The Key Witness

     I found Roger sitting in his car in the parking lot next to the courthouse in Los Angeles.1 He was smoking a cigarette; he had tears in his eyes. He asked if he did a good job when he testified. Good enough, said I. He said the experience was overwhelming. He had never been on the stand before. Somewhat nervous by nature, he said he felt intimated by the courtroom, the judge, the lawyers and the jury. He was, nonetheless, determined to testify on behalf of his mother.

     His mother is our client. Jennifer is dying.2 She was exposed to asbestos when she washed her husband’s clothes. He was a construction worker. He worked with and around asbestos. The asbestos fibers got in his hair and on his clothes. He wore his work clothes home. She washed them. Now in her 70’s, Jennifer has mesothelioma. Her husband passed away several years ago; she will likely pass away soon. She lives alone near a lake in the deep south.

     We went to trial on her behalf a few weeks ago. Jennifer, whose body has been ravaged by disease and chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cannot make the journey from rural Arkansas to the courthouse in Los Angeles. Her testimony was presented via videotape. Her son, Roger, was the only member of her family that would testify on her behalf at trial.

     Roger is lean and tall. He is a quiet man who enjoys working as a mechanic. His voice is low and calming. Before he took the stand he confessed his nervousness to me. Don’t worry, said I, everything will be fine. Just listen carefully, answer slowly, and speak from the heart. He was afraid he might get emotional when he spoke of his mother. If that happens, just stop speaking until you gather yourself. Don’t try to speak and cry at the same time. Just stop for a few moments; the jury will be on your side.

     He did well. He spoke plainly. He did not get overly emotional. He did not claim that his mother was a saint. He described her, and summed up his feelings about her, with two short sentences. He said simply:

     “She is a strong woman. She will be missed.”

     My sentiments exactly.


1 Roger is not his real name.
2 Jennifer is not her real name.

Ron Shingler1 Comment