Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Presumed Guilty

Several years ago, my brother burned down his apartment. Not intentionally, mind you, but it was clearly a result of his negligence--a blanket draped over a lamp ignited while he slept--and while, thankfully, there was no loss of life (although his cat went missing), the damage was considerable. Squads of urgent firefighters and TV news crews were dispatched to the scene, and a number of tenants in the building were displaced from their homes in the days before Christmas. It says something about Mark that his culpability for this conflagration ranks no higher than fifth on the list of extraordinary episodes in his life--well behind his ill-fated marriage to the call girl and his triumphant evasion of conviction on a parking ticket by showing up in traffic court wearing an ambulance service uniform he found at a Salvation Army thrift store.

I digress. The reason all this comes to mind is that Scott Turow has a new novel out--it's just been released today, in fact. It's called Innocent, and it is a sequel to the mega-seller of the 80's, Presumed Innocent. That's right, the one that was made into the movie with Harrison Ford. The one that was Scott Turow's breakthrough first novel. The one that I had in a pristine first edition copy that I loaned to my brother Mark in the days before he set fire to his home.

I digress again. Thanks to Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature (and what's with the hyperventilating exclamation point?), I was able this evening to take a sneak peak at the opening pages of Innocent, and on the first page I find this:
The stately appellate courtroom is largely empty of spectators, save for...several young deputy PAs, drawn by a difficult case and the fact that their boss, the acting prosecuting attorney, Tommy Molto, will be making a rare appearance up here to argue in behalf of the state.
Objection, your honor! If it please the court, I offer this testimony from noted language guy Bill Bryson:
A useful distinction exists between on behalf of and in behalf of. The first means acting as a representative, as when a lawyer enters a plea on behalf of a client, and often denotes a formal relationship. In behalf of indicates a closer or more sympathetic role and means acting as a friend or defender.
Using these definitions, I think it is pretty clear that a prosecuting attorney is arguing on behalf of the state. And no matter how I might want to equivocate in behalf of my brother, a second-hand thrift store 10th edition inscribed to some ingrate who donated the gift to charity is just not adequate compensation for my loss.

I have no further questions. You may step down.