Once in a while I do something right.
Wilson Hurley was an artist, and a good one. The price of his paintings frequently ran up to around $100,000 for the larger ones. He was entertaining in a conversation. His father was Patrick Hurley, who, during WW2 was Ambassador to China. As a kid Wilson travelled widely with his father and he had personal letters from Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower. In 1945, Wilson graduated from West Point and became a pilot in the Air Force, serving as a forward air controller in Vietnam. We always had plenty to talk about.
Well, sometime in the 1980s probably, some guy ran a red light and hit Wilson’s car. The jolt pinched a nerve in his neck. He was incapacitated, unable to paint for a year maybe. He couldn’t make a living so he sued, and it went to court in Albuquerque.
Since I had a gallery in Santa Fe and sold Wilson’s paintings, I was called to testify as an expert witness about the value of his work, and how much money he lost by not being able to paint. I was duly sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Problem was I didn’t like the defense attorney at first sight, and every sight after that. I didn’t know the jerk, but he was someone I very much enjoyed not caring for. His villainous face and bulging eyes made him look like Peter Lorre. The judge broke with tradition and wore a blue robe, my favorite color. The scene was set with only a few spectators.
Well, most of the questions from the jerk’s mouth came out reeking with sarcastic idioms that were aimed at discrediting me. He covertly insinuated that I was a derelict witness, not qualified to be on the stand. I was happily getting fed up with this guy. When one of my answers turned into a short dissertation, the defense jerk interrupted me. “Yes or no, Mister Fenn, yes or no,” he yelled in a croaky belligerent voice. All of a sudden the court room was a very hostile environment. I just sat there as the lawyer’s eyes captured me. It was like a 40 pound turkey staring at a June bug.
I turned to the bench and said, very apologetically, “Judge, I swore to tell the truth and the whole truth. If the defense attorney won’t allow me to do that I must respectfully withdraw my oath.” There was silence in the court as everyone sat stunned. The defense attorney looked like he’d just crawled out from under a garbage truck. I posed straight ahead and tried to stay collected, hoping the judge wouldn’t cite me for contempt.
Finally he called the lawyers into chambers and as they disappeared, and the door slammed, I relaxed. It could go either way, I thought. When Wilson, who was also a lawyer, saw the jury feigning snickers his frown turned to a smile. When the legal force returned, the judge said I could answer the questions as I pleased, and I was re-sworn. I ducked that bullet with impressive form. Wilson agreed.
Surely what I did was not only legal, but necessary, although no one had ever heard of a witness being unsworn before. At lunch Wilson paid. I ordered chicken fried steak with the gravy on the side, and no veggies. It had been a good day. f