Sunday, 18 February 2018

L.A. Law: The Computer Game – Case #2: The Blown Whistler

by Alex

Well, the people have spoken! The Adventure Gamer reading public actually liked the detailed, blow-by-blow account I gave of L.A. Law: The Computer Game’s first case. Here I thought it was too boring and dry, but the legal profession is all about upholding the process and the rules the people agree to! Who am I to argue? So instead of consolidating multiple cases together, I’ll go through one case per post. And since the boring basic stuff has already been taken care of, this should go a bit quicker than the last one.

First things first: in the comments to post one, Joe Pranevich wondered if the choice of character has any effect on gameplay:

“Do we know how the character selection impacts the game? Are there certain witnesses that one character is able to get more out of than another? Is one of the characters a superhero who can defeat difficult judges using the power of hypnotic suggestion?”

That would be fantastic, but I haven’t yet checked out other playable characters. Perhaps I will after I finish the game as Victor Sifuentes, but not until then, because this game is . . . hoo boy, we’ll get to that.

Continuing in the vein of Case #1, we’ll focus on L.A. Law’s two main aspects: Trial Prep and The Trial. In the meantime, there are two factors I want to keep in mind as a through-line for these posts:
  1. Does L.A. Law: The Computer Game work as a game?
  2. How well does L.A. Law: The Computer Game simulate actually being a lawyer?
Strap yourself in for some hardcore lawyering, because we’re about to find out!

The Case

Impressed with Victor’s performance in getting Timothy Murdock exonerated of manslaughter, the partners at McKenzie, Brackman give the new kid one of their big corporate accounts. Rextor Avionics, a government contractor specializing in Air Force related equipment, recently fired an electrical technician named Anthony “Tony” Forentello, who turned around and sued Rextor! But as with most cases, there’s more under the surface than meets the eye. Will Victor have enough time to figure out what that is before trial?

Trial Prep

Probably not. Check the time in that screenshot: That’s a full hour less than Victor was given in Case #1. For real, it’d be serious legal malpractice to give an attorney the case mere hours before a trial.

Think I’m exaggerating? Legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer acts negligently and, but for that negligence, a client wouldn’t have gotten hurt. If only giving a new associate seven hours to prepare for a case that, presumably, the firm had known about for a while, isn’t negligent, then I don’t know what is.

But such is the life of a big-shot attorney.

Looking through the file, we see that Forentello’s statement explains the situation thusly: Tony was going through some files after seeing a QA guy singing off on some work that wasn’t done. He came across some allegedly fraudulent reports, reported them in a letter to the Air Force, and the next thing you know, he was given his walking papers by Rextor.

Clearly retaliation, right?

Except Alex Langston of Avionics avers that Fortenello was a slacker with a poor work ethic who did a shoddy job. Langston was completely unaware of the letter Fortenello had sent before giving him his pink slip.

This is typical of most legal cases where there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

The notes page gives a good rundown of whom Victor should call first: Alex Langston himself, the plaintiff Tony Forentello, Major Campbell of the Air Force, who might have the letter, and Corporal McClaren.

I’d feel weird calling the plaintiff, weird and unethical. See, the standards of professional conduct dictate that parties who are represented by counsel must communicate with counsel, or with their counsel’s permission. If I were to call the plaintiff to try and have a conversation with him without his lawyer present, I’d have a lot of explaining to do to the Board of Bar Overseers . . . I’d rather just go to his lawyer’s office and chat with the attorney instead.

I call Alex Langston—my client—figuring he’d be useful. Nope. He has a secretary from hell, who rebuffs Victor’s every attempt to get the damn letter, any reports, or even a call back. She suggests that Mr. Langston will be back in three hours, and that I should call back then. Because time is such a plentiful luxury in this game. I mean, the conversation with her kills 45 minutes! Difficult, uncooperative clients are a part of lawyering, but this is a game that gives you a limited amount of moves to build a legal defense. Throw me a bone here!

And speaking of defense, I’d imagine that the best defense strategy here is to say that the plaintiff somehow fabricated his whole whistleblower story in order to get back at Rextor for firing him for being a loser.

Major Campbell is next on my list. He’s there, but not too helpful: while admitting he received a letter from the plaintiff about possible fraudulent reports, he refuses to share the letter with Victor.

In the real world, I’d send him a request for the production of documents pursuant to Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, or perhaps a subpoena duces tecum, ordering him to bring the documents to court. But this is a dumb game, so I’ve got to sit and take his insolence as almost two and a half hours has been wasted on stupid phone calls.

Corporal McClaren is up next. He’s a drinking buddy of the plaintiff’s, and likes him well enough. But the corporal fully admits that Tony is a total slacker. He has a copy of Tony’s letter, but will only give it to me if Major Campbell says it’s alright. And Major Campbell, of course . . .

. . . refuses to talk with Victor.

Okay, game. It’s going to be one of those things, now, is it?

Oh well. I might as well go visit opposing counsel (I don’t know why I can’t just call him) and see what he has to say.

The attorney is a friendly sort, as you can tell from the screenshot here. Either that, or he’s an extra from Office Space. I do get to ask the plaintiff a handful of questions. His answers seem plausible . . . but it’s kind of weird that he was snooping around in other reports.

You see, Mr. Forentello was looking in the inspector’s office for his report, because he claimed he couldn’t find his file in its regular place and that the inspectors often took the technician’s reports and put them in their files. And while there, he just so happened to find other, fraudulent reports. Which he didn’t report to his supervisors, but to Rextor’s customer, the Air Force. It also doesn’t really explain his story that Rextor filed him for reporting these allegedly fraudulent reports, as Alex Langston at Rextor claimed to never have seen or even known about Forentello’s letter to the Air Force before he fired Forentello.

And clients never, ever lie . . .

Stumped, I ask some of McKenzie, Brackman’s legal luminaries for advice, and my man Tom Mullaney comes through in the clutch:

Tom suggests I call Oscar Berrant at Rextor . . . here’s a funny thing though—when looking at the phone directory, my eye looked at the number below Berrant, which happened to belong to a Mr. Frank Borson at the American Institute of Typography. Mr. Borson picked up, and Victor had a conversation with him about how Borson can compare typewritten documents to see if they were written on the same typewriter, but he would need originals. Yes, this was in the era before everyone used computers to type. Feel old yet?

Now, this was an error on my part, but it got the wheels turning in my head: Did Forentello fabricate these fraudulent reports in order to get back at Rextor for firing him? Also, how did he know Rextor was going to fire him, or did he just plan ahead? Also also: Did Rextor ever think of just, I don’t know, checking with the inspectors accused of writing fraudulent reports to see if they wrote them or not, or even inspected the work? Aren’t there more records? MUST LAWYERS DO EVERYTHING? Can’t this game please give me more than eight in-game hours to gather all my evidence?!

Ahem, where was I?

Ah, right: L.A. Law: The Computer Game. Does it make me feel like a lawyer? Well, to a degree yes. The research is accurate; trials, not so much (I’ll get to that later). And lawyers do always complain of never having enough time to do what needs to get done, but this game is ridiculous in that respect.

Anyway, I call Berrant and drop Tom’s name. He agrees to swing by Victor’s office for a chat.

Oscar’s a helpful guy. He has one of his assistants fax a fraudulent report to Victor, which I didn’t realize until later just appeared in the file—I didn’t have to get it from the office’s fax machine, which I clicked on several times like an idiot. He also informed me of three salient facts:
  • Forentello has been written up several times by every manager he’s ever had. It’s hard to fire bad employees at Rextor, but Forentello’s days were numbered as everyone was getting sick of him.
  • Three inspectors who were accused of writing fraudulent reports denied writing them. The signatures on these reports were smudged, which made it difficult to determine if the handwriting matched.
  • The Air Force has identified six fraudulent reports, and is in the process of making a literal Federal case out of it. Rextor would really like to know who wrote those reports and how they got filed.
The report I get from Oscar Berrant is from an inspector named Jason Rollings. I find his number in the directory and give him a call but, goodness gracious, I only have seven minutes until trial! I’d better make this conversation quick!

Rollings vehemently denies writing this report. He also seems the most offended by the fact that he’s an excellent speller, and the fraudulent report is full of spelling errors. It’s not that his name was used on a report designed to defraud an agency of the Federal government, but that the fraudster was just such a poor speller.

Priorities, people. Get some.

I would have loved to have called Borson back and had him take a look at the allegedly fraudulent report. I also would’ve loved to have gotten a copy of the letter Forenello sent to the Air Force. But I get the notice that I’m due at the courthouse right away! Talk about swift justice.

The Trial

I will tell you that L.A. Law: The Computer Game’s biggest failure is the trial. Now, trials are difficult to simulate anyway, and I can imagine the technology 25 years ago was less-conducive to making trials feel realistic; I understand this game’s limitations. But the fact that you can’t type your own questions, choose which witnesses to call, choose whether or not you want to cross-examine opposing counsel’s witnesses, or even file pre-trial motions or serve ^&&$ing discovery boggles my mind!

See, here’s how trial prep normally works in a civil case:
  • The attorneys talk to their own clients to get the full story 
  • The attorneys may even talk to each other to propose settlement
  • The attorneys exchange discovery requests—interrogatories, requests for admissions, and—here’s what really would have come in handy in this case—requests for the production of documents. And if any of these documents relating to the case that would be admissible or could reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence are not turned over, the requesting party can file a motion to compel the production of documents. You know, to get evidence.
  • The attorneys interview witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the case. They may ask these witnesses to appear in court to testify as to this knowledge, or testify as to the veracity of documents the attorneys wish to enter into evidence. If these witnesses don’t agree to appear, they can be subpoenaed, which is a legal document requiring them to appear or face certain legal consequences.
  • Witnesses can also sign sworn statements under the pains and penalties of perjury which can often be entered into evidence in lieu of having the witness appear; this is likely to be objected to, and may not be allowed in all cases, as a piece of paper can’t be cross-examined.
  • Attorneys may also depose witnesses, or even the opposing litigant themselves. A deposition is that thing where the lawyers talk to somebody on the record, and a stenographer writes down the whole thing. They are often videotaped. These are admissible in court, and are often used to impeach a witness; i.e., call into question their credibility.
  • Attorneys may also file pre-trial motions, like a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, for example, or a motion for summary judgment (asking the court to find for your side because the other side hasn’t really alleged any disputed material facts).
Now, as you can imagine, all of these take time. Which is why any law firm worth their salt doesn’t drop a big, major, super-important case for a huge client that they really have to keep happy on a new associate eight hours before trial.

So needless to say, I’m not prepared for trial here. I contemplate reloading, but you know what? Everything seems to take forever in this game—there are delays when you try to click on anything—that the process becomes so cumbersome that doing it again makes me want to actually go practice real law, you dig? So I roll with it.

I’ll cut to the chase here: I try to get Forentello on being a garbage employee thanks to Langston’s testimony, and I get Rollings on the stand to deny that he wrote these reports. But without any actual, physical evidence, I’m unable to tie Forentello to the fraudulent reports, even though I get Major Campbell to admit that the signatures on these fraudulent reports are “damaged.”

On a side note, the game doesn’t let me cross-examine the defendant. This is INSANE. This might not rise to the level of legal malpractice, but Victor’s bosses at McKenzie, Brackman would chew him a new one for just refusing to cross-examine the other party. This is torture!

Oh, screw you, Judge! He’s asking the witness to speculate!

Alright, Judge, imma hold YOU in contempt!

Seems iron-clad to me . . .

Ah, damn it!

Oh, get bent Mr. Hawaiian shirt and mustache. Magnum, P.I. you ain’t.

Maybe next time, I don’t know, give me more than eight hours to prepare for trial?

I lost the case, but you know what? I take the L like a man, roll up my sleeves, and move on to the next one. Not that I’m particularly looking forward to it . . .

Oh boy, this promises to be interesting. We’ll pick this back up in Case #3: The Battered Boy.

Session Time: 40 minutes
Total Play Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Record: 1-1


  1. Capstone should have been put on trial for their crimes against entertainment.

  2. Not to interrupt Alex's play, but everyone here needs to go read the Digital Antiquarian's publication of a 1990 group chat between the top designers of Infocom, Sierra, and LucasArts. It is an amazing group of amazing people and to read them chatting together about game trends from 30 years ago (the focus of our very own blog) is an eye-opening experience.

    1. Well worth the interruption!

    2. That was great! Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. I guess it was inevitable that you'd BLEW the case of BLOWN whistler...

    For what it's worth, this game appears to deal with truly mature issues, which in the mostly fantastic and/or humorous world of adventure games seems quite unusual.

    1. Ilmari,

      1) FANTASTIC pun

      2) It does deal with mature issues, as it’s based on a TV show which was on the serious side of the spectrum. But does this make for a good game? It COULD, but not here...unless something happens to drastically change my opinion.

  4. I think my favorite part of this series is how deep these cases seem to actually go, but how *impossible* the game makes it to pull everything together. The whole thing is just a legal nightmare and I'm impressed the first case even ended successfully.

    1. I fully anticipate getting a capital punishment defense dropped in my lap 45 minutes before the State is ready to pull the switch...

  5. The screenshots for the first half of this case with the clock in the corner have the makings of the crappiest episode of 24 ever!

    7:59 - Jack Bauer is due at work in one minute - will he make it in time?

    1. Never again talk like that about the Jack Bauer power hour

    2. TBD and Alex,

      If only this game WAS the Jack Bauer power hour...

  6. These graphics are so poorly digitised. There's ugly dithering and other visual artifacts all over.

    A pity that you lost the case and seem not bothered to retry - I would have been interested in learning what the "solution" was.

    1. Laukku,

      In just about any other game, I would have tried the case again. But this game is just too excruciating.