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NEW YORK — Praising one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s big decisions of 2003, gay rights mastermind Kevin Cathcart noted the absence of what he called “the ick factor” in the Lawrence v. Texas opinion. Unfortunately, though, cringe-making variations on the ick factor were a theme for much of the rest of last year’s legal scene. A sterling example comes from The London Times. With all the English-speaking world to draw from, it chose Southern California’s own appellate Justice William Bedsworth for the wisest legal quotation of the year. Commenting on the smuggling of animals on a flight from Thailand to the Los Angeles airport, Bedsworth observed: “There is no non-culpable explanation for monkeys in your underpants.” Ewww. A mention also must go to the closure quote from the lawyer who represented Florida Judge Sheldon Schapiro. In June, the Florida Supreme Court scolded Schapiro for rudeness. He had told a litigator in court, “Do you know what I think of your argument?” while triggering a device that made a flushing-toilet sound. The justices noted approvingly that the judge had agreed to attend “psychological/behavioral therapy with an emphasis on sensitivity training.” The attorney, David Bogenschutz, responded, “We’re relieved.” A candidate for the worst jury experience of the year comes from a Cincinnati grossarama. A merchant was charged with selling a movie titled “Maximum Hardcore Extreme” (Volume 7, no less). Observing that one female juror was averting her eyes when it was played and one male juror slept, the judge declared a mistrial on the ground that jurors are supposed to see the evidence. More trials will bring us gruesome details and bizarre behavior in 2004. Business corruption cases have dragged some major CEOs onto the docket, among them former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski. By way of preview for his day in court, we heard about a toga party video of executives gifting themselves with lavish toys in Sardinia, including an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David urinating vodka. Double ewww. And 2003 had not one, but two, major crimes that entail the forensics of flesh left in saltwater for long periods. In perhaps the most surprising “not guilty” ruling of the year, defense attorney Michael Ramsey and co-counsel Dick DeGuerin convinced a jury in November that eccentric New York millionaire Robert Durst might have been acting in self-defense when he chopped up a neighbor and dumped at least some of the body parts (the head wasn’t recovered) in Galveston Bay. The second water-sogged case has only just begun. Defense lawyer Mark Geragos went into 2003 best known for representing then-congressman Gary Condit, but he solidified his reputation for taking on downwardly mobile philanderers from Modesto, by adding Scott Peterson to his client list. Peterson’s trial promises horrible information about currents in the San Francisco Delta and their effects on the corpses of Peterson’s wife and son. Ensuring that his telephone answering machine will stay on 24/7 mode from here on, Geragos then took on the molestation defense of Michael Jackson and penciled new levels of courtroom ick into our futures. (Can you hardly wait for the Kobe Bryant trial with its body fluids and clothing?) There’s plenty more: The Seattle murder suspect tricked into sending DNA-laden spit through the mail by licking an envelope to receive a bogus reward (trickery upheld by a judge) and workers at Denver’s airport who say they’ve been sickened by e. coli bacteria saturating concourse carpets. The year didn’t even offer some of the traditional legal moments, like holiday creche fights. Maybe too much evangelical fervor got siphoned off too early, what with the U.S. Supreme Court’s agreeing to hear the Pledge of Allegiance case and Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore being ousted over his Ten Commandments monument. Or maybe lambs and mangers were just too innocent for the legal landscape. Gail Diane Cox is a reporter for The National Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York.

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