Comedy in the courtroom, I am told, is unusual. But when I was a witness in the 1999 Microsoft anti-trust case there was one exchange I had with David Boies, the lawyer representing the government, that had everyone laughing uproariously.
For context, Boies asked the judge to rule that Microsoft witnesses could not speak to their lawyers about the substance of the case while we were on the stand. The judge agreed. When our lawyers objected because such as rule was not in place when they cross-examined the government witnesses, the judge’s response was “you didn’t ask.”
So, in the afternoon of my first day on the stand, Boies decided to check and see if we were following the rules (we were):
BOIES: WHILE WE'RE QUEUING UP TO TAPE, MR. CHASE, DID YOU HAVE ANY CONVERSATIONS WITH ANYONE DURING THE BREAK?
ME: MY WIFE.
BOIES: ANYONE ELSE?
ME: BILL NEUKOM SAID, "GOOD LUCK." DAVE HEINER WHO IS GOING ON VACATION, SAID "GOOD LUCK. HAVE A GOOD TIME." HE'S GOING ON VACATION. AND I MAY HAVE HAD A WORD OR TWO WITH SOMEBODY ELSE.
(Note that Bill Neukom led the Microsoft legal group and Dave Heiner was an anti-trust expert on our legal team.)
BOIES: DID YOU HAVE ANY DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE TESTIMONY WITH ANYBODY?
THE JUDGE: OTHER THAN "GOOD LUCK"?
ME: MY WIFE SAID I'M DOING FINE.
THE JUDGE: ALL RIGHT.
The court burst into laughter. I did not mean my response as a joke, it is what had happened, but I guess that my wife’s comment and the judge’s response contrasted with the dirt Boies was seeking was funny to the courtroom. Boies realized that he had lost momentum with the crowd and quickly and cleverly responded:
BOIES. THAT'S WHAT MY WIFE ALWAYS TELLS ME, TOO.
Boies’ sexual innuendo was apparent to the audience, and they laughed again. I am not sure what possessed me, but I then responded with a joke of my own that had the spectators roaring:
ME: I'M NOT GOING TO TOUCH THAT ONE.
After the laughter died down and Boies did not have a response to my last comment, he returned to asking me serious questions about the case. And, as I recall, I refrained from making any more jokes.
More on my testimony in a Fortune article here.
My 2020 thoughts on the Google anti-trust case here.