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Speedy court system: See Gavvy Cravath

The Verdict

April 21, 2006|By ROBERT GARDNER

Every once in a while I get more annoyed than usual at the slowness of our judicial process. Now, I'm not suggesting the kind of speedy justice I saw in China in the mid-'30s.

There, one day, I went to court ? actually a large, crowded courtyard. In the middle was a man on his knees with his hands tied behind his back. Two men made speeches to the crowd. The first speech, the prosecutor's, went over like the Gettysburg Address. The second, by the defense lawyer, was greeted by loud boos from the crowd. Then a man with a large sword stepped forward and simply chopped the head off the kneeling man. That's a little too fast.

I'm thinking more along the lines of the justice provided by Gavvy Cravath, longtime justice of the peace and city judge in Laguna Beach. Gavvy didn't come to the bench by way of Harvard. Rather, Gavvy came by way of big league baseball.

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I am advised that Gavvy was the first home run king of baseball, his record being tied by Babe Ruth and broken by Roger Hornsby, and that his ingenuity was the reason for a number of the modern rules in baseball.

For instance, Gavvy, having been caught between second and third base, simply jumped up and caught the ball being tossed between those bases and trotted home for a run. After that, they made such a play illegal. I don't follow baseball, but have been advised that Gavvy was the reason for quite a few other rules as well.

As a judge, Gavvy had a highly efficient, if somewhat colorful, method of disposing of cases. For instance, there was a jury trial in which the defendant was charged with theft. The district attorney and the defense attorney handed the judge a huge pile of instructions to be given to the jury.

Gavvy just threw them on the floor and said to the jury, "The defendant is charged with theft. If you are so dumb you don't know what it means to steal, you shouldn't be on the jury. Now, if you find that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, convict him. If not, acquit him."

I told that to the late Stanley Mosk, one of the great legal scholars of our times. He nodded and said, "I couldn't possibly improve on that."

That wasn't the only case Gavvy disposed of expeditiously. I was in his office one day when a man I shall call Mr. Smith came rushing into the office.

I gathered that Mr. Smith was not one of Gavvy's favorite citizens. The following dialogue ensued:

Gavvy: "And what now, Mr. Smith?"

Mr. Smith: "I want to file a complaint against Mr. Jones."

Gavvy: "Why?"

Mr. Smith: "He just called me [an expletive]."

Gavvy: "You are."

End of lawsuit.

When you think of our current system, there's something to be said for Gavvy's methods.

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