Television Law: Perry Mason

Someone searched this blog for the titles of the books stacked up on the screen as the credits appeared at the end of Perry Mason. The answer: I do not know, I was a child sitting on my father’s knee scared by the ominous music that was the theme song of the show.

If you are old enough to remember, the show almost always ended with Mason successfully defending his client accused of some crime. Of course he was aided by witnesses who could precisely remember to the minute what they were doing and when they were doing it and a prosecutor who seemed destined to walk into every trap Mason laid.

Mason could also afford to have his secretary, Della Street, by his side during the trial, along with his private eye and paid muscle, Paul Drake. Drake would conduct discovery in the middle of the trial, driving around Los Angeles in his very large convertible and locating the surprise witness that changed everything in the trial. I am not sure what Della was doing there. What is really strange is my Dad ended up with a legal secretary that looked a lot like Della, but she never came to any trials.  Maybe someone had to stay behind to answer the phone.

Our firm couldn’t afford a Paul Drake. Sometimes we hired a private eye, but they were never as well-groomed and articulate as Sam Spade, Thomas Magnum, or Paul Drake. Instead they were almost always a Jacques Clouseau.

The show was in black and white. My son recently told me he believed that the world used to be in black and white, as all the old television and movies were in that medium. Then at some point color was discovered and the world changed. He is right of course, and I believe the year was 1968. Perry Mason was cancelled by then.

Executrix or Treat?

It is a cruel joke that some name siblings co-executors or executrix’s to administer the estate at passing. In the parents effort to be “fair” the result is often the worst that is said about the probate process is the result, that is long delay and lots of attorney fees. Siblings often change at death, and those who were cooperative and loving as the parent passed suddenly realize their ship has come in and things get nasty.

(Let me pause and comment on the lexicon; we no longer have gender in Washington, so either what were men or women acting for the estate are referred to as “personal representative”, but the name just is not as cool.

It’s like the word “moot”. Clients love this word and try to work the conversation around so they can use it. Most blow it and say instead “mute”.

If that were to happen the case would be mute? I am asked. Yes, I say, without correction but that concept leaves my mind full of imaginative sketches of what that must look like; for example lady Justice has not only a blindfold over her eyes but a gag in her mouth, her hands full of a scale and sword, so there is just no hope to gain freedom.  Now let’s get back to the topic of this post.)

On the other hand the abuse of power one sibling can have over the rest is often not a good result either. The remedy is litigation, more attorney fees, more delay. The media refers to this as “languishing in the courts” as if there were Biblical or epic proportions to how long conflict can last in courtrooms in America. Now the image is lady Justice wailing and grinding her teeth in a kind of hell.

In an effort to avoid this awful thing called “probate” people contemplating death resort to will substitutes like trusts. Frankly, my experience is the Trustee ends up in just as much trouble as the personal representative, and the beneficiaries are just as scared they are being “taken”. The administration which was designed to take a few weeks actually takes longer than a probate because the rules are not as clear.

People have been dying in this jurisdiction since it was a Territory ( no one died here before that ) and so there is plenty of law on the topic of death. Trusts on the other hand are designed to live on, the zombie version of the dead. As a relatively new way to pass property the legal ground is not as well tread. At least the term “trustee” is gender neutral, and we don’t have to wait for the legislature to emasculate the man in charge, which would otherwise happen because any reference to gender in Washington causes the citizenry to go mute.

J.R., Sue Ellen and the Sanitarium

If I remember the 1980’s correctly, there was a nighttime soap opera called “Dallas” where the women were beautiful, the men tore their ties from their necks when upset, and there was a lot of money.

There was also a lot of fiction. I recall not who shot JR, but that JR did a lot to deserve being shot. For example he constantly was threatening to put his wife, Sue Ellen, in a sanitarium. I am not sure what a “sanitarium” is in Texas but I suspect it is a home for the mentally ill.

For  us here in Washington State, 30 years later, we can rest assured that marriage alone is not a basis to have one or both members of the union committed. Normally the rules call for the least restrictive alternative for those declared to be incompetent. This unfortunately is not always in the best interest of the incapacitated.

I recall a Judge deciding an elderly lady could be granted her wish, and return to her home so long as supervised 24/7. The caretaker turned her back after the lady appeared to be asleep, only to have her rise, trip and fall to her death on a bed knob. I tore my necktie from my shirt when I heard.