Played in the shadows and dark corners of the criminal justice system,
Lawyer Games is a game within the game the public sees, when the public
is paying attention at all. Most trials don’t attract a passing glance from the public.
Very few attract the attention that a Manson, Simpson, Buono, Anthony, or
Arias attract, and even those cases, as rare as they were, were not tried four times.
But State vs. James A. Williams was—tried four times. And because it was,
we’ve been offered the rarest of opportunities, to watch opposing legal forces do
battle, retreat, adjust their battle plans, and attack again, across a legal landscape
covering close to a decade. We’ve waded into the crossfire, armed with hindsight
and a manic attention to detail that might have occasionally driven the reader to
Such a level of dissection is seldom possible. It also isn’t likely to be worth
the effort, because not all lawyers behave as Williams’s lawyers did. I’ve called
them legal juvenile delinquents, but such advocates do more than spread teenage
mischief. They undermine the justice system.
That system relies on two sets of oaths: one spoken and one unspoken. The
witness takes a spoken oath, or affirmation, to tell the truth, and can be prosecuted
for the oath’s violation if caught. The other oath is that presumed by an
attorney appearing before a tribunal. When this second oath is violated—the
oath that lawyers will procure the truth and speak the truth, whether as to a fact
or a point of law—there is seldom any recourse.
No attorney reviews the rules governing legal ethics every day, but most
don’t have to—they follow those rules instinctively because the rules are grounded
in commonly understood ethical values. Some, however, willingly bulldoze
through ethical boundaries and leave the rules in the mud beneath the bulldozer’s
Yet the process is too often seen as no more than a Lawyer Game. Even what
passes for legal analysis on news programs can turn into a commentary on cleverness.
Too many observers buy into the notion that it’s all about which side just
made the slickest strategic move.