A Fulcrum Fact is my designation for the one particular, ambiguous fact for which the argued attached meaning determines the legal contest. 

First, recall a fulcrum is that point on a scale where balance is struck between the scale’s two sides. As such, if the weight and dimensions of both sides are equal then the fulcrum is right in the middle like the pivot point of a teeter totter. Extending this teeter totter example, if the weight or dimensions are greater or longer on one side (and thus by necessity slighter or shorter on the other side), the fulcrum point shifts toward the side with heaver or greater dimensions.

Below I offer my definition of a Fulcrum Fact; the means to identify a Fulcrum Fact through explanation of its elements; and an example of a Fulcrum Fact through review of the 1974 Francis Ford Coppala film The Conversation.

A Fulcrum Fact must be: (1) undeniably relevant; (2) significant; (3) undisputed; (4) ambiguous; (5) central to the alternate theories offered by the opposing parties; and (6) best at incorporating all other relevant facts.

  1. Relevance is the most immediate threshold in determining a Fulcrum Fact. Any fact which doesn’t advance understanding in the pursuit of the truth is a waste of time unless the fact serves to assist the process of casting proper tone or light on the other facts. Notably as a result of this qualifier, one party may offer Casting Facts as relevant whereas the other party may believe those facts irrelevant. This is folly which I address below the body of this post at [1]. The point though is both parties must believe any [potential] Fulcrum Fact assists their case.
  2. Significance is the second threshold in the determination of a Fulcrum Fact. Not only do both parties need to believe the fact assists their case, but each must believe it does so significantly.
  3. Undisputed is the third threshold in the determination of a Fulcrum Fact. If the existence or non-existence of the fact is under attack, the fact is not a Fulcrum Fact until its existence becomes unquestioned by both parties.
  4. Ambiguity is the fourth threshold in the determination of a Fulcrum Fact. Whereas existence is undisputed, the meaning attached to the fact must be at significant – if not complete – odds with the meaning offered by the opposing party.
  5. Centrality of Importance means that both parties must be able to rest control of the ambiguous meaning of the fact as it is central to understanding their theory of the case. This element is the very essence of the Fulcrum Fact because if one fails to have the Fulcrum Fact understood as desired and the Fulcrum Fact becomes understood instead as  desired by the opposing party … the case is won by the other party.
  6. Incorporation of Relevant Facts is the elemental necessity of assuring that the Fulcrum Fact is consistent with the greatest number of relevant facts so as not to need to explain or qualify those facts and the disharmony which may otherwise arise if required to do so.

I recognize this is extremely high concept so I’ll attempt to bring it to bedrock with a short overview of use of a fact very much akin to a Fulcrum Fact as used in The Conversation.

As to expository casting facts The Conversation starts with Jonathan Caul played by Gene Hackman; his regular employee Stan played by the late John Cazele [2]; and a couple of other outside contractors surveilling what seems to be the conversation between lovers as they walk around and around San Francisco’s Union Square.

Though initially obscured, John Caul – who we later learn has apparently exiled himself from the East Coast after one of his surveillance jobs may have resulted in the death of a mother and son – is able to untangle a frighteningly intriguing snippet of dialog expressed by the surveilled man:

“He’d kill us if he had the chance”.

That one phrase is essentially a Fulcrum Fact in that it is (1) undeniable relevant; (2) significant; (3) undisputed; (4) ambiguous; and (5) of central importance to the alternate theories which seem to occur as the conversation which John Caul is either having with reality and to some unclear extently within his own head … and the terrifying endpoints which each portends.

Specifically, the phrase: “He’d kill us if he had the chance” is ambiguous as to whether a question or a statement. Because of this ambiguity its meaning could be (a) an inquiry as to the gravity of consequences if the lovers are discovered by her husband or possibly as  (b) justification for a preemptive strike on the woman’s husband to prevent those same consequences.

Notably, the rest of the movie appears to be John Caul’s quest to identify the remainder of relevant facts in order to (6) incorporate their full meaning.

The Conversation is a thought provoking film eclipsed at the 1975 Oscars by Coppala’s most notable film The Godfather. I recognize some may believe its pacing and conclusion may not be sufficiently current. Yet, I think it is an absolutely fascinating film which wonderfully captures the idea of the Fulcrum Fact.

Although attempting to track the two lines of thought to their respective endpoints requires deep and perhaps unpleasant thought, for those seeking cerebral instead of emotive fright … Happy Halloween!

[1] Casting Facts serve to allow greater “weight and dimension” to the opposing party’s theory of the case and so failure to attack them significantly increases the likelihood the Fulcrum Fact is interpreted to the opposing parties’ advantage.

[2] John Cazele is the late actor who’s most famous role was as Fredo Corleone in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.