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Calvin Trillin, whose articles and columns have earned him renown as a classic American journalist and humorist, writes a weekly column for TIME.

The Big Pillow Fight, Interrupted

By Calvin Trillin

TIME magazine

(TIME, June 29) -- I've been in the dumps ever since William Ginsburg departed. While Ginsburg was on the case, I'd figured that Kenneth Starr would eventually have to indict Monica Lewinsky, and I was looking forward to the criminal trial of the century, at least this year's criminal trial of the century, being fought out between two lawyers who had never before tried a criminal case.

It would have been like watching the tennis finals at Forest Hills being contested by two men who had made names for themselves in lawn bowling and archery.

Alas, it was not to be. The final straw for the Lewinsky family, we're told, may have been Ginsburg's decision to write an article for a California legal magazine in which he essentially acknowledged that his client committed perjury--an act so astonishingly boneheaded that even Ken Starr couldn't have thought of it.

Now Ms. Lewinsky is represented by two criminal lawyers so steeped in the ways of Washington that their clients rarely show up in court except to plead guilty to some misdemeanor whose connection with the case at hand is not immediately apparent. Presumably these are the sort of lawyers who, unlike Starr, know how to leak information without leaving fingerprints and, unlike Ginsburg, have better things to do on Sunday morning than destroy their client's case on network television.

"There is nothing less entertaining than a suspect in the hands of professionals," I said to my wife last week.

My wife tried to cheer me up. "Maybe if Bruce Lindsey gets indicted, he'll be represented by some bond lawyer he knew in Arkansas," she said.

But I was inconsolable. "I loved the thought of Ginsburg asking for a recess so he could run out in the hall and consult Ted Koppel on the rules of criminal procedure."

"Maybe Starr wouldn't have tried the case anyway," my wife said. "Maybe he would have turned it over to one of those deputies who've been prosecutors, the ones the White House is always accusing of having threatened suspects' grandmothers with electric-shock treatments."

"Not a chance," I said. No lawyer who has compared himself to Atticus Finch is likely to turn the trial of the century over to a deputy. What profilers have found out about the personality type known as the Creampuff Bully is that even though he tends to surround himself with tough guys, he always has them withdraw to the wings when the spotlight goes on.

No, it would have been Starr vs. Ginsburg all right. I can still picture the scene in Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's courtroom. The judge has just admonished Starr for repeated, irrelevant citings of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Ginsburg is sneering, although he too has had to be told by Judge Johnson that the Marina del Rey tummy-tuck suit he keeps leaning on as a precedent is not germane in federal criminal cases. In the back row, a couple of criminal defense attorneys who specialize in defending drunk drivers and barroom brawlers are attempting unsuccessfully to suppress giggles. I am in the row in front of them. I am having a terrific time.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: June 29, 1998

Up In Smoke
The China Summit: How Bad Is China?
Viewpoint: How To Play The Summit
Can This Yen Be Saved?
Calvin Trillin: The Big Pillow Fight, Interrupted
Essay: The Lies Must Stop
The Notebook: The Legal Dream Team
Spotlight: The Laurel Wreath


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