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THE PALM BEACH POST DECEMBER 1, 1997 5 ' . . i - -. When world is a courtroom, truth wears the shackles roke a mirror in my 4B ' house. I'm supposed to get seven years bad luck, Dale Dauten In the case of courtrooms, it's the truth that gets subjected to the instruments of torture. We all need to know enough about lawsuits to know that they're more often about justification than justice. If you want a fight, you file a lawsuit. If you are interested in truth, in healing, in help, you don't. You hire a mediator, not a gladiator. Mediation is still fairly rare. Looking in my phone book, -there are 148 pages of ads for attorneys and a half-page for mediators. Maybe that's because there isn't big money in justice, only in law. And the wise executive knows the difference. Can I get a witness? read those closely, to study them?" "Not study them, no. I ... " ' "And so you have had opportunities to be educated on these issues, or to educate yourself, and you chose not to take them. You cling to your prejudices, don't you?" "No, that's no ... " "Nothing more for this witness, your honor." And so I sat, fish-mouthed, in my shabby innocence. That's when the attorney, Naida Axford, turned back into the perky former cheerleader and smiled: "You see how it works." This was just "role playing." It's part of a program she calls Witness Fitness. She is hired by attorneys and police departments to help prepare witnesses to testify. And now she has started putting on programs for executives, even ones who are not facing an imminent trial. "Every executive needs training in the skills of testifying," she says. "This is a time when every hiring, every firing, every product could end up in court." This brought back memories of a sentence that I wrote in this space a few years ago: "The world is no longer a stage; it's a courtroom, and everything you say may be held against you." Still, I resisted the notion that we should turn our corporations into Court TV. I believe that the fear of lawsuits has made nervous executives even more squishy. Axford insisted that the opposite was true: "My ultimate goal is not to make them fear the courtroom but to be comfortable in it. They end up being better listeners, better communicators, and with less to fear from lawsuits." She may be right. But what I hope her work accomplishes is keeping more companies out of courtrooms, to scare executives and employees alike into other options like Galileo being shown the instruments of torture. but my lawyer thinks he can get me five." Steven Wright She may have looked like a perky former cheerleader, but she was cheerleading's evil twin: an attorney. One who was wheeling around to cross-examine me as I sat in the witness box, defenseless. She asked with condescension, "Have you ever used the term 'skirt' to refer to women?" I skimmed the mental files. It's not an expression I'd use. Archaic. Then again, what was that in her hand something I'd written 20 years ago? Isn't there a "statute of limitations" on these things? "Well?" she demanded. "I don't believe so," I said uncertainly. "So, you're not certain. You'd use a term like 'skirt' and not remember using it." "I wouldn't use the term 'skirt,' except perhaps quoting someone. Although I've just used it now, didn't I? You see the problem. That's why ..." "Just answer the questions, please." Then she asked, "Have you ever been to training in how to deal with EEOC matters, or with sexual harassment?" "No." "Have you been offered the opportunity to attend such training?" "Yes." "Have you ever seen books or manuals on the subject?" "Yes." "And did you take the time to Dale Dauten is a Tempe, Ariz., businessman and author. Write to him in care of King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017, or visit his Web site at www.dauten.com in order to e-mail him. 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