Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Edit teach: paring down and steering away from court-speak

So you're on deadline, a verdict is in after a long trial and you've got to pound out those words. It's easy to slip into court-speak and repeat yourself.

As I sometimes post for editing teachers who want examples and my current and upcoming students, here is a story from today and my suggested edited version.

Original (611 words)


A federal civil jury took 1½ hours Tuesday evening to find in favor of Camden Military Academy and its top leaders in a civil trial over whether the school was negligent in an alleged 2008 rape case involving a cadet.

 “The Lord was with us, and we’re just so glad,” said Camden headmaster Col. Eric Boland, 55, choking up with emotion as he walked out of the Matthew J. Perry Jr. Federal Courthouse in Columbia as night fell. He was one of the three named school administration defendants in the case.

The plaintiff in the case, now 18, was seeking up to $7 million in punitive damages, plaintiff’s lawyer Marguerite Willis told the jury in her closing arguments Tuesday afternoon. Other cadets were accused of raping the teen when he was 13.

Willis told the jury it should find Camden Military Academy and three top officials responsible for not cracking down on a “climate of violence” at the school.

 “You are here to stop what is going on,” she said. “Unless you punish these people, you will never know whether this will happen to another child.”

In his closing argument, defense attorney Duke Highfield assailed Willis’ version of events, reminding the jury that Willis’ client had changed his stories about the alleged rape and other alleged traumatic incidents numerous times before testifying at trial.

The plaintiff is “an admitted liar” whose allegations about suffering sexual trauma at the hands of two other cadets only came into focus as he got closer to filing a lawsuit against the school and thought of winning a lot of money, Highfield said.

Highfield also told the jury that the three school officials who are defendants in the suit are exceptional people who have spent years developing a safe and nourishing environment at the 55-year-old school.

 “Do you think any of these educators would allow this to go on if they knew about it?” Highfield asked the jury, speaking of Boland, commandant of cadets Lt. Col. Pat Armstrong, and Command Sgt. Maj. Vertis Wilder. Armstrong and Wilder were the other named defendants in the lawsuit.

Highfield saved his most slashing attack for a key plaintiff’s expert witness, Dr. James Ballenger, who had earlier in the trial testified that the plaintiff’s different versions of events were due to post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the rape.

Ballenger, who earned $125,000 for examining the cadet, basically sells his testimony to whoever pays him, High-field said.

“He sings whatever you want – like a jukebox,” Highfield scoffed.

That brought a rejoinder from Willis, who told the jury that Ballenger – who she said was a nationally prominent PTSD expert – had also been hired as an expert witness at times by Highfield’s law firm.

Willis had used Ballenger to explain to the jury that people who suffer traumatic events such as rape often have memory impairments of the event.

The jury began deliberating early Tuesday evening.

Over four weeks of trial, there were dozens of witnesses and numerous exhibits presented to the federal jury, composed of eight men and two women.

The State does not generally identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.

After the jury’s verdict, Highfield told The State newspaper in an interview, “It was a hard-fought case, a serious case, and we always believed in Camden Military Academy.”

Willis said, “The issues of bullying and violence in schools are important ones, and Nexsen Pruet (Willis’s Columbia firm) is proud to have represented our client in this battle. We believed in him, and continue to believe.”

Cam Walters, head of Camden Military Academy’s board of trustees, said, “We’ve got a fine school, and a fine tradition, and we’re happy to continue.” 

My suggested version (541words)

A federal jury took 1½ hours Tuesday evening to find in favor of Camden Military Academy and three of its leaders in a lawsuit over whether the school was negligent in an alleged 2008 rape of a cadet.

 “The Lord was with us, and we’re just so glad,” said Camden headmaster Col. Eric Boland, 55, choking up with emotion as he walked out of the Matthew J. Perry Jr. Federal Courthouse in Columbia as night fell. He was one of the three school administrators who were sued.

The plaintiff, now 18, was seeking up to $7 million in punitive damages, his lawyer Marguerite Willis told the jury in her closing arguments Tuesday afternoon. Other cadets were accused of raping the teen when he was 13. [It is unclear whether Willis is his only lawyer – if so, commas around her name.]

The State does not generally identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.

Willis told the jury it should find the school and its three officials responsible for not cracking down on a “climate of violence.”

 “You are here to stop what is going on,” she said. “Unless you punish these people, you will never know whether this will happen to another child.”

In his closing argument, defense attorney Duke Highfield assailed Willis’ version of the events, reminding the jury that Willis’ client had changed his stories about the alleged rape and other alleged traumatic incidents numerous times before testifying.

The teen is “an admitted liar” whose allegations about suffering sexual trauma at the hands of two other cadets only came into focus as he got closer to suing the school and thought of winning a lot of money, Highfield said.

He also said the three officials are exceptional people who have spent years developing a safe and nourishing environment at the 55-year-old school.

Along with Boland, commandant of cadets Lt. Col. Pat Armstrong and Command Sgt. Maj. Vertis Wilder were defendants.

 “Do you think any of these educators would allow this to go on if they knew about it?” Highfield asked the jury. He saved his most slashing attack for a key plaintiff’s expert witness, Dr. James Ballenger, who had testified that the teen’s different versions of events were from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the rape.

Ballenger, who earned $125,000 for examining the cadet, basically sells his testimony to whoever pays him, Highfield said.

“He sings whatever you want – like a jukebox,” Highfield scoffed.

But Willis told the jury that Ballenger was a nationally prominent PTSD expert who had also been hired as an expert witness at times by Highfield’s law firm.

Willis, a member of the Nexsen Pruet law firm, had used Ballenger to explain that people often have trouble remembering traumatic events such as rape.

The jury of eight men and two women began deliberating early Tuesday evening after four weeks of trial with dozens of witnesses and numerous exhibits.

After the verdict, Highfield told The State newspaper, “It was a hard-fought case, a serious case, and we always believed in Camden Military Academy.”

Willis said: “The issues of bullying and violence in schools are important ones, and Nexsen Pruet  is proud to have represented our client in this battle. We believed in him, and continue to believe.”

Cam Walters, head of Camden Military Academy’s board of trustees, said, “We’ve got a fine school, and a fine tradition, and we’re happy to continue.”


Editors (what's left of them at least) need to take special care to help. It's not fair to expect a reporter pounding out copy on deadline to be a master of conciseness. It's human nature -- as Mark Twain said, I would have written shorter, but I didn't have time.

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home