[guest post by Dana]
Over at the New York Times, there is an interesting new series presented by Op-Docs that transforms verbatim (word for word) legal transcripts into dramatic, and often comedic, performances.
The short film posted below is based upon upon Supreme Court of Ohio case no. 2010-2029. Some background,
In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office in Ohio changed their policy about copying records. Digital files would no longer be available, and the public would have to make hard copies of documents for $2 per page. This would prove to be prohibitively expensive for Data Trace Information Services and Property Insight, companies that collect hundreds of pages of this public information each week. They sued the Recorder’s Office for access to digital versions of the documents on a CD. In the middle of the case, a lawyer representing them questioned the IT administrator of the Recorder’s Office, which led to a 10-page argument over the semantics of photocopiers.
The case never went to trial. After two years, many depositions and 600 pages of paperwork, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that the Recorder’s Office should make a CD with the documents available to the public. The price? One dollar.
The writer/director explains the process in creating the short film,
In this short film, I sought to creatively reinterpret the original events. (I’ve not been able to locate any original video recordings, so I’m unsure how closely my actors’ appearance and delivery resembles the original participants.) My primary rule was the performance had to be verbatim — no words could be modified or changed from the original legal transcripts. Nor did I internally edit the document to compress time. What you see is, word for word, an excerpt from what the record shows to have actually unfolded.
While the film itself is amusing, some indignant reader comments are equally amusing.
To me, this video seemed melodramatic; incongruous with my view of the NYT as a more dignified news entity.
To everyone who thinks this is funny: It may be funny when watching on your iPad. However, if I were sitting in a Jury box I might be very upset at the fact that the lawyer who coached the witness to be obstructive is wasting my time. Almost everybody knows what a photocopy is. If you don’t, you can figure out what it is from the plain meaning of the words. If I saw this while serving on a Jury, I might be inclined to vote against the party charging $2 per page.
Moreover, charging $2 per copy for local government documents is the sort of thing local pols use to hide waste/fraud/abuse. Combine this with wasting my time while I am serving on a Jury? You just motivated me to sign a petition to have the local pols recalled. This case is most certainly not funny. I am surprised that the Grey Lady would put such a juvenile video on the opinion page. The humor section would be a more appropriate place for this. Someone should write the Ombudsman.
Lastly, taking testimony wildly out of context to make lawyer jokes, and videos like this one, are a subtle but powerful way of undermining the public trust in the legal system. This lack of trust eventually produces widespread apathy. I am sure that ALEC, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the American Enterprise Institute are very pleased with this video. They are more than happy to use the legal system against a public that has no faith in the system. So much for the 4th estate watchdog. Murrow is rolling over in his grave.