I object, Your Honor

Paddock, Spanish GP 2002

Paddock, Spanish GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

My grandfather was a lawyer and, in his spare time, wrote witty books. One of these was called "Humor among the Lawyers". I was reading this the other day and I suddenly realized that more and more lawyers are now lurking in the shadows of the Formula 1 motorhomes, not interested in the cars but there simply to suck as much money as possible from this wealthy sport, not caring what happens to it when they have finished.

I have even bumped into them in the Media Center...

Until a few years ago the only lawyers were part-time commentators, weekend racers or sports administrators. All of them were enthusiasts but today I object to unctious clerks are making their presence felt because they want to make money out of the sport.

Lawyers are not all bad. I know some adorable ones (all of them female) but in general I must admit that I have a low opinion of the legal profession. This, according to my grandfather, is not unusual.

Dr. Johnson once remarked when a man left the room: "I don't care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but I believe the person who has just taken his departure is an attorney."

Czar Peter the Great of Russia seemed to of the same opinion when he visited London and noticed a crowd of people hanging around outside Parliament. He asked who they were and was told that they were lawyers.

"Lawyers," he said, "why I have only two of them in the whole of my dominions and I propose to hang one of them the moment I get home."

Often however it is the simple men who speak the truth with the sharpest tongue. A prisoner was once asked by a judge if he had any counsel to represent him.

"No, my lord," he replied. "I am going to tell the truth."

And in Ireland a court crier was once heard to bellow: "All ye blackguards that isn't lawyers must leave the court".

A pal of mine recently sent me a wonderful story from America - where, of course, lawyers have taken the reputation of the profession to an all-time low.

The story begins in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a lawyer with too much money bought himself a box of 24 rare and expensive cigars with which to impress himself and his friends when they came round for some fried chicken and mashed potatoes. It cost him $15,000.

Being a man who likes to have everything in order he insured the cigars against floods, fire, theft and all the usual things which ensure that insurance men do not get to be too rich. Within a month the lawyer found that he had smoked his entire collection and feeling a little sorry for himself (and being a smart-ass) filed a claim with the insurance company stating that his cigars had been lost "in a series of small fires".

The insurance men were outraged and refused to pay. The lawyer sued the insurance company for failing to honor the contract - and won the case. In delivering his ruling the judge agreed that the claim was frivolous but stated nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be unacceptable fire, and so they were obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid the necessary $15,000 to the lawyer.

A tale of modern lawyers, you may think, but a few days later when the lawyer had cashed the check, he found himself being taken into custody by a number of policemen. He was charged with 24 counts of arson and as his own insurance claim and testimony now worked against him he was quickly convicted of intentionally burning his insured property. The case ended with him being sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.

Lawyers and the tobacco industry are the talk of the town in Formula 1 these days because the European Commission is trying to push through a directive which will ban all tobacco sponsorship in European Union countries from July 31 2005. The FIA is defending the sport, saying that it will happily stop all tobacco advertising around the world at the end of 2006. The Europeans are not satisfied with that and wants to do things 18 months earlier. That may not seem like much but the 18 months probably means something like $500m in sponsorship revenues for motorsport.

Tobacco is has been motor racing's big brother and banker since the 1960s and the relationship has been vital in building the sport into the global giant it is today. Some people smoke, some people do not but we all have a choice. We know that smoking can be harmful but some of us choose to do it.

I used to smoke a lot but I stopped because it was bad for me. I made the decision and I have stuck to it.

As far as I am concerned if doctors say that tobacco is so bad for you that it should be banned then I think it should be banned. The problem is that the governments do not want to face the consequences of a ban on tobacco sales. They are either protecting state tobacco monopolies or safeguarding huge sums of tax revenue which comes from cigarettes. Tobacco production keeps large numbers of people in work - even when the farms are not profitable - and the European politicians are also wary of any bans for fear that cigarette smuggling would boom, providing criminal organizations with the chance to build vast new empires as happened during Prohibition in America between 1919 and 1933 when campaigners managed to get alcohol banned. This is a very real fear because there are already huge cigarette smuggling operations which dodge cigarette duties.

These are all hard questions and the politicians have basically opted out and decided that it is best to be seen to be doing something when in fact they are doing nothing at all. They do not care if motorsport suffers...

Well, I do. I object to the double standards that allow the Farm Council of the EU - the agriculture ministers of the members states - to reject (just a couple of weeks ago) the proposal from the European Commission that there should be an definitive end to the EU tobacco production subsidy system, nearly 17 years after the European Council of Ministers approved a program called "Europe Against Cancer".

In the United States of America everyone is running scared of lawyers. Attorneys out to make fortunes have gone after the tobacco industry in every which way they can: they have represented individuals, state governments and now they are even representing the federal government. They earned so much money that I read somewhere recently that legal fees on tobacco cases have now been capped at $1bn (Yes, that is billion!).

The boom will soon be over and the lawyers are already looking elsewhere.

Well, I have a good idea from them. If the European politicians won't ban tobacco, the lawyers should go after them for the damage they are causing as a result of that decision...

That would be poetic justice.

Just like our friend with the cigars.

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