If apocrypha was a newspaper, we'd have to have an editorial. Of course, if it was a newspaper, we'd have to be objective. So we won't. Deb White, the owner and maintainer of the Michael Moriarty Unofficial, Unauthorized, Unsanctioned Web Page, has a completely objective viewpoint to make clear in this, our first column.....



Ben Stone: A Flawed Gem
By Deb White


Over the past few years I have heard so many Law & Order fans proclaim, "Ben Stone is so moral, so perfect!" It sounds like a compliment. But it's not! It's an insult. The implication being Ben doesn't have to struggle with the right and wrong of a situation, rather he just knows what's right and does it. Ben Stone is just as likely to manipulate both the law and other people to get the 'right' result, whereas Law & Order's other EADA, Jack McCoy, is usually accused of being unprincipled, manipulative, and unethical. Both Jack and Ben are pursuing justice. Ben just goes about it with finesse and style.
In the third episode of Law & Order, "The Reaper's Helper," Ben decides the case against Jack Curry (who helped another AIDS victim commit suicide) must be dropped. Since Curry has AIDS Ben feels "that's as much payment as anyone could ask for." He implores Detective Logan and Sergeant Greevey to find some evidence that will support his decision. Before Ben can drop the case there is a copycat killing of a retarded child and Ben feels forced to continue. Detective Logan squirms on the stand because he doesn't want to implicate himself and the others in the plan to drop the case. We realize at the end, when Ben is confronted by the defense counsel, that it was Ben who instructed his secretary to place the phone call to the defense counsel concerning the meeting between Ben and the police detectives. Was he wrong to want to drop the case?
"Asylum" introduces us to Christian "Lemonhead" Tatum, an unstable homeless man who witnesses a stabbing. He faced the murderer in court only after Ben grabs him and insists that he go into court and testify. When faced with a re-trial Ben seems particularly unfeeling when he tries to badger Dr. Liz Olivet into getting Lemonhead ready to testify a second time. He sees his case swirling the bowl and doesn't really care if Lemonhead is a psychological mess. Ben wants his testimony! Liz reminds Ben that the first court appearance sent Lemonhead into his current condition and implies that Ben was partially responsible for it. Ben replies that he 'understands' but does he?
Ben becomes angry with Claire when she fails to mention some information, which later comes out in court. When Ben hears the testimony in court his reaction is swift and deadly. After a meeting with Adam, who is equally upset with Claire, Ben accuses Claire of being untrustworthy and suggests that she request "a change of assignment immediately after Mr. Carmichael is acquitted." Ben's reaction seems a bit over the edge. Even though Claire made an error in judgment, it was not intentional deception. In the end, Mr. Carmichael is convicted and Ben apparently realizes the error of his ways. In an attempt to suggest to Claire that she remain in his office he relates a story of a young assistant who attached an internal memo to a document that he then sent to the defendant's counsel. The case was lost. "I thought it was a career-ender ... but they gave me another chance." A backhanded apology, but apparently it was the best he could do.
In "Censure" Claire is once again the recipient of Ben's imperfect judgment. Claire pleads with Ben to take her off the Judge Thayer case. If Ben had just looked up from his law books and really listened to Claire he would have known that there was real concern on her face and sufficient reason to remove her from this case. Dismissively, Ben waved her request away. Later on, when she told him that she had had an affair with Judge Thayer, Ben is totally shocked and replies, "If I had known..." Well, if he had been a bit more sensitive to Claire's plea, he would have known that her request was valid.
Ben's final instance of imperfection in Law & Order is demonstrated in "Old Friends." Ben compels a lady, Anne Madson, to testify even though he knows that her life will be in danger from the Russian Mafia. He promises to protect her if she testifies and promises to prosecute her if she doesn't testify. She reluctantly testifies and before she can be moved into a witness protection program she is killed on her front porch. As a result of this incident Ben resigns from the District Attorney's Office.
These situations, examples of Ben Stone's imperfect judgment, behavior, and decisions, do not make him a bad District Attorney -- they make him human. It is reassuring to know that he struggles with his own flaws, the flaws of the justice system and the flaws of society. He must have personal problems, just like the next guy, but we never see them. He is divorced but that's about all that is revealed of his personal difficulties. These examples of errors support Ben Stone's struggle to 'do the right thing,' for the good of the people. Humanity -- what better quality for a district attorney or any lawyer to possess?


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