Monday, May 27, 2013

In the Line of Duty

Rest in peace, Michael Sway, a lawyer who died while inspecting the roof of a building. Attorney Sway was doing what many lawyers do- preparing a case. Sadly, he fell 23 feet through a hole in a fire damaged roof, to his death.
I did not know Mr. Sway, but I can assure you he was doing something he loved. To be a trial lawyer is to love gathering facts. We get out of the office and up to the roof, literally and figuratively. If something is broken, we must see it and feel it. Only then can we fully test the witness accounts, and only then can we assess the truthfulness of those accounts. Visiting the scene of the accident, or handling the instrument that caused an injury is always a risk.  It’s like standing in the smoking crater, looking to the sky and asking “is this where the lightning hit?” I’m not particularly superstitious, but it must certainly tempt the fates to stand in place of the victim; We can’t know when Atropos will cut the thread of life.

Perhaps the closest call I’ve had while investigating a case came while I was happily tramping through the woods in Frederick County, inspecting a logging road on the side of a mountain which was at the heart of a property access dispute. I parked on the main highway, and walked about a quarter mile into the woods along the dirt road. I had my 35mm camera out, and every few steps I would stop, point and “click” a picture. And for 10 minutes or so, it was as uneventful as stop, point and “click.”

Intending one more photo, I stopped, pointed my camera and before I could depress the shutter, I heard a very distinct “click.”  I turned toward the sound to come face-to-face with a gentleman leveling a rifle in my general direction.  Well, it was exactly in my direction, actually.

“Who are you, and why are you on my land?”

A perfectly reasonable question, I thought.  I prefaced my answer with “I am a lawyer,” but immediately had second thoughts. A gun blast might be seen by some folks as the perfect punch line to a story beginning with “a lawyer was walking in the woods.”

It turns out that I was HIS lawyer. It is now my inviolable practice to call ahead of a site visit.

And so I mourn attorney Sway. He could have prepared his case from his office. He could have read a report prepared by someone else. He was doing it right.