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Don Armstrong = Mandela? 

Ranger Rich

I love lawyers. Especially when they squat in small groups and pick parasites out of each other's thick, matted shoulder and back hair. Although it's possible I'm confusing lawyers with baboons.

(If you're a lawyer and are offended, I apologize. It was just a joke. To make it up to you, when it gets hot this summer I'll show you how to stay cooler in your $700 Tanino Crisci loafers by shaving the tops of your feet.)

No, really, lawyers are fascinating. Take last week. I was in court when a lawyer compared 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa out of apartheid and became that nation's president, with our village's Rev. Don Armstrong, who stole money from his Episcopal church for many years.

In our village, of course, so-called churches keep popping up, to use the old expression, "like a priest's cassock when an altar boy walks by." So today, Armstrong presides over a new scam. I mean church. It's called St. George's Anglican Church, chosen because all the good church names have been taken by Ted Haggard. Armstrong's adoring congregation, made up mostly of the bright bulbs who followed him from Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, love the big, uh, little oaf. They defend him with that typical "our priest is a thief" kind of smugness.

So last Friday, arguing that his client should not go to prison for stealing almost $100,000 from his own congregation, lawyer Dennis Hartley said this to the judge: "Sending Mr. Armstrong to jail, well, when he gets out he'll be a hero to his new congregation. Just like Nelson Mandela."

Legal footnote: Lawyers charge $250 an hour for that stuff. Breaking down the bill, it works out to $8 an hour for thinking it up and $242 an hour for being able to say it without laughing and blowing boogers onto their $1,200 neckties.

Let's look now at some actual quotes so we can understand how easy it is to confuse Nelson Mandela and Don Armstrong.

Mandela: "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."

Armstrong: "Bottom line here is that they started with 20 felony counts and we walked out of the courtroom with a misdemeanor, not to mention avoiding a trial in which ... you risk the jury spitting the baby no matter how rock solid your case is, just because they like the prosecutor or something."

To which legal experts would respond: "Spitting the baby?"

If that's not confusing enough, both men have things named for them. Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg features a 15-foot-high statue of the African leader. Grace Church's Don Armstrong Room features a giant wastebasket where the reverend would leave a pile of empty Sunday collection envelopes after rifling through them.

Also, zoologists named a South African spider Stasimopus mandelai, "honoring Nelson Mandela ... one of the great moral leaders of our time." And while zoologists have not yet named anything after Armstrong, sources say they soon will. Armstrongius biggus thiefus awaits only the discovery of a new snake.

So Friday, there stood Armstrong's lawyer, begging Judge Gregory Werner not to incarcerate his client, clearly recalling, from his years of legal training and practice, the Latin saying: hourus stoppus cliente klinkus ("billable hours stop when the schmuck goes to prison").

Again: "... when he gets out, he'll be a hero to his new congregation. Just like Nelson Mandela."

Hartley paused. His eyes darted. And he added this: "Not that I'm trying to compare Don Armstrong to Nelson Mandela."

Except, of course, that he did.

Mandela, uh, I mean Armstrong, escaped a jail term. The court ordered him to pay back $99,247 to Grace Church, and to serve two concurrent four-year probationary terms, plus do 400 hours of community service. And because I'm a lot like the late Mother Teresa in the way I spread kindness and compassion, let me say this: The scene in the courtroom could have been worse.

Specifically, let's be thankful no one made loud screeching noises and threw their own doody at the judge.

rangerrich@csindy.com

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