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Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs has barred the pearly gates against a man desperate to escape purgatory. Her verdict: Heaven can wait. Downs trod the boards along with four other attorneys and a coterie of real thespians on Tuesday night, in a lawyers’ version of “Othello” staged at the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. The production benefited the American Shakespeare Company. For $120, attorneys in the audience earned an hour-and-a-half of continuing legal education credit and a dinner that included shepherd’s pie, roast vegetables and cupcakes in honor of William Shakespeare’s 438th birthday. Ford & Harrison partner Patricia G. Griffith helped plan the fund-raiser. As co-chair of the American Shakespeare Company’s board of directors, Griffith said she lined up the legal talent, and Alston & Bird partner A. McCampbell Gibson arranged for CLE credit. Griffith estimated that the 80 tickets sold will net $5,000 for the cause. Here’s a simplified version of the play’s legal plot: The Venetian general Othello (actor Myron West), ends up in purgatory after murdering his wife, Desdemona, and killing himself. He’d been led to believe she cheated on him by his lying, jealous ensign, Iago. Now, after loitering in purgatory for some 400 years, Othello is bored and wants to go to heaven. The problem: Heaven doesn’t want him. Fulton District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr., and Senior Assistant District Attorney Sheila A. Ross represented Othello; Georgia State University law professor Roy M. Sobelson and Lisa Schreter, an Atlanta-based partner at Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman, represented the Kingdom of Heaven. HEAVEN DEVOID OF LAWYERS? Before the performance, Downs, who played the supreme celestial judge, confided, “Did you know that they had to go to the living world to get the attorneys? Because they didn’t have any in heaven.” In his opening statement, Howard told Downs that when God asked him to represent Othello, he initially was reluctant, because his office stands for truth, justice and the American way. But he realized that if he didn’t take the case, God “would be forced to ask someone who did not care about principles, but rather wanted the money. …” BRAIN INJURY CLAIMED Howard argued that Othello suffered a traumatic brain injury and wasn’t responsible for his actions at the time of Desdemona’s death. With a snowy halo made of marabou feathers bobbing over her eyebrows, heaven’s counsel Schreter countered that the state of Othello’s eternal soul was at issue, not the state of his earthly mind when he killed Desdemona. After calling Iago (actor Drew Reeves) up from hell and Desdemona (actress Caroline Masclet) down from heaven to testify, Howard produced a surprise witness — WSB-TV Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne. Winne, whose comic talents almost stole the show — even from some of the professional actors — played a psychiatrist who’d examined Othello. Winne said he’d diagnosed Othello as suffering from brain damage exacerbated by posttraumatic and post-dramatic stress syndrome. He added that Othello wasn’t responsible for his actions and should get treatment in heaven rather than time in hell. OTHELLO CLAIMS INJURY On cross-examination, Sobelson raised the issue of when Othello’s brain injury occurred — before Desdemona’s death, or in the 400 years following it. He also questioned the validity of medical treatment and diagnosis that long ago. “In fact, some of those injuries were treated using leeches, were they not?” Sobelson asked. “Now we’re back to lawyers,” Winne retorted. Schreter and Sobelson called several witnesses of their own, including Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting, Emilia (actress Laura Cole), who testified that Othello struck Desdemona and called her a strumpet. On cross-examination, Othello claimed his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. “Your honor, he has no Fifth Amendment right to invoke,” Sobelson said. “He’s been dead for 400 years and the Constitution wasn’t written till the 1790s. … And if Justice [Antonin] Scalia has his way, it won’t be around tomorrow.” Othello, who finally did testify, claimed he didn’t recall killing his wife, though he did acknowledge that he considered poisoning her and said he wanted to “cut her into messes.” Sobelson and Schreter then produced their own surprise witness. “Your honor,” Schreter said, “I would like to call the Almighty God.” (Note: Some lawyers in the audience admitted that they did not know God. This may be because contrary to popular belief and some canonical literature, God is not, in fact, Griffin B. Bell.) God, as played by corpulent and commanding actor Tony Brown in Hawaiian shirt and sandals, said, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me myself.” After admonishing Howard — twice — to sit up straight, he testified that he was unaware of anything indicating that Othello was insane or brain-damaged. But, he added, if Othello repented for his sins, he could come to heaven. Trying to get a bit of his own back, Howard on cross-examination pulled out his wallet and said, “I’ve always wanted to ask this. How much money do I have in my wallet?” The response: “Not nearly enough to satisfy you.” HOWARD ERRS IN CLOSING Howard, though zealously advocating for his client, erred in his closing argument. He compared Othello to what he called the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son was lying by the side of the road, ignored by people who should have helped him, because he was brain-damaged like Othello, Howard said. (Howard should recheck his biblical citation — this is the story of the good Samaritan). Othello wasn’t responsible for his actions, Howard concluded, and should be sent to heaven for treatment. In his closing, Sobelson countered that the standard was whether at the time of the incident, Othello knew the difference between right and wrong — and he did know. He pointed at Othello, saying, “It is time for you, Othello, to stand up and do what you should have done a long time ago. Go to hell!” Celestial Judge Downs didn’t send Othello to heaven or hell. Instead, she sent psychiatrist Winne to purgatory to help Othello take responsibility for his actions. Downs acknowledged that Winne’s medical testimony about Othello’s brain injury was uncontroverted, but said, “I was weighing Dr. Winne vs. God. You have to hand it to Dr. Winne. He was pretty good. But God had more credibility.”

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