. brought to the public eye.
Terry Nichols -- like Timothy McVeigh before him -- and Mir Aimal Kasi, who was just convicted in Virginia of killings outside the CIA headquarters, shred us of our sense of personal security. Their cases warn of the pent-up anger, frustration, feeling of injustice that builds up and bursts forth in what may seem to make sense to an attacker, yet is senseless to victims and bewildered bystanders.
Apart from the merits and verdicts of these cases, there are enormous questions that perhaps the trials can begin to answer for us. What is it about this society, its government, its policies that embitters people so? Does something need to be corrected? Or do we need to be more vigilant towards those who dissent and might explosively express that dissent? Or will that turn us into a nation of vigilantes? And will we be less for it?
Does the "Unabomber" fit this same category? Or is the death-by-mail case unique in its perversity? In its specificity rather than random targeting of victims?
The California trial of Theodore Kaczynski raises its own writ large questions. Kaczynski's journal says: "They are bound to try to analyse my psychology and depict me as 'sick.'" Does this enhance or undermine a case for insanity? And if he is judged both guilty and insane, should a jury show compassion for the illness or exact the death penalty for the crime?
Can any case be more entangled by societal issues than Paula Jones' accusation of sexual harassment by the president of the United States, albeit only the governor of Arkansas at the time of the purported perversion? Not only does it raise the sexual harassment question, it also poses the matter of possible harassment of public officials -- there's his side of the story, too -- and the protective use (or abuse) of presidential immunity. The Supreme Court denied the president that refuge, so we will have the potential national embarrassment of presidential embarrassment in a public courtroom to look forward to.
Did I mention the Marv Albert case? Need I say more?
There is one more important case to note on the subject of sexual harassment. On December 3, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services. Joseph Oncale alleges that while working on an offshore oil rig he was subjected to sexual harassment by his male coworkers. The court must decide if the legal protections against sexual harassment extend to same-sex harassment.
These are significant social issues which deserve their day in court, not just for the sake of solving the cases, but perhaps for also beginning to solve the problems.
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