Should judges let lawyers perform magic tricks in closing argument?

by Walter Olson on March 3, 2009

No, seriously, literal magic tricks:

In one trick, [Steven] Leventhal [of Philadelphia's Reger Rizzo & Darnall], who works exclusively for defendants, said he slowly folds a $1 bill while explaining to the jury that the parts of the plaintiff’s case just don’t tie together. When he unfolds the bill, he said, the astonished jury sees a bizarre bill that appears to have been cut apart and pasted together the wrong way, with the corners in the middle.

In another trick, Leventhal said, the slowly folded $1 bill is revealed to be a $100 bill and then, to the jury’s collective amazement, changes back to a $1 bill.

Lots of lawyers are good at making money vanish, of course, but this goes further (via the Law and Magic Blog — yes, it exists). Max Kennerly quotes Leventhal’s response when opposing counsel objected to the tricks as prejudicial:

“That the undersigned counsel opted to travel the globe to learn a special set of performance skills rather than wasting his brain cells drinking his summers away at the Jersey Shore should not be held against him,” Leventhal wrote.

{ 6 comments }

1 That Lawyer Dude 03.03.09 at 9:33 am

Funny, I used a ball and some cups to illustrate the prosecutor was trying to hide the issue under a bunch of immaterial issues about the defendant’s past criminal behavior. The Prosecutor objected, the court said it wasn’t evidence and it might keep the jury awake so he sustained it, and the jury agreed that the prosecutor did not prove a case. That would have happened with or without the “magic”. Good bad or otherwise, he has a right to use his skills in summation. I would just prepare for it and hit it in my summation.

2 Dirk D 03.03.09 at 11:29 am

“That the undersigned counsel opted to travel the globe to learn a special set of performance skills”

He traveled the globe to learn cheap parlor tricks?

3 DBL 03.03.09 at 1:05 pm

Wasn’t there a famous NY trial lawyer in the last century who used to take out a cigar during his opponent’s closing argument and smoke it all the way down? The trick was the cigar had a wire running through it so the ash never fell off, and the jury would watch, intently, waiting to see what happened to the ash, rather than listen to the other side’s closing. Maybe this story is apochryphal, I don’t know.

4 Raymer 03.03.09 at 1:32 pm

And if the lawyer is also a surgeon (MD/JD) maybe he could wow the jury with the transplant of a heart of a liberal into the body of a conservative (punch line – but how does one stop the bleeding).
Why argue a weak case when you can substitute complete fluff for substance.

5 Chris Hoey 03.03.09 at 2:07 pm

The cigar tale was told of Clarence Darrow, and stems from the days smoking was permitted in court rooms. I believe it was recounted in one of his biographies, the name of which eludes this old lawyer.

6 Ron Miller 03.03.09 at 4:13 pm

I’m just grateful this guy is a defense lawyer. Or these comments would show no mercy.

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