Friday, March 30, 2012

Chapters 6 and 7, wherein Kate finds herself conducting her first trial.

(Haven't read chapters 1 through 5?  Find them here.)
     I put my head down on my desk, willing the stress feeling to go away. I heard Janice come in. I didn't lift my head, but I could smell a combination of cigarette smoke and Opium perfume.
     “Kate?” Janice said as gently as she could in her rough voice, “Are you OK?”
     I sat up. “Janice,” I said in a pathetic tone, “I don’t know how to do a trial.”
     “Didn’t you take trial skills or work at the criminal law clinic in law school?” she asked, reasonably.
     “No, I wasn’t really going to be a lawyer, and so I moved up here, and then there were these priests, and I wasn’t Catholic, so I looked in the want ads …” I could hear the hysteria creeping into my voice.
     “You took Criminal Procedure, right?” Another rational inquiry.
     She was killing me. I could only bow my head and shake it back and forth.
     “Jesus Christ,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “What classes did you take?”
     “Women and the Law … Existentialism and the Constitution … Maritime Law,” I mumbled.
     “Maritime Law?”
     “Well, there wasn't a line at the sign-up sheet, and …”
     “Here,” she said in a more patient voice, “let’s start with the basics. Have you ever seen a trial?”
     “Does T.V. count?” She gave me a look. 

     “Then, no,” I said.
     “OK,” she said, pulling her chair up next to mine. “Here’s how a trial goes.” Her multiple bracelets jangled as she pulled out a yellow pad of paper. “First you have motions in limine.” She wrote “Motions in Limine” at the top of the page. “Do you know what motions …” she started to ask, before a look at me stopped her. “Motions in limine are motions you make to the court to exclude evidence that you do not think should be admissible at trial. Like, for example, you move to exclude any prior criminal convictions your client might have.
     “Next comes voir dire.” She wrote “Voir Dire” on the next line. “After voir dire, each side gives an opening statement. The prosecutor gives his first, because the state has the burden of proof. Then it’s your turn to give an opening. The opening statement is basically just a summary of what you think the evidence will show from your perspective.
     “Next, the prosecution calls its witnesses. After each witness testifies, you cross-examine the person, trying to point out things favorable to your client’s case. After the state has called all of its witnesses, you call any witnesses that you might have. Last, you call your client, if he wants to testify. The prosecutor can cross-examine all of your witnesses, just like you cross-examined his.
     “The last part of the trial is closing argument. Again, the prosecutor goes first, and then it’s your turn to make your argument about why your client is not guilty. Then, the prosecutor gets to make a rebuttal closing argument. And then you’re done.” She wrote “Done” at the bottom of the page.
     I looked at the yellow piece of paper, now clutched in my hand—my little roadmap to a trial. Maybe it’s not so hard, I thought, but I could feel the panic rising.
     I walked quickly to the bathroom, in case I was not going to be able to keep my stomach contents down, when the word “DUI” on the spine of a book on a metal shelf caught my eye. Despite my rumbling stomach, I stopped and looked at the book. “The Art and Science of DUI Defense,” read the title. Wondering if divine intervention were somehow involved, I took the book off the shelf. A rich burgundy leather-like cover with gold lettering held at least 500 pages of small type. I wouldn’t have been happier if I had discovered a treasure chest full of gold and tequila. I didn’t know who the book belonged to or if I was allowed to take it, but nothing was going to stop me from reading the book over the weekend. I stuck it in my briefcase and smuggled it out of the office.
     On Saturday, I read the entire treatise on DUI defense. Not only did I not know how to defend a DUI, I didn’t know how to defend anything. This book helped me have my first clue. There were whole chapters on each phase of the trial—what motions in limine to make, how to conduct voir dire, how to give a colorful and interesting opening statement, how to effectively cross-examine, etc. By the end of the day, I had learned more practical information from this book than I had learned in three years of law school. Now I had some idea of how to prepare for Mr. Roberts’ trial. It was about a week’s worth of work, I figured. I had one day.
     Sunday passed in a blur. To keep myself from panicking, I limited myself to two hours of preparation for each portion of the trial. If I wasn’t finished with the preparation of that portion by two hours, too bad, I had to move on. I tried not to think about the entire trial, or the uncomfortable possibility of Mr. Robert’s innocence, and to just focus on whatever part I was preparing. I only had to breathe into a paper bag three times.


     On Monday morning, I arrived at court an hour early. I felt uncomfortable wearing my interview suit, like I was dressing up in my mother’s clothes. I thought there had to be some way to stop this insane notion that I could conduct a trial. Suddenly, it occurred to me—what about a plea bargain? I had a vague recollection of hearing that term before. Didn’t people settle cases with plea bargains? I looked in Mr. Roberts’ file. José had written a note that said: “Try to get the prosecutor to offer neg driving.” Then the next note, “Phone call to pros—won’t do a neg driving due to admissions and accident.”
     I thought it might be worth another try. Of course, at that point I would have tried setting myself on fire if I thought it would make the trial go away.
     The prosecutor arrived early too. He was tall and regal looking, with dark hair and an extremely crisp, white shirt. I felt rumpled just looking at him. His shoulders were broad, but his head unnaturally small; the combination caused him to look like a tube of toothpaste. He carried a spiffy black-leather briefcase and had particularly good posture. I was tempted to check my lipstick in the shine on his shoes.
     “Bradley Boldham the Third,” he said, offering his hand.
     I tried to offer a firm handshake in greeting, as I had been taught, but found myself wincing under his crushing grip. “I’m Kate,” I squeaked, trying to ignore the pain in my hand.
Shaking out my hand behind my back, I attempted to appear both confident and cute—although I noticed that my voice was shaking a bit. “Hey,” I said, “you know I just got this case, so we never got to talk or anything. But I think we’ve got a pretty good case here—no breath test, a sympathetic client …” Then I thought, Do I tell him about the mangled leg and the missing fingers? My mind was racing: Do tell? … Don’t tell? … Do tell? … Don’t tell? Because if I told him about the leg and the fingers, maybe I’d get the deal. But then again, if told him this information, and then didn’t get the deal, he would be able to prepare and explain why missing fingers and mangled legs didn’t matter.
     I choked on that thought, but before I could say anything else, Bradley said, “Let’s see what the trooper says when he gets here.”
     The state trooper arrived a few minutes later, an attractive black man in his early 40s. He looked official and authoritative in his pressed blue uniform. I gave him a dimpled smile. He gazed back with an expressionless face.
     Bradley explained my offer for settlement to the trooper, saying that he felt confident in his case, but, on the other hand, noted that my client had no criminal history. I started to get the feeling that Bradley was a little nervous about the trial himself, trying to sell the deal a little. The trooper looked down at me again, same blank expression. I smiled back anyway. He sighed and said to Bradley, “Suit yourself; I get paid the same either way.”
     I felt immediate, palpable relief. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly “neg driving” was, I assumed it was a good settlement. José had seemed to think so from his note. I spent the next 10 minutes waiting for Mr. Roberts to arrive, smoking a cigarette I had bummed from a passerby, enjoying the light feeling of departing stress.

     While waiting, a lost-looking young woman walked over to me. I had the friendly sort of face that caused people to feel comfortable approaching me. Strangers were always coming up to me and asking for directions or help. “Do you work here?” the young woman asked.
     “Sort of,” I said. “I’m a public defender.”
     “Oh, I have a public defender.” She tilted her head inquisitively, like a puppy. “Do you have to go to college to become a public defender?”
     “I went to law school,” I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact, rather than defensive.
     “Like night school or something? Sort of, like, trade-school for lawyers?”
     “No, I just went to regular old law school.” I tried to answer patiently, but my tone was deteriorating.
     “So you didn’t pass?”
     “I passed.”
     “Then why aren’t you a real lawyer?”
     The young woman was saved by Mr. Roberts arriving in his beat-up work truck. I quickly pushed aside a thought about his driver’s license being suspended for refusing the breath test, and waved him over. “You’re not going to believe it,” I said. “They caved and offered you a neg driving. Isn’t that great!”
     “What the hell is that?”
     “It’s a plea bargain.” I said, using my new words. “If you take it, you won’t have to go to jail.”
     “I don’t want no danged plea bargain. I’m innocent.”
     As I stared at his stubbornly set jaw, the gradually lifting stress I had been experiencing slammed into my stomach at about 60 miles per hour. Oh my God, I was going to trial.
On the way to the courtroom, I shook my head at the trooper and prosecutor as I walked by, too freaked-out to talk. At least I hadn’t told them about the leg and the fingers.

     Mr. Robert’s case was assigned to Judge McIntosh’s courtroom. José had told me that this was a lucky draw, because Judge McIntosh was one of the few district court judges who didn’t, as he put it, “hold himself out as the petty dictator of his puny district court kingdom.” I had no idea what that meant. José also said that McIntosh wouldn’t give me a hard time just for being new, for which I was grateful.
     Mr. Roberts and I entered the courtroom and sat down at one of the counsel tables. Bradley and the trooper sat at the other table, a double vision of good grooming and posture. A man in a navy blazer with a gold and red crest on the pocket entered the courtroom from a door behind the judge’s bench. “All Rise!” he said in a deep voice. We all stood up, and the judge, a short, cherubic man wearing a black robe, came into the courtroom.
     Here we go, I thought.
     We all sat down when the judge sat down. He looked at us, and then read from the court file, “This is the time and place scheduled for the trial of State of Washington versus Roberts, case no. R2-9567-6. Are the parties ready to proceed?”
     “Yes!” Bradley announced confidently. 
     I wondered if I was allowed to say “no.” He did ask the question after all. Everyone was looking at me. “Yes,” I said, giving in to the pressure. “We’re ready, too.”
     “Very well,” said the judge. “Bailiff, bring in the jury venire panel for the voir dire process.”
     As I sat with my client at the counsel table and waited, I thought, Someone must prevent this from happening. I simply cannot conduct a trial. Surely the first real trial I watched should not be with my own self as the lawyer. I sat in stunned disbelief as the 30 potential jurors filed into the courtroom. I stared at their faces, impressed by the sheer inevitability of the situation.
     Voir dire was the time that lawyers and the judge questioned potential jurors to see if they were biased against one party or the other. That was the official line, anyway. According to my weekend reading, however, voir dire was the time for the lawyer to start selling the theory of the case, the time to communicate the lawyer’s personality to the jury, and the time to demonstrate command and control of the courtroom. I was feeling neither command nor control.
     Bradley stood up and placed a neatly-typed, previously-prepared list of questions on the lectern. I tried to cover up my scribbled and doodled yellow pad that contained my hastily scrawled ideas. According to my book, one of the topics to cover during voir dire was the concept of “reasonable doubt.” The defense lawyer was supposed to try to make the jurors think that reasonable doubt was this nearly impossible burden, a huge mountain of proof that the prosecutor must provide in order to obtain a conviction. The prosecutor, on the other hand, would try to make reasonable doubt much smaller than it actually was—a mere inconvenient bump on the slick road to conviction.
     Bradley cleared his throat majestically and asked, “Juror Number Four, what do you think about ‘reasonable doubt’?”
     “I guess I haven’t really given it that much thought,” the man answered. He looked like a retired farmer or laborer, and none to happy at being singled out for attention.
     “Now, sir,” Bradley said in a serious and important tone, “Do you understand that it’s not proof beyond any doubt that we’re talking about—rather, it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt?”
     “Well, no, I don’t really understand that,” the man answered distrustfully; he would clearly rather be left alone.
     Not getting the hint, Bradley continued to question the uncomfortable man. “Why do you think the law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt rather than proof beyond any doubt?” Bradley forcefully jabbed his pen in the air whenever he said reasonable.
     “I can’t really figure. Because I suppose if I had a doubt, there would be a reason for it.”
     “Let me give you an example, sir: Suppose you had a doubt that Mr. Roberts committed this crime, but your doubt was based on the possibility that extra-terrestrials had come down to earth and taken over Mr. Roberts’ body. Would that be a reasonable doubt?”
     The man crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, defiantly. “I don’t think we should discount the possibility of the existence of life-forms on planets other than earth.”
     I had to look down at my notepad and scribble fake notes in order to keep myself from giggling.
     Bradley looked taken aback, to say the least, but managed to soldier on. “Are you saying, sir, that you believe in extra-terrestrials?”
     “I certainly think there is a possibility.”
     I could see Bradley internally freaking out, totally off of his carefully-orchestrated script. Trying to hit the escape button, he punted to the rest of the jury, “Is there anyone who disagrees with juror number four?” A librarian-looking lady with a long braid and thick glasses shyly lifted her hand a little. “Yes, juror number twenty-four,” Bradley said gratefully.
     “I agree that we shouldn’t ignore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.”
     At this point I thought Bradley would have gladly asked extra-terrestrials to snatch him then and there from the courtroom. In a desperate voice, Bradley asked the panel, “Is there anyone on this entire jury venire panel that does not believe in extra-terrestrial life?” Of course, by this time, the judge and I were both trying so hard not to laugh that our faces were red and our bodies were shaking.
     The laughter over the extra-terrestrials had broken the tension and relaxed both me and the jury. The jurors responded more openly to my voir dire questions, volunteering information and discussing their thoughts without much guidance from me. I didn’t do anything brilliant, I just talked to them, asking about their feelings on drinking and driving, the United States Constitution, and Liberty and Justice for All. I caught myself once, walking around the courtroom, asking a juror what she thought about the presumption of innocence, and thought, I am actually doing this—walking around a courtroom, asking questions. Someone peeking through the small glass window on the courtroom door might have mistaken me for a real lawyer.
     Once the jury was chosen, we began our opening statements. Bradley’s opening was straightforward, if boring, with a lot of “the state intends to introduce evidence” and “we will call Trooper Perkins to the stand and he will testify to evidence of the defendant’s intoxication.”
     In my opening statement, I tried to personalize Mr. Roberts. I told the jury how he had hitchhiked to Alaska when he was 20, that he had boarded a commercial fishing boat to earn money to pay for a bus ticket back to Kansas, but had instead fallen in love with the sea. I told them about Mr. Roberts’ friendship with Enrique Martinez, the man Mr. Roberts was having dinner with the night of the accident. I didn’t mention Mr. Roberts’ fingers or leg, hoping to capitalize on their drama during the testimony.
     Bradley called Trooper Perkins as his first witness. Perkins explained how Mr. Roberts smelled of the “odor of intoxicants” and that his eyes were “bloodshot and watery.” He also noticed that Mr. Roberts had an unsteady gait. These factors caused him to believe that Mr. Roberts was intoxicated, and he therefore administered the “field sobriety tests.” Perkins testified that based on his 20 years experience, his observations of Mr. Roberts, and the results of the field sobriety tests, he believed that Mr. Roberts was definitely intoxicated.
     Now it was my turn to cross-examine Trooper Perkins. While I had never formally cross-examined anyone before, I had numerous previous boyfriends who would attest to my ability to bust them with a series of logical questions. The DUI book had told me to prepare simple questions that would point out the weaknesses in the witness’s testimony. Of cross-examination’s golden rules: Ask leading questions; phrase the questions carefully, in a way the witness must admit the answer; and, most importantly, don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to.
     Some lawyers command the courtroom, but I was a 25-year-old blonde, so I approached the podium and gave the jury a friendly smile. If I couldn’t command, at least I could look like everyone’s favorite college student.
     “Good morning, Trooper Perkins,” I began.
     “Good morning,” he answered stiffly.
     “You’re familiar with the field sobriety tests?”
     “Yes, I am.”
     “These are a set of agility tests used to determine whether someone is intoxicated?”
     “And that is their sole purpose—to determine whether someone is drunk?”
     “Intoxicated, yes.”
     “And 'intoxicated' is the same thing as 'drunk?'”
     “When you approached Mr. Roberts, you noticed a smell of alcohol?”
     “The odor of intoxicants.”
     “The odor of intoxicants is the same as the smell of alcohol?”
     “So when you approached Mr. Roberts you smelled alcohol?”
     “The smell of alcohol alone, will not tell you whether someone is intoxicated?”
     “It is a sign that I consider.”
     “Isn’t it true that the smell of alcohol indicates how recently someone has had a drink, rather than how drunk they are?”
     “So you can tell from the smell of alcohol, that someone has a drink, but you cannot tell if they are intoxicated or not?”
     “Bloodshot eyes can also be a sign of intoxication?”
     “But bloodshot eyes can also be caused by other factors?”
     “It is a factor that I consider.”
     “But bloodshot eyes could be caused by hay fever?”
     “Or being tired?”
     “Or a cold?”
     “You can’t tell from bloodshot eyes alone whether someone is intoxicated?”
     “An unsteady gait may also be a sign of intoxication?”
     “But may also be caused by other factors?”
     “I suppose.”
     “Such as a disability?”
     “I didn’t see any sign of a disability in this case.”
     “But you would agree that a disability could cause an unsteady gait?”
     “At the time you chose to administer field sobriety tests, you knew three things: one, that Mr. Roberts smelled like alcohol; two, that his eyes were bloodshot; and three, that he had an unsteady gait.”
     “You then used the field sobriety tests to find out whether he was intoxicated?”
     “The first agility test you used was the walk-and-turn test?”
     “Where you instructed Mr. Roberts to walk on a line 10 steps forward and 10 steps back?”
     “And you noted that Mr. Roberts had trouble staying on the line?”“Yes.”
     “You attributed this to alcohol consumption?”
     “Then you had him stand on one leg?”
     “I administered the one-leg stand test.”
     “Which involves him standing on one leg?”
     “Thus, you had him stand on one leg?”
     “You noted that after five seconds he lost his balance?”
     “Did you ask him whether he had any problems with his balance?”
     “He didn’t mention any.”
     “Did you ask?”
     “You also asked Mr. Roberts to perform a fingertip touch test?”
     “Yes, I did.”
     “You had him perform this test with his right hand.”
     “That is my usual practice.”
     “Yes, but did you have Mr. Roberts use his right hand?”
     “I said it was my usual practice.”
     “If you had done something differently that your usual practice, would you have made a note?”
     “Did you note anything different than your usual practice regarding Mr. Roberts’ fingertip touch test?”
     “Consequently, you had Mr. Roberts use his right hand on the finger-tip touch test.”
     “Thank you, Trooper Perkins,” I said, and sat down, feeling strangely flushed.

     After Trooper Perkins testified, the judge asked Bradley, “Your next witness?”
     “Your honor,” Bradley said confidently, “The state rests!”
     The judge turned to me: “Ms. Hamilton, your first witness.”
     I wasn’t sure whether my client was considered a witness or not, but since I didn’t have anyone else to call, I plunged in. “We will call Mr. Roberts to the stand,” I announced with more assurance than I felt.
     Mr. Roberts walked to the witness stand, limping slightly, but not overdoing it. I started asking him the questions I had prepared for direct examination. Unlike cross-examination, I could not ask leading questions, but rather only open-ended ones. For example, “Tell the jury what you were doing on May 3rd,” or “How much did you have to drink?” etc. When we were approaching the subject of the field sobriety tests, I said to Mr. Roberts, “You heard Trooper Perkins say that you were unable to walk a straight line?”
     “Yes ma’am, I did.”
     “Is there any reason that you would not have been able to walk a straight line?”
     “Yes ma’am, I got a bad leg.”
     “What do you mean, a bad leg?”
     “Well, it’d be easier to show than to tell.”
     I turned to the judge. “Your honor, I’d ask permission for Mr. Roberts to show his leg to the jurors. He can do this by pulling his pants down—he is wearing swim trunks beneath them.”
     “Objection!” Bradley shouted as he catapulted himself out of his chair.
     Judge McIntosh, with an amused look, asked quietly, “And the basis for your objection?”
Bradley started looking down a list of standard evidentiary objections. Unable to find a “No Pulling Pants Down in the Courtroom” rule, he finally said, “I just don’t think people should be pulling their pants down in court.”
     And the legal basis for this concept?” the judge asked, again quietly.
     “It’s just not dignified to pull down your pants,” Bradley whined.
     Clearly annoyed at Bradley’s lack of legal basis for his objection, the judge retorted, “That may be the case for you, Mr. Boldham, but we’ll let the jury judge Mr. Roberts.” Then, turning to me, “Ms. Hamilton, you may proceed, but tell Mr. Roberts to make sure that when his pants come down, his swim trunks stay up.”
Mr. Roberts got up from the witness stand and walked down in front of the jury. “Mr. Roberts, if you could—carefully—remove your pants and show the jury your leg.”
     Without a hint of embarrassment, Mr. Roberts unbuckled his pants and pulled them down. His swim trunks (purchased by me for this very purpose) were a discreet navy. Several of the jury members gasped when they saw his leg.
     “Would you please tell the jury, Mr. Roberts, what happened to your leg,” I asked.
     Standing in front of the jury, Mr. Roberts put his leg up on a chair. “My leg, you see, got caught in a conveyor belt on a fishing boat back in ’76. My foot went into the workings, but then the conveyor belt started to move. You can see here and here where the bone was sticking out.”
     “Were they able to repair your leg?” I asked.
     “The best they could, I suppose,” he said.
     “Has this accident affected your gait?”
     “My what?”
     “The way you walk.”
     “Oh yes, ma’am, I couldn’t walk a straight line to save my life.”
     “And your balance?”
     “Do you think you could stand on this thing?”
     I decided to just leave it at that, letting the leg speak for itself.
     “Mr. Roberts, if you could, please, pull up your pants and return to the witness stand.”
     When he was again seated in the witness chair, I moved to the fingertip-touch test. “You heard Trooper Perkins say that you also failed the fingertip-touch test by missing two of your fingertips.”
     “Yes, I did.”
     “Did you have another fishing accident that involved your right hand?”
     “Yes, ma’am,” he answered, keeping his hands in his lap, out of sight, as I had instructed him.
     I looked over at the jury. Every juror was looking at Mr. Roberts attentively. They couldn’t wait to see his hand. While I could have asked him to show his hand to the jury right then, I decided to draw it out a little.
     “When did you have this accident?”
     “That must have been 1980, a couple of years after my leg.”
     “Where were you at the time?”
     “Off the coast of Alaska.”
     “Please tell the jury what happened.”
     “I was feeding fish into the guillotine. My hand slipped and I sliced off two of my fingers.”
     “Please show your hand to the jury, Mr. Roberts.”
     Mr. Roberts held his hand up, clearly displaying the two missing digits. I looked over at Bradley. His neck burned bright red. I knew he wanted to object, but couldn’t think of any legitimate legal reason. The librarian-looking juror looked over at the trooper and shook her head disapprovingly.
     With that lovely little moment, I ended my direct examination. Bradley stood up to cross-examine, his neck still red. Bradley pointed out some important things for his case, but was too aggressive, I thought.
     “You drank wine,” Bradley accused in a strong voice.
     “Yes, sir, I did.”
     “And not just one glass.”
     “No, I had more than that.”
     “Not two.”
     “I said earlier that I had three or four.”
     “You had so much you can’t even remember, isn’t that right?”
     “That’s just the best I can recall, sir. They were these tiny little glasses, you see. Only held about a thimble-full. My friend and I poked fun at his wife about their size. She’s always liking dainty little things.”
     “You chose to drive after having an unknown amount of wine.”
     “Yes, I did. I had a big meal—pot roast and mashed potatoes—and a few tiny glasses of wine. I was completely sober.”
     “Yet you refused to take the breath test.”
     “That’s right.”
     Bradley leaned forward and pointed his pen at Mr. Roberts. “Because you were drunk!”
     “No, because I don’t trust police and I don’t trust machines. Put the two of them together, and you’ve got a test that I’m not going to take.”
     “You caused an accident.”
     “I was in an accident.”
     “You turned in front of an on-coming car.”
     “Yes, I did. But I think I misjudged the young man’s speed. I assumed he was going the speed limit, and thought I had time to make my left turn. I think the young man was actually going much faster.”
     Bradley sat down. The judge asked, “Any re-direct, Miss Hamilton?”
     I assumed this meant whether I wanted to ask Mr. Roberts any more questions. “No, your honor,” I said, hoping I wasn’t making a mistake. I felt that Mr. Roberts had handled himself well. I figured I could only screw things up by asking more questions.
     After Mr. Roberts stepped down from the stand, the judge looked at me.
     What did he want? Clearly, it was time for me to say something.
     “Ms. Hamilton?”
     Finally, he helped me out. “Do you rest?”
     “Oh, yes,” I said gratefully. “We rest.”
     I remained standing as the jurors left the courtroom. It was 4 o’clock, and I couldn’t wait to get home and go to bed so that I could get up early and prepare my closing argument. The judge stood up. “Thank you, counsel. Please return in 20 minutes for closing arguments.”
     I looked at my counsel table. On it were three books, my trial notebook, and five legal pads containing my disorganized notes from the trial. I desperately needed to organize my thoughts. I told Mr. Roberts to meet me back in the courtroom at 4:20, and left with a single yellow pad. I walked quickly around the first and second floors of the courthouse, searching for a quiet place where I could think. Finding nothing, I went into the ladies’ room, and noticed the silence. I went into a stall, closed the toilet seat, and sat down. For the next 15 minutes I composed my closing argument in complete concentration.
     I returned to the courtroom with my argument outlined on my legal pad. Bradley placed two laminated pages containing his typed closing argument on the lectern between the counsel tables. Despite its fine organization, Bradley’s closing argument was dull. He listed all of the elements of the crime and pronounced that he’d proven them. He emphasized the fact that Mr. Roberts admitted to drinking three to four glasses of wine, that he was involved in an accident, and exhibited classic signs of intoxication. He didn’t mention anything that actually happened at the trial, because he had prepared his argument the day before.
     In my closing argument, I reminded the jurors that before administering the field sobriety tests, the trooper admitted he didn’t know whether Mr. Roberts was intoxicated. He exhibited signs that he had consumed some alcohol, which Mr. Roberts admitted. The question, though, wasn’t whether Mr. Roberts had been drinking, but whether his ability to drive a car was affected by alcohol to a significant degree.
     “Trooper Perkins told us that the reason he gave Mr. Roberts those tests was to find out if Mr. Roberts was impaired. And that’s why you have to find Mr. Roberts not guilty,” I said. “You have to find him not guilty because those tests weren’t fair for Mr. Roberts. I can see Trooper Perkins missing the fact that Mr. Roberts can’t walk normally due to a disability. But someone needs to explain how Trooper Perkins failed to notice that Mr. Roberts was missing the same fingers that he allegedly couldn’t touch. If you feel that way too (and I knew they did), then you have a doubt, and you must find Mr. Roberts not guilty.” When I sat down, I realized that I hadn’t looked at my outline once during my argument.
     In his rebuttal closing argument, Bradley changed from his usual formal self into an angry maniac. “This man,” he said, pointing his finger at Mr. Roberts, “drove his vehicle like a drunken madman! This man didn’t think about the consequences of his actions!” I might have objected if I hadn’t been so surprised. “It is your job to hold Mr. Roberts accountable for his actions!”
     And we were done, just like Janice had said. I felt a combination of elation and dread, mixed with relief that the trial was over. What were we supposed to do now? The judge’s bailiff asked us for our phone numbers, and told us he would contact us when the jury had a verdict. A verdict? In my relief that the trial was over, I had forgotten all about the verdict. What if Mr. Roberts was found guilty? Would they take him to jail?
     I sat on a bench in the courtyard, unable to return to my office. I knew if I went back everyone would want to know how the trial had gone. I was too exhausted to talk about it.

     An hour later, the bailiff found me, still sitting on the bench in the courtyard. “Ms. Hamilton, the jury has a verdict.”
     My heart began to pound. “What is it?” I squeaked.
     “You have to go into the courtroom to find out.”
     I found Mr. Roberts sitting in his truck listening to a talk radio station. We went into the courtroom and resumed our places at the counsel table. I felt powerless, because whatever their verdict was, it was done. Nothing else to do about it now. In a few seconds the jurors would come in and tell us what their verdict was.
     “What do you think it is?” Mr. Roberts asked.
     “I have no idea,” I answered truthfully.
     As the jurors came into the courtroom, I scanned their faces for signs of their decision. Most of them kept their eyes straight ahead as they took their places in the jury box. The old farmer guy had a rolled-up piece of paper clutched in his hand.
     “Juror Number Four,” the judge asked the farmer, “are you the foreperson of the jury?”
     “Yes, your honor, I am.”
     “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
     My heart began pounding as I waited to hear “guilty” or “not guilty.” Instead, the juror said, “Yes, your honor, we have reached a verdict.”
     I expected the next sentence to be: “And what is your verdict?” But instead, the judge said, “Please pass the verdict form to the bailiff.”
     Just say the words, I willed the presiding juror. In slow-motion, the juror handed the form to the bailiff, who took about an hour to walk to the judge and hand it to him. I felt sweat beads forming at my hairline. I wondered if anyone had ever had a heart attack while getting a verdict. The judge unfolded the paper. Now he knew what it was, and we didn’t. I held my breath.
     The judge read. “We the jury …”
     And I expected to hear, “find the defendant ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’”
     Instead, he read, “in the matter of the State of Washington versus Jack M. Roberts …”
     Here it comes, I thought.
     “In case number R2-9567-6, find the defendant …”
     “In Count One …”
     “For the charge of Driving While Under the Influence …”
     My face was purple by now.
     “Not Guilty.”
     I released my held breath in a rush of air. Never had I heard two sweeter words. I turned and happily hugged Mr. Roberts, who was looking pretty relieved himself.

     I walked back to my office in a state of amazement. We had won! Despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing, the jurors had seen that there was doubt about Mr. Roberts’ guilt.    Maybe our justice system worked.

     I trudged up the office stairs to Wall Street, precariously carrying my trial materials under one arm and my overloaded briefcase on the other. I remembered my disappointment when I had opened the package containing the Coach briefcase my parents had given me for graduation. What would I ever do with a briefcase?
     I passed Matthew’s office, and as soon as he saw me, he asked, “Hey Kate, how’d it go?” As soon as he said this, Jose and Janice came out of their offices.
     I couldn’t contain my smile. “Not guilty!” I said. “Can you believe it?”
     “Awesome!” José shouted, high-fiving me. Everyone started chanting “Not Guilty! Not Guilty!” The feeling was amazingly exhilarating and the world was good.
Ed must have heard the ruckus, because he came up the stairs. “What’s all the noise about?”
“Kate got a ‘Not Guilty’ on her first trial!” José sounded as happy as if he had won the trial himself.
     “Wonderful, Kate. But don’t get used to it,” Ed said with a smile. I sure wanted to get used to it. This feeling was outstanding.
     “Let’s go out and have a drink,” José suggested.
     “Yeah, come on, Kate,” Janice said, “José owes you a drink since you did his trial.”
     “I don’t know. I’m awfully tired.”
     “Come on, just one drink,” Jose said.
     I looked at my new friends, each looking at me expectantly. I could always rest later. “OK,” I said. “One drink.”
     Jose and Janice dragged me down the stairs, with Matthew ensuring that I didn’t escape from behind.
     When we reached the street level, a ratty Celica parked in front of the office drew Jose’s attention. “Bastards!” he said, ripping a parking ticket off the windshield. He stuffed the ticket in his pocket. “A word of advice, Kate. Don’t park in the meters. You’ll get a bunch of tickets and then owe the county more than your salary.”
     “Don’t we get parking spaces at our office?”
     Jose shook his head. “You’re cute, Kate. This is a public defenders’ office. We don’t have parking spaces, we don’t have secretaries, we don’t even have walls. Things other lawyers take for granted are unaffordable luxuries at this office. But we’re scrappy, so we get by.”
Janice lit a cigarette. “You can park in the meters as long as you flirt with the meter maids. I haven’t gotten a ticket in two years.”
     “Janice can flirt her way out of anything,” Jose said. “I wouldn’t have believed anyone could get to those cranky old bastards. But Janice has a special talent.”
     “Even old guys need a little love,” she said. “Especially old guys.”
     “I just plug my meter on time,” Matthew said.
     We stopped in front of a heavy wooden door with a circular window. Above the window, the name “Moezy’s Inn” was written in cursive blue neon.
     Jose pushed open the door and the warm glow of light reflected off polished wood welcomed. Behind the bar, a large woman with long, dark permed hair drew beer into a pitcher and smiled when she saw us. “Hey, guys,” she said and grabbed an empty pitcher.
Jose led the way to a table in the front alcove of the bar. I looked around—it looked like a decent place. Not a live music place or anything, but a neighborhood bar. Most of the patrons wore work-a-day suits, probably lawyers from the courthouse. The air was a little smokey, but not too bad. Vintage beer posters decorated the walls, and there were no ferns in sight. A couple of small TVs were mounted above the bar, like if an important game were on, you could watch it here, but it wasn’t a sports bar.
     The bartender brought a pitcher of beer and four mugs without anyone ordering. “Who’s my new victim?”
     “Pam, this is Kate. She’s new in our office,” Janice said. “Kate, this is Pam. Pam thinks she is our mother.” Pam was tall and heavy-set, and wore an un-ironed Oxford cloth shirt and tight Wrangler jeans. Her manly clothing contrasted with her long hair and hairsprayed bangs.
     “With kids like you guys, I don’t need any of my own. Welcome to Moezy’s, Kate.”
     Jose poured a round. “Here’s to ‘Not Guilty,’ the two sweetest words on the planet.”
Our mugs bumped with dull clanks. “Not Guilty!” we all repeated.
     I took a long drink of the deliciously cold beer, draining half the pint. “I guess I was thirsty.”
     “Trial work will do that to you,” Jose said, having drained his own mug. “So what did you think of your first trial?”
     “It was great. Now that it’s over, that is. I don’t think I’d feel so happy if I had lost, though.”
     “No, losing sucks. But it’s always good to be done.”
     “Are trials always this stressful?”
     “Always. Maybe you should do all of my trials.”
     “I think I’d better learn how to do them better first. Maybe after I’m done with my training?”
     Janice laughed out loud, while Matthew looked down at his coaster.
     “I will have training, won’t I? I mean, my doing a trial with absolutely no clue was a fluke, right?”
     “Remember those unaffordable luxuries I was telling you about?” Jose said. “Training is one of them.”
     “I’ll help you all I can, Kate,” Matthew offered.
     I noticed that the bottom corner of Matthew’s shirt pocket was a block of black ink. “Matthew, I think your pen is leaking.”
     Janice exhaled smoke. “All of his shirts are like that.”
     “Why don’t you get a pocket protector already,” Jose said.
     “I thought those were just for engineers,” Matthew said.
     “The county supplies us with these totally cheap-ass pens,” Jose said. “They won’t even write most of the time.”
     “I shouldn’t have to buy my own pens,” Matthew said.
     “It costs a lot more to buy new shirts than pens,” Jose said.
     I noticed that Jose’s khakis were frayed at the cuffs, but he carried himself like an Ambercrobie and Fitch advertisement. His shirt was faded to a weather-worn light blue, his tie loose and jaunty, and his shirt half tucked in, giving a glimpse of tight abs. His dark skin had a golden undertone, as if he had been in the sun too long about a week ago. He seemed to have more than his share of teeth. Matthew, with his ink-stained shirt, scuffed shoes, and chubby cheeks, just looked rumpled. His bright blue eyes and blonde hair made him cute, and his scruffiness made me want to take care of him. Janice, on the other hand, looked like she was going to a Reba McIntyre concert. She was wearing a short, white skirt and a black suede jacket with blue shoulder inserts. Her long red fingernails had tiny diamonds pasted on them.
     “What are you thinking about, Kate?” Matthew asked. “You’re staring off into space.”
     “Nothing. I was just thinking that you guys are great.” I told myself to shut up. I hated it when a couple of beers made me sappy. “So, why do they give us pens that don’t write?”
     “Ah, the beauty of being a county agency,” Jose said.
     “County what?” I asked.
     “Our budget comes from the county. Same as the prosecutors’,” Jose explained. “The problem is, they’ll throw all kinds of money at the prosecutors’ office, but no one wants to pay for the public defenders. So they give us as little as possible, and that pretty grudgingly. Most of us buy our own pens, but Matthew, you see, is idealistic..”
     Matthew finished his beer and stood up. “I’ve got to go.”
     “Don’t go away mad, Matthew,” Janice said. “You know we love you.”
     “I know,” he said, blushing and looking down at his shoes. “It’s just getting late.”
I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock.
     “Matthew lives with his parents,” Janice said. “They don’t like him to stay out late.”
     Nine didn’t seem that late to me, but I was feeling the effect of the trial and the beer. “I’ve got to drive back to Seattle—I’d better go too,” I said.“Where are you living?” Janice asked.
     “For now at the Y.”
     “Are you going to move down here?” Jose asked.
     “I don’t know. I keep feeling like I’m going to wake up back in Texas and find out this was all a crazy dream.”
     “It’s not a dream, Kate,” Jose said, “but it’s pretty crazy—and it’s just getting started. Go home and get some rest. You’re going to need it.”

Want to read more?  Find chapter 8, wherein Kate goes to docket call, and later finds a place to live, here.

No comments: