Sunday, March 8, 2009

Despite Judges’ Scandal, Justice Still in Session...

An interesting editorial in today's Times Leader, written by Mark Guydish:

This is still a majestic house, a metaphor for justice, the inside awash in light from alabaster orbs and sun streaming through stained glass, illuminating detailed mosaics of postage-stamp tiles.

The Luzerne County Courthouse still holds meaning as heavy as the massive marble and granite that soar to the restored dome. It holds the promise of justice as unyielding as the brass and wrought iron railings that scale the stairs. It folds itself around hope as easily as the rotunda housed works by disabled artists Friday: jewelry, pottery and paintings on media from clay to cardboard reflecting diverse talent.

Then there’s Courtroom 2, ensconced in wood, a sweeping painting above the bench depicting “the Judicial Virtues.” A woman, “Rectitude,” holds the tools of a builder. She is flanked by two boys bearing the slogan “Let Justice be done, though the heavens fall.”

To her right lounges the sword-wielding “Courage,” watched closely by “Moderation” dangling the bridle of self-restraint. To her left sits “Learning” consulting the book of law, prodded by “Wisdom,” who holds a mirror and advises “know thyself.”

And into this larger-than-life setting walks Harlow Cuadra, a man with a name suitable for a sports car, or maybe a pulp-novel villain. He looks more like an oversized Opie than the murderer he is accused of being, shoulders slightly rounded, as he strolls to his seat. He could easily be heading for the fishing hole, though overdressed for it. Heck, even the female guard escorting him takes on the patina (no offense here) of a young Aunt Bee.

Except of course, this is not Mayberry, and this case won’t wrap up in 30 minutes with a little folksy wisdom from a warm-hearted sheriff.

Real life takes commitment

This case is so big lawyers almost literally trip over it as they present their arguments. Cardboard boxes stacked under tables bulge with documents. Ring binders nearly a half-foot thick sprawl at the foot of desks. During Friday morning’s recess, Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake crouched over a long box of file folders hunting for the next important item. Amid testimony, a man toted in two more brown bags of evidence, as if fresh from grocery shopping, to set on a cluttered table.

This case sprawls like a Texas city during an oil boom. It stretches into the late-night cocktails of Las Vegas casinos, the sandy beaches of San Diego, the hills of Virginia, the cell phone towers of the Back Mountain and even a hotel in Plains Township. It seeps like viscous oil, oozing into every odd cranny and leaving a vile residue no matter how brief it stayed or how long ago it left. Prosecutors are trying to stitch those stains into a tapestry solid enough to evoke a guilty verdict.

In only three hours on Day 9 of the trial, testimony came from a Kingston woman who had known the victim, Brian Kocis, for a quarter of a century; from a lawyer who had helped settle a costly suit between Kocis and others in the gay porn industry during three days in Vegas; from cell phone experts trying to pinpoint where calls were made the night of the murder, and from firefighters who crawled through the heat of Kocis’ house on fire, blinded by the smoke and surviving on oxygen tanks, looking for a body they weren’t sure was there.

It was. That’s why we’re here.

This is a case that reminds us, scandal or not, our courts have a job. It is meticulous work involving tedium and minutiae as well as life and death.

This is what our courthouse does. The other stuff, however alarming, is a tragic sideshow.