Author’s Note: This is the third column in a series. The first two installments, “This is Providence,” and “Pharisees and Pharaohs,” can be accessed in my column archive. Some of the themes discussed in this series were also part of a speech I gave at an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) event in July. The full speech can be viewed by clicking on this link.
A trial is a thing to be avoided whenever possible. When it becomes impossible to avoid, it consumes you. You lose a measure of control over your life and you just have to trust your attorneys and follow their orders. In March, my attorneys ordered me to sit down and read my deposition, which was taken back in 2009. They warned me that in my trial, which was scheduled to start on March 17, 2014, opposing counsel might try an old trick on me. They might just ask the same questions from that deposition, simply for the purpose of eliciting an inconsistent statement that could impeach my credibility.
The deposition was 183 pages long. So I printed off a copy and headed down to my favorite bar/restaurant at Wrightsville Beach. With an IPA in one hand and the deposition in the other, I got to work. I spent seven nights memorizing my prior testimony. But for some reason I just could not shake the anxiety of having to regurgitate the right portions under the pressure of cross-examination. I was riddled with anxiety so I reached in my pocket and pulled out my cell phone.
I’m not very good with technology. But I do have about fifty of my essential friends and family members stored away in the contacts section of my trusty IPhone. So I just went through the list and called to tell them all how uneasy and, yes, scared I was about the thing I was about to face. I just asked them to pray for me. Forty-eight of them promised to do just that. Two others, Frank and Dave, asked to pray with me right there on the spot. Prayer was what I needed. The last thing I needed was a misplaced confidence in my own ability to prepare and persevere. The trial wasn’t about me or any other single individual. It was about much bigger things.
When I finally took the stand on March 18, I was expecting to be examined for about five hours – roughly three on direct and two on cross. I wasn’t worried about the direct examination. After I read my deposition seven times, my lead counsel, David French, ran me through the direct questions three times in the two days preceding the trial. So when it came time to tell our story we were prepared. Things went well on direct – with only one minor hitch. I forgot to read something into the record from one of our exhibits. Consequently, David had to keep walking me back to the skipped paragraph until I noticed my error. We eventually corrected it and, all in all, things went well that morning.
After lunch, it was time for cross-examination, which did not go well at all. The university decided to play the race card - and, to a lesser extent, the gender card - from the bottom of the deck. The associate attorney general repeatedly took isolated lines from satirical columns out of context. It was clearly meant to inflame a jury with four blacks, seven women, and only a single white male. It was also unbelievably embarrassing for me to endure in the presence of some of my students who had driven up from Wilmington to watch the proceedings.
At the time I did not know that a couple of the jurors were actually laughing at the snippets from my columns – deeming them to be funny, not offensive. I would later find that out from the students who were watching the trial. But I didn’t know it at the time. I was too focused on opposing counsel and on defendants Cook, Levy, and Cordle who were visibly laughing at me. They weren’t laughing because they thought the columns were funny. They were laughing because they thought they had the case won.
It was the first time in seven years that I would agree with the defendants. I thought they had the case won, too. I had let opposing counsel lead me too far without pushing back. At the end of the examination, I scored some crucial points but I thought it was too little, too late. I was so convinced of this that I apologized to my attorneys on the way out of the courtroom.
Somehow, some way, I fell asleep that evening. But I woke up at three a.m. hearing voices of condemnation. They were not audible voices. It was just my conscience speaking to me. I was wide-awake and full of regret over filing the lawsuit. I was full of regret over every word I ever wrote criticizing the university. I was sure that the end of my career was near.
Sitting there and staring at the ceiling, the subject I thought about most was Abigail. She was the little girl who was born in January 2007 in Vietnam. I was supposed to adopt her and bring her to America. But circumstances beyond my control put an end to the adoption. She had just turned seven before the trial began and I did not know where she was. I did not know if someone else adopted her. Maybe she was living in an orphanage somewhere in Vietnam. All I knew was that Abigail was better off wherever she was. She was better off not having a complete failure for a father.
When the alarm rang at seven I got up, got dressed, and prepared to face the inevitable conclusion. At least I no longer had to testify. It was now time for my opponents to take the stand. Each defendant placed a hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Oddly, no one opted for a secular affirmation.
… To be continued.