Justice in the American courts is steeped in movies. So much so, that the impostor and forger Frank Abagnale successfully practiced as a lawyer in the US, having learned to talk like one by watching Perry Mason films. In turn, in a feedback process, his story was made into a movie that could star no other than Leonardo Di Caprio. And while it was going on, the O. J. Simpson saga seemed to be a television courtroom series.
For the average American, plea-bargaining deals are a fact of judicial life, partly because you see them on TV every day. To make a deal in which you declare your guilt and hand back the money you took, or part of it, and in return escape the unpleasantness of life behind bars, may seem unjust, but is accepted as a common practice.
This week the duo Iñaki Urdangarin (a former Olympic handball player, created Duke of Palma on his marriage to the king's daughter Cristina) and Diego Torres (Urdangarin's teacher in a business school, later his business partner in deals which are now emerging as part of a wider political corruption scandal) offered us a new episode in their ongoing series.
The duke offered the judge a restitution of money, and a declaration of guilt, in return for not going to jail. Another reason appeared in the press: he is sacrificing his presumption of innocence in order not to damage his wife's family - the royal one.
Meanwhile his former teacher/ friend/partner threatened to set before the judge's eyes a few messages that would demonstrate the king's consent to his son-in-law's unseemly business deals (taking large sums of public money in return for lending his royal/Olympic prestige to vacuous sports events, organized by regional politicos for self-promotion).
What will the next episode be? Spain is not the United States. The idea of justice is not the same. People who know tell me that it is fairly common, here, for crooked businessmen to escape jail by returning the money they stole. I don't know. I do know that it seems strange, foreign, and worse, unjust. It tells the citizen that money can buy innocence. Worse, that with money on the table the courts can accept the compromise of ignoring a fact that, thanks to a threat made by one of the accused, is now known to everyone.
You draw your own portrait by the friends you have. At first, the duke denied any responsibility of his own, laying it all on the shoulders of the man who taught him how to get rich quick. To this veiled accusation, the teacher replied by threatening to spatter dirt on the pupil's exalted family - the same one that opened doors for him in his gaseous deals.
What's the world coming to? They couldn't be honest businessmen; now it seems there is no honor among thieves. Funny how these two, and their doings, were not put in their place by the king, or his advisors, or the government, not to mention the regional politicians who poured public money into their pockets. One hates to think of Spain as a land where graft is tolerated, and protected from on high; where if you accuse someone of corruption, he replies: "Watch it. You don't know who you're talking to." Yet the public keeps voting for the politicians I have just mentioned.
Spain is a country less steeped in the culture of cinema. Our judges are less theatrical, our courtroom dramas not nearly so brilliantly acted: as if our reality was more refractory to translation into fiction. The story of the athlete who marries a princess, and blows it all for a few bags of dirty money (well, quite a few) could not be made into a good movie - at least, not by a Spaniard. Not just because we lack the romantic flair required to exalt a twit into an epic hero, but because we have another idea of justice - less epic, more egalitarian. It looks ugly when innocence has a price.