BOTH OF these hooks could be classified as true crime, but perhaps more accurately they should be called "true law."
It Takes 2 Judges to Try a Cow is comedic crime. There are no grisly murders, no morally outrageous miscarriages of justice, no eloquent legal arguments. Rather, the book reads like the humour columns in Reader's Digest magazine -- light comedy from "...the sometimes strange and wacky world of the law."
The authors are, or were, practising lawyers (Eric Chodak died in 1991). Barry Seltzer practises real-estate and corporate law and estate planning in Toronto, and the book is illustrated by David Shaw with pen-and-ink sketches.
Arranged into thematic groupings such as "Love," "Marriage," and "Travel," the cases come principally from Canada, the United States, Britain, and Australia. Most are about a page in length and the best involve lawsuits -- what some people won't sue over' For example, there's the tale of a fellow who was being sued for damaging a man's leg by driving his car over it. When the injured man later had the leg amputated (yet another nasty accident), the other fellow insisted that the lawsuit he dropped because the plaintiff was no longer in possession of the injured leg!
The authors'.writing style is adequate, but rife with euphemisms and cliches. For example, in one case, a man is required to display his penis in court to prove he is not circumcised. The authors make the obvious joke about whether the evidence will "stand up in court.'" Just about every pun -- and there are plenty of them -- is put in quotation marks to make sure you really get it: nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Also, if you read more than a few tales at one sitting, you begin to anticipate the punch line of each case long before it arrives; in some cases, however, it doesn't arrive. For instance, although the title story sounds promising, the yuck never gets delivered.
Memoirs of a Maverick Lawyer is, for the most part, a very readable autobiography, primarily because Webster Macdonald Understands that "the why" of criminal cases is what's interesting - for readers as well as lawyers. Macdonald, now semi-retired, practised law for more than 40 years in Nova Scotia, Alberta,
Manitoba, and British Columbia. Thirty-one of those years were spent in Calgary, where he was dubbed the "Perry Mason of Canada" by the Calgary Herald.
A self-proclaimed "champion Of the underprivileged and defender of the damned", Macdonald handled cases and clients that were neither famous nor notorious, with the possible exception of the "Ewok man," who is suing the Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas over the possession of the Ewok characters. But despite this, his career as a criminal lawyer has certainly been interesting, and he is an entertaining storyteller -- although at times his postscripts seem to stray into the ozone, and some of the
later chapters are weak conglomerates of cases lumped together. But Macdonald knows the value of details in recounting a story. For example, a terse physical description of a judge chewing his cigar in chambers or a note about the evolution of the "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea effectively sets a
stage and a context for the stories that follow.
The book is arranged chronologically and each chapter covers a different legal case; some are amusing, Others feature oddball characters, some describe momentous moments in law. Interestingly, the cases from 1960s Calgary are among the most intriguing Cowtown had its colourful characters!
And, while Macdonald may not be famous, he had precedent-setting cases: helping to unlock the Iogjam of Native land claims, and meeting with the likes of Jean Chretien and Prince Charles in the process; expanding Alberta's jury from six members to 12; using premenstrual syndrome as a murder defence. One of his best tales is about his own trumped-up trial for forgery, especialIy the postscript: "And after it was over I sued them all...." But, as the lawsuit was against the crown prosecutor, members of the police force, and a judge, "There was only one problem -- I Could not find a lawyer in Calgary to take my case." Ah, judicial revenge.