Civil lawsuit by associate (Andrew Beckett) against his law firm under the Americans with Disabilities Act for firing him when they found out he had AIDS.
************ PLAINTIFF'S OPENING ********
1) PL. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, forget everything you've seen on television and in the movies. There's not going to be any last-minute surprise witnesses, nobody is going to break down on the stand with a tearful confession. You're going to be presented with simple fact. Andrew Beckett was fired. You'll hear two explanations for why he was fired, ours and theirs. It is up to you to sift through layer upon layer of truth until you determine for yourselves which version sounds the most true. There are certain points which I must prove to you. Point number one, Andrew Beckett was. . .is a brilliant lawyer, great lawyer. Point number two, Andrew Beckett, afflicted with a debilitating disease, made the understandable, the personal, the legal choice to keep the fact of his illness to himself. Point number three, his employers discovered his illness, and ladies and gentlemen, the illness I am referring to is AIDS. Point number four, they panicked. And in their panic, they did what most of us would like to do with AIDS, which is just get it, and everybody who has it, as far away from the rest of us as is possible. Now, the behavior of Andrew Beckett's employers may seem reasonable to you. It does to me. After all, AIDS is a deadly, incurable disease. But no matter how you come to judge Charles Wheeler and his partners, in ethical, moral, and in human terms, the fact of the matter is, when they fired Andrew Beckett because he had AIDS, they broke the law.
********** DEFENSE OPENING **************
2) DF. Fact. Andrew Beckett's performance on the job varied from competent, good, to often times mediocre, to sometimes flagrantly incompetent. Fact. He claims he's the victim of lies and deceit. Fact. It was Andrew Beckett who lied, going to great lengths to conceal his disease from his employers. Fact. He was successful in his duplicity. The partners at Wyant-Wheeler did not know that Andrew Beckett had AIDS when they fired him. Fact. Andrew Beckett is dying. Fact. Andrew Beckett is angry, because his lifestyle, his reckless behavior, has cut short his life. And in his anger, his rage, he is lashing out. And he wants someone to pay. Thank you.
* * * * * direct *******
3) Q. Andrew Beckett represented your company in a lawsuit in 1990, is that correct?
A. That's correct.
4) Q. Were you pleased with his work?
A. We were satisfied with the outcome of the litigation.
5) Q. Satisfied. Mr. Laird, when I approached you about being a witness at this trial, you gave sworn testimony in a deposition, is that correct?
A. That's correct.
6) Q. In that deposition, you said that you were impressed and delighted with the quality of Andrew Beckett's work, do you recall saying that?
A. In all honesty, I was delighted with certain aspects of Andy's efforts. But in general, I found the work to be merely satisfactory.
7) Q. Uh-huh. Do you agree that a bologna sandwich is a satisfactory meal, whereas caviar and champagne, roast duck and baked Alaska, that might be considered a delightful meal?
OBJ. We object, these gastronomical comments are irrelevant to these proceedings, your Honor.
Plaintiff. No, they are not irrelevant. Your Honor, five months ago this witness characterized Andrew Beckett as caviar, now he's calling him a bologna sandwich. I think that the jury is entitled to know what powerful force has caused him to change his mind.
JUDGE. He hasn't changed his mind. He's amplified his answer. Objection sustained.
8) Q. All right. All right, Mr. Laird, explain this to me like I'm a four-year-old, okay? Did Andrew Beckett win your lawsuit for you?
A. Yes. We won.
9) Q. Ah, congratulations, that must have been a very satisfactory experience.
*********** direct *************
10) Q. Ms. Benedict, is it true that you worked for Walsh, Omer and Bromm three years ago at the same time as Walter Kenton?
A. That's correct.
11) Q. And at that time, did Walter Kenton know the lesions on your face and arms were caused by AIDS?
A. Definitely. I told all the partners.
12) Q. And how did Walter Kenton treat you after you told him you had AIDS?
A. Every time he'd come into contact with me he'd get this look on his face...I referred to it as the "oh, God" expression, as in, "oh, God, here comes that woman with AIDS."
Thank you, Ms. Benedict. No more questions, your Honor.
*********** cross **********
13) Q. Ms. Benedict, how did you contract the AIDS virus?
A. Through a transfusion. I lost a lot of blood giving birth to my second child.
14) Q. So in other words, in your case, there was no behavior on your part that caused you to be infected with the virus, it was something that you were unable to avoid, is that correct?
A. I guess.
ATTY: Thank you.
WIT. But I don't consider myself any different from anyone else with this disease. I'm not guilty, I'm not innocent, I'm just trying to survive.
ATTY: Thank you, Ms. Benedict. No further questions at this time, your Honor.
* * ******** direct *********
15) Q. Beyond noticing the marks on his face, were there other things about his appearance, Ms. Burton, that made you suspect that Andrew had AIDS?
A. Well, he was getting thinner and he seemed very tired sometimes. But he was working so hard.. Still, I felt something was wrong, and I can't believe they're trying to pretend that they didn't notice anything.
JUDGE. Just answer the question, please.
16) Q. Have you ever felt discriminated against at Wyant-Wheeler?
A. Well, yes.
17) Q. In what way?
A. Well, Mr. Wheeler's secretary, Lydia, said that Mr. Wheeler had a problem with my earrings.
18) Q. Really?
A. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler felt that they looked too...ethnic, is the word she used...and she told me that he said that he would like it if I wore something a little less garish, a little smaller, and more "American."
19) Q. What'd you say?
A. I said my earring are American, they're African-American.
JUDGE. Order, please.
ATTY: Thank you, no more questions.
********** cross ***********
20) Q. Ms. Burton, weren't you recently promoted?
A. Yes, I'm in charge of the paralegal department.
21) Q. Congratulations on your unfettered ascendancy at Wyant-Wheeler.
A. Well, I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it unfettered, I mean...
22) Q. I don't understand. How do you explain the promotion of an obviously intelligent, articulate, qualified African-American woman in a firm which practices discrimination as wantonly and consistently as you and Mr. Beckett explain?
A. I can't explain it.
23) Q. Could it be that these instances of discrimination are, in fact, misunderstandings that have been blown completely out of proportion?
A. I think counsel tends to oversimplify the issue somewhat.
ATTY: Well, thank you, Ms. Burton, I'll take that note under consideration.
********** direct *************
24) Q. Please continue, Ms. O'Hara.
A. We were going crazy looking for this complaint. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Mr. Beckett was screaming at everybody, and he just, he looked so freaky, and Mr. Kenton kept saying "you lost the Highline complaint?" and he called Mr. Wheeler, and all of a sudden Jamie comes in with the complaint in his hand, and he says "it was in Central Files, Andy."
25) Q. Central Files?
A. Central Files is a place where paperwork is sent when cases are closed. Jamie ran it over to the court just in time, and everybody just stood there, completely wasted. And Mr. Beckett just kept saying "I'm sorry, sorry, I don't understand this."
Thank you, Ms. O'Hara. No further questions at this time, your Honor.
************ direct **********
26) Q. May I? [offers a handkerchief]
A. Certainly. .
27) Q. Are you okay?
Q. Want a glass of water or something?
28) Q. Was Andy a good boss?
A. Yes. He was very sweet.
29) Q. How would you characterize his work as an attorney?
A. How would I know? I just worked for him.
DEFENSE. Excuse me, your Honor, is this for the record?
JUDGE. Mr. Miller, perhaps you should return to the counsel's table.
30) Q. Yes, sir. Miss O'Hara.
Q. Were you aware at any time of any problems that the senior partners had with the quality of Andrew's work prior to this missing file episode?
A. No, no I wasn't.
ATTY. Thank you. No more questions, your Honor.
******** direct *************
31) Q. Is Andrew Beckett the kind of lawyer who misplaces crucial documents?
A. Not to my knowledge. No.
32) Q. Mr. Collins, if you wanted to make a lawyer look incompetent, would this be a good way of going about it? Hiding an important document, maybe for a few hours, and then making it look like the responsible lawyer misplaced it?
A. Why would Mr. Wheeler and the others behave so outrageously? Because they found out Andy was sick?
33) Q. Perhaps.
A. We have lawyers who've had heart attacks, ulcers, prostate cancer, leukemia...no one sandbagged them.
34) Q. Did you have something to do with this file being lost accidentally on purpose?
Q. I'll rephrase. Did you have anything to do with this file being misplaced?
A. Absolutely not.
35) Q. Are you a homosexual?
36) Q. Are you a homosexual? Answer the question. Are you a homo? Are you a faggot? You know, a punk, a queen, pillow-biter, fairy, booty-snatcher, rump-roaster? Are you gay?
DEFENSE. Objection! Where did this come from? Suddenly counsel's attacking his own witness? Mr. Collins' sexual orientation has nothing to do with this case!
JUDGE. Please have a seat, Ms. Conine. Would you approach the bench, Mr. Miller? Would you kindly share with me exactly what's going on inside your head? Because at this moment I don't have a clue.
PLAINTIFF. Your Honor, everybody in this courtroom is thinking about sexual orientation, you know, sexual preference, whatever you want to call it. Who does what to whom and how they do it. I mean, they're looking at Andrew Beckett, they're thinking about it. They're looking at Mr. Wheeler, Ms. Conine, even you, your Honor. They're wondering about it. Trust me, I know that they are looking at me and thinking about it. So let's just get it out in the open, let's get it out of the closet. Because this case is not just about AIDS, is it? So let's talk about what this case is really all about, the general public's hatred, our loathing, our fear of homosexuals, and how that climate of hatred and fear translated into the firing of this particular homosexual, my client, Andrew Beckett.
JUDGE. Please have a seat, Mr. Miller. Very good. In this courtroom, Mr. Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion and sexual orientation.
PLAINTIFF. With all due respect, your Honor, we don't live in this courtroom, though, do we?
JUDGE. No, we don't. However, as regards this witness, I'm going to sustain the defense's objection.
********* direct of adverse witness ***********
37) Q. How many weeks at a time would you be out at sea without stopping at a port?
A. Oh, uh, anywhere from 2 weeks to several months.
38) Q. Any women on board?
A. Not when I was in the Navy.
39) Q. So, during these long voyages, months at a time, out to sea, no women in sight, hundreds of hard-working, robust young men in the prime of their natural appetites and desires, their God-given hormonal instincts...anything going on?
A. Uh, going on? Like what?
40) Q. Like, you know, two sailors down below making flippy-flop?
A. We had one guy like that.
DF. You haven't ruled on my objection, your Honor.
JUDGE. Go on, Mr. Miller.
41) Q. You had one guy 'like that.' You mean a homosexual?
A. He, uh, strutted around quarters naked trying to get everybody to notice him. Made everyone sick. It was destroying our morale. So we let him know this kind of behavior was not acceptable.
42) Q. How'd you do that, what, you wrote him a letter?
A. We stuck his head in a latrine after ten of us had used it.
43) Q. Ah, you taught him a lesson, didn't you?
A. Yes, we did.
44) Q. Just like firing Andrew Beckett taught him a lesson.
45) Q. I withdraw. You were aware when you worked with Melissa Benedict that she had AIDS, is that correct?
A. She didn't try to conceal it.
46) Q. So you are aware of the difference between a bruise and a lesion, is that correct?
A. Beckett told me he had been hit by a racquetball and I believed him.
47) Q. Didn't you try to avoid contact with Ms. Benedict after you found out she had AIDS? She says, and I quote, that you were repulsed by her, you avoided her, is that correct?
A. I felt, and I still feel, nothing but the deepest sympathy for people like Melissa who contracted this terrible disease through no fault of their own.
************* direct of Plaintiff **************
Place your left hand on the Bible, raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Please be seated.
48) Q. Andrew, can you describe the circumstances under which you joined the firm Wyant Wheeler Hellerman Tetlow & Brown?
A. Wyant Wheeler aggressively recruited me, they were the most prestigious firm in Philadelphia, full of opportunity, and I was impressed with the partners.
49) Q. Including Charles Wheeler?
A. Particularly Charles.
50) Q. What impressed you about him?
A. He was the kind of lawyer I thought I wanted to be.
51) Q. And what kind of lawyer is that?
A. Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, a razor-sharp litigator, genuine leader, gifted at bringing out the very best in others, and an awesome ability to illuminate the most complex of legal concepts to a colleague, to a courtroom, to a man in the street. The kind of person who can play 3 sets of tennis but doesn't sweat. Underneath an elegant surface, he has an adventurous spirit.
52) Q. So in the years you worked at Wyant Wheeler, did you ever tell Charles Wheeler you were gay?
A. No, I didn't.
53) Q. Why not?
A. You don't bring your personal life into a law firm, you're not supposed to have a personal life, really. Anyway, I did plan to tell Charles eventually, but then this, oh, something happened at the racquet club about 3 years ago...somebody started telling some jokes.
*****Flashback sequence *********
What do you call a woman who has PMS and ESP at the same time?
I don't know, Roger, what do you call her?
A bitch who knows everything.
Sounds like someone I know.
Hey Walter, how does a faggot fake an orgasm?
He throws a quart of hot yogurt on your back.
54) Q. How did that make you feel?
A. Relieved that I never told him I was gay. Just very relieved.
55) Q. All right, um, are you a good lawyer, Andrew?
A. I'm an excellent lawyer.
56) Q. What makes you an excellent lawyer?
A. I love the law. I know the law. I excel at practicing.
57) Q. What do you love about the law, Andrew?
A. I.. Many things. What do I love the most about the law?
58) Q. Yes.
A. It's that every now and again, not often, but occasionally, you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.
ATTY: Thank you, Andrew.
******** cross **************
59) Q. You said earlier you aspired to be the kind of person who had an adventurous spirit. Is that correct?
A. Something like that.
60) Q. Do you take risks?
A. In my work, yes, calculated risks, you have to.
61) Q. Did your doctor ever tell you to reduce stress, that long hours and stressful working conditions might damage the immune system and speed up your illness?
A. My doctor mentioned the impact that AIDS...excuse me...my doctor mentioned the impact that stress can have on the immune system.
62) Q. Have you ever been to the Stallion Showcase Cinema on 21st street?
A. I've been to that.. I've been to that theatre.. three times in my life.
63) Q. What kind of movies do they show there?
A. Gay movies.
64) Q. Gay pornographic movies?
PLAITIFF. Objection, your Honor.
DEFENSE. Your Honor, this line of questioning is vital to the issue of credibility.
JUDGE. Let's, ah, let's see where this is going. Continue, counselor.
65) Q. Do men have sex with each other in that theater?
A. Some men.
66) Q. Have you ever had sex with anyone in that theater?
A. Yes. Once.
67) Q. When? Approximately what year did that event take place?
A. I guess it was.. uh.. 1984.. 84, 85.
68) Q. Were you aware in 1984-85 that there was a fatal disease out there called AIDS and that you could contract it through sexual activity?
A. I'd heard of a thing.. uh.. a gay plague, the gay cancer. We didn't know how you could get it, or that it killed you.
JUDGE. Do you need a break, Mr. Beckett?
A. No, no, I could use some water, though.
JUDGE. John, would you bring Mr. Beckett some water, please?
69) Q. While you were employed at Wyant Wheeler, you did everything you could to make sure no one knew you were an active homosexual, is that correct?
A. No. That's not correct, I never lied about it.
70) Q. As a homosexual, one is often forced to conceal one's sexuality, isn't that right?
A. In some circumstances, yes.
71) Q. Isn't it true that you've spent your life pretending to be something you're not, so much so that the art of concealment and dishonesty has become second nature to...
PLAINTIFF. Your Honor, I object.
72) Q. I'll withdraw it, your Honor. Mr. Beckett, were you living with Miguel Alvarez in 1984 or 85 when you had your anonymous sexual encounter in the porn theater?
73) Q. So you could have infected him, isn't that right?
A. Miguel has not been infected.
74) Q. You didn't answer my question. You could have infected Mr. Alvarez at that time, isn't that correct?
75) Q. You've testified that the lesions on your face were visible to the people you worked with, correct?
A. That's right.
76) Q. And it's your contention that when the partners were made aware of the lesions, that they leapt to the conclusion that you had AIDS and they fired you, is that correct?
A. As painful as it is to accuse my former colleagues of such reprehensible behavior, it is the only conclusion I could come to.
77) Q. Do you have any lesions on your face at this time?
A. One. Here. Right, ah, above my ear.
ATTY: Your Honor, may I approach the witness?
JUDGE Yes, you may.
78) Q. Remembering that you're under oath, answering truthfully, can you see the lesions of your face in this mirror from 3 feet away? Answering truthfully.
A. At the time I was fired I had four lesions and they were much bigger.
79) Q. Could you answer the question, please?
A. No, no. I can't really see it.
ATTY: No more questions, your Honor.
JUDGE. I think this would be a good time to break for the day. We can reconvene in the morning.
PLAINTIFF. Your Honor, may I have 5 minutes in redirect?
JUDGE. Mr. Beckett, can you go on for 5 minutes? 3 minutes!
A. Yes, yes.
80) Q. May I borrow your mirror, please? Andrew, do you have any lesions on any part of your body at this time that resemble the lesions you had on your face at the time you were fired?
A. Yes, on my tor-torso.
81) Q. On the torso. If it please the court, I would like to ask Andrew to remove his shirt so that everyone can here can, you know, get a look at what we're talking about.
DEFENSE. Objection! Your Honor, it would unfairly influence the jury.
PLAINTIFF. Your Honor, if Andrew was forced to use a wheelchair due to his illness, would the defense ask him to park it outside because it would unfairly influence the jury? Come on, we're talking about AIDS, we're talking about lesions, let's see what we're talking about.
COURT. I'll allow it. Mr. Beckett, would you please remove your shirt?
82) Q. Andrew, can you see the lesions on your chest in this mirror?
****** direct of defendant *****
Do you swear to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Please be seated.
83) Q. Mr. Wheeler, were you aware that Andrew Beckett was suffering from AIDS at the time of his departure from Wyant Wheeler?
84) Q. For absolute clarity, did you fire Andrew Beckett because he had AIDS.
A. No, I did not fire Andrew Beckett because he had AIDS.
85) Q. Mr. Wheeler, can you explain in a way that leaves no doubt why you promoted Andrew Beckett through your firm and then, most importantly, why you
eventually asked him to leave?
A. If, ah, you're the owner of a major league ball club, you recruit the hot rookie. And Andy was tremendously promising as a young attorney, fresh out of Penn, cracker jack. That's why we went after him, that's why we hired him, and that's why we stuck with him, year after year.
86) Q. Why did you give him opportunity after opportunity?
A. Well, when you groom someone the way you groom Andy, nurturing him, lavishing all kinds of special treatment on him, you make quite an investment. And we were waiting for the promise to kick in and deliver. But ultimately, we could no longer ignore the gap between the reality and the promise.
******** cross *******
87) Plainiff [clapping]
ATTY: Objection, your Honor, objection.
JUDGE. All right, Mr. Miller, that'll be sufficient.
88) Q. Mr. Wheeler, you are magnificent, you are.. you are my hero, Andrew is right, you are the greatest. Are you gay?
A. How dare you?
JUDGE. The witness will kindly answer.
A. No. I am not a homosexual.
89) Q. Isn't it true that when you realized Andrew Beckett, your golden boy, your future senior partner, was gay and had AIDS, it drove a stake of fear right through your heterosexual heart? Remembering all the hugs and the handshakes, the intimate moments in the sauna, the friendly pats on the backside that you and Andrew exchanged, like guys exchange sometimes...it made you say, my God, what does this say about me?
ATTY: Objection, your Honor.
JUDGE. The witness will please respond to the question.
A. Mr. Miller, you may tap dance around me all you wish with your innuendos and locker-room fantasies, but the truth still remains that your client worked when he wanted to work, telling us what he thought we needed to know about who he really was. Andy insisted on bending the rules and his work suffered tremendously in the long run as a result of that.
90) Q. Will you explain this to me like I'm a six-year-old, Mr. Wheeler, because I just don't get it. Who makes these rules that you're talking about. You?
A. Read your Bible, Mr. Miller. Old and the New Testament. Pretty valuable rules in there.
. . .
91) Q. Did you notice any changes whatsoever in Andrew's appearance over the course of the year leading up to his termination?
A. Yes. I did.
92) Q. Were these changes for the better for the worse?
A. Sometimes for the better, but generally, they were for the worse.
93) Q. Mr. Seidman, what did you think caused these changes in Andy's appearance?
A. I was afraid. I suspected Andy had AIDS.
Judge: Order, order.
Atty: Thank you. Your witness.
************* cross *********
94) Q. Mr. Seidman, did you share your suspicions with Mr. Wheeler or any of the other managing partners at any time before the decision to fire Andrew Beckett was made?
A. No, no, I didn't. I didn't mention it to anyone, not even Andy. I didn't even give him a chance to talk about it. And I think I'm going to regret that for as long as I live.
Judge: Any more questions, Ms. Conine?
Atty: That's all, your Honor.