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LEGAL VIEW / JEFFREY S. KLEIN and LOUIS M. BROWN

PRACTICAL VIEW : Why Law Can Seem Like a Baseball Game in Extra Innings

June 03, 1993|JEFFREY S. KLEIN and LOUIS M. BROWN | Klein is an attorney and president of The Times Valley and Ventura County editions. Brown is professor of law emeritus at USC and chairman of the board for the National Center for Preventive Law

The baseball season in full swing reminds us of a question someone once asked comparing a baseball game to the game of law. Why is it that in baseball disputes are settled quickly (at least on the field) and it takes so long to get a decision in the law game?

First, it may have something to do with the size of the field. In baseball, the area of each game is limited. You don't even have to turn your head much to see all of it. We play the legal game all over the world. Any legal transaction or contract may involve performance in several places.

The time span of the game is a factor. In baseball, the game is usually over within about three hours. In law, disputes can rage for decades.

Although baseball aficionados can explain the complexity of the game in minute detail, the facts that precede a critical event, a tag at home plate for instance, are limited in space, time and complexity.

In legal matters, a dispute over whether a legal obligation was or was not performed usually involves a chain of events and legal applications. Even a relatively simple auto accident, although it may happen in a flash, involves a range of facts such as speed of the vehicle, the condition of the road, the mental and physical condition of the drivers, the extent of the damage or injury.

Now, here comes the critical difference. In baseball, the decision-maker, the umpire, is on the scene. He sees the play, applies the rules and decides on the spot. And it is not easy to appeal to a higher authority. Ballplayers don't sue in court to overturn an umpire's decision (although there once was a California lawsuit by a jockey who claimed that a steward's decision was wrong--the court decided to stay out of it).

In law the judge is not present while the play is made. Instead of bringing the judge to the transaction, we later bring the transaction, a trial, to the judge. The law judge does not see the events as they happen. They must be re-created for him or her. And how is that done? By a trial, in which the parties and their witnesses testify, documents are submitted for review, and it is all done under a complex series of rules to try to put all the players on an even playing field. Rules are set up to make sure each party is informing the other, and the judge, of the issues that need to be resolved.

There is another difference between baseball and the law: lawyers. On the baseball field, there are not lawyers per se. (There are plenty off the field negotiating with the front office.) So who does the ballplayer rely on to argue his case, his appeal to the umpire? That's the job of the coaches and managers. They act as advocates for the players, much like a lawyer.

Of course, if an umpire doesn't like what the managers are doing, they get tossed out of the game. Come to think of it, maybe there is something judges might learn from the game of baseball.

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