Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How Did You Understand It?

The Washington Post recently reported on a prostitution trial that appeals to lovers of Schadenfreude on oh-so-many levels. The lawyers are arguing whether Deborah Jeane Palfrey was an upscale pimp or if her escort service was a legitimate business. It has everything--the gawking and craning of the neck to see if a smut peddler gets her comeuppance (with its warm glow of moral superiority), with the added entertainment of seeing prostitutes with PhDs on the stand.

Seriously, prostitutes with PhDs like Rhona Reiss, who was putting her doctorate in higher education to a non-traditional use.

The Washington Post's reporter couldn't resist quoting a press release nnouncing Reiss's appointment to the faculty as head of a graduate program at he Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions two years ago. "Her numerous career adventures include clinical and academic positions in Tokyo, Chicago, Sydney, Dallas and Washington D.C."

But my favorite moment of Schadenfreude was reserved for defense lawyer Preston Burton, who forgot the number 1 rule of courtroom lawyering: never ask a question for which you do not already know the answer.

As proof that his client's escort service did not permit illegal activities he brought up the call girls' standard contract, pointing out clause No. 5: "Individuals caught performing illegal activities of any nature will be terminated."

When he raised the issue with Reiss, showing her the document and her signature, she told him, "I didn't sign any agreement saying I wouldn't do anything illegal." In her parsing of the clause, Reiss said, the rule technically did not prohibit illegal activity.

Burton seemed surprised.

"You're an educated woman," he said. "How did you understand it?

She didn't pause.

"Don't get caught."