Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chapter 8, wherein Kate goes to docket call; and later finds a place to live

(Haven't read chapters 1 through 5?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 6 and 7?  Find them here.)


The next morning, I arrived at my cubicle to find Janice curled under her desk covered with a flannel blanket.
            “What are you doing down there?”
            “Headache,” she moaned.  “Jose and I stayed out a little late last night.  Could you turn out the lights?”
            “We don’t have our own light, remember?  We’re in a cubicle.”
            She groaned and pulled the blanket back over her head.
            For some reason, I had brought the swimming trunks from Mr. Roberts’ trial back to the office.  I felt a need for some sort of memento from the happy ordeal.  I tacked the trunks to the bulletin board above my desk.  I hoped Janice wouldn’t mind.  I would have asked her, but her head was still under the blanket.
On my desk were several stacks of files.  My new caseload, I assumed.  I sorted through the files, putting them in random piles.  I was determined to read and evaluate each case, keeping an eye out for potential trial cases.  I promised myself that I would have more time to prepare for my next trial.
            José appeared in my doorway.  “You ready?”
            “Ready for what?”
            “Court.  We have to be there in 10 minutes.”
            “What court?  You don’t mean a trial, do you?”
            “No, pre-trials.  The court conducts pre-trial hearings every day at 9 o’clock, except Fridays.  Fridays are interview days.  Monday through Thursday, you and your clients show up at court for pre-trial hearings, and you try to settle your cases.  If you can’t settle the case, then you ask for a trial setting.”
            “But how do I know which cases I have?”
            “I had them all sorted out into stacks for you, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday…”  He looked for the piles I had just dismantled.  “Guess I should have told you that earlier. … Well, grab some files anyway, so you at least look like you have the right ones.”  He looked around the small cubicle.  “Where’s Janice?”
I motioned to the floor with my head.
            “Come on, Janice,” he said, nudging her with his foot, “rise and shine.”
            “Go away,” Janice grumbled.
            “Time to go to court,” he said, nudging her again.  She responded with a sick-sounding noise.
            “Here,” José said, “help me.”  We both got down on the floor, and, using her arms, pulled Janice to a sitting position.  Just then, the night before got the better of her, and she vomited, missing herself, but not the skirt of my new navy blue BCBG suit.
            “Great,” said José, “what are we going to do now?  She can’t go to court, and now you can’t go like that.”  He looked at me, then at her.  “Wait, I know—you guys can trade skirts.”
I eyed José skeptically, my blue suit jacket not altogether compatible with Janice’s leopard-print mini skirt.  Also, while our sizes appeared similar, at five feet 10 inches, I was about half a foot taller than Janice.
“Come on,” he said, “it’s the only way.”
            I shook my head in resignation.  This never would have happened at Conatox.

            Thus, I arrived for my first day of court in a conservative navy blazer, a sporty white shirt, and a leopard mini skirt.  The three-inch heel black pumps that I thought added interest to an otherwise boring suit now had a very different effect.  José guided me through the throngs of people in the courthouse hallways to courtroom A.
            “This is our courtroom.  We are both assigned to Judge Piddle,” he said.  “You’ll soon wish you weren’t,” he added ominously.
            We walked into the courtroom, and I followed José to the counsel table.  The room resembled courtrooms I had seen on TV, only smaller and shabbier.  The judge’s bench and the counsel tables were dark stained wood, as were rows of benches, which looked exactly like church pews.  At one of the tables sat who I assumed were the prosecutors, since one of them was Bradley.  Bradley looked very serious and lawyerly as he deigned to talk to a criminal defense lawyer.  Next to him was a tall, almost painfully thin man wearing a black suit, presumably also a prosecutor.  The tall lawyer’s wild tangle of dark, curly hair was in stark contrast to Bradley’s conservative style.  The prosecutors both had stacks of files in front of them, and a line of attorneys were waiting to talk to them.  The pews were filled with scruffy, nervous-looking people.
            José led me behind the low wall that delineated the “audience” portion of the courtroom from the lawyers’ tables.  As we neared the prosecutors’ table, I caught Bradley’s eye.  I didn’t know what to say.  “Sorry you lost?”  No, because I wasn’t.  “You did a great job?”  No, because he didn’t.  “Stop being so uptight?”  That wasn’t it either.  I said, “Hey, Bradley.”
            He said, “Hey.  Good job yesterday.  But don’t expect beginner’s luck to pull you through next time.”
            “Don’t worry,” I said, resisting the urge to reply less tactfully.
            The tall, skinny guy held out his hand.  “Doug Vaughn,” he said with a wry smile.  “I guess I’m going to be your new enemy.”  As he looked down to shake my hand, he noticed the mini skirt, and his face flushed.  I wasn’t sure what he was going to say next, because his voice changed after the first word and became a squeak.  Before he could clear his throat and resume normal speech, the court’s bailiff entered the courtroom through a door in the back.  “All Rise,” he announced.
            Judge Piddle came out on the bench.  He didn’t look so bad, I thought.  Petulant maybe, but not scary.  His face was a pasty extra-white and his hair was slickly black, what little there was of it.  It was hard to tell, since he was wearing a robe, but his double chin made him appear pudgy.
            “Good Morning,” he said in a strangely high, nasal voice, “Court is in session.”  Then, Judge Piddle turned and looked directly at me.  “Ma’am would you please step back into the gallery of the courtroom.  The counsel tables are for lawyers, not defendants.”
            Before I could say anything, José interjected, “Your honor, this is Kate Hamilton, the new lawyer in your courtroom.”
            The judge looked at me with one eyebrow raised.  He examined my attire, scanning me up and down.  “I see,” he said, grimacing.
            “Nice to meet you, your honor,” I said enthusiastically.
            “Would that be ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ Hamilton?” he asked.
            “Excuse me?”  I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.
            “How would you like to be addressed?” he said deliberately, “as ‘Miss’ or as ‘Mrs.’ Hamilton?”
            “Oh, I think I’d actually prefer ‘Ms.,’” I said brightly, before I had a chance to stop myself, “because, you know, I’m not married, but I’m also not 12 years old.”
            “As you wish,” he said, making clear by his tone that he did not consider “Ms.” an appropriate option.
            This is off to a great start, I thought.
            After announcing that all defendants could choose between having a lawyer or a public defender, the judge called through the “docket,” a list of all the cases on that day’s calendar.  If the person was present, the judge would say, “I’ll call the case again after the break.”  If the person wasn’t there, he would issue a warrant.
            “Does a warrant mean the person will go to jail?” I asked José.
            “Yes,” he said.
            “But what if they have a good reason they’re not here?”
            “Doesn’t matter,” he said flatly.
            “But that doesn’t seem fair.”
            “No kidding.”
            I watched in horror as one kid whose last name began with a “B” arrived when the judge was calling the “H’s.”
            “Young man, what is your name?” the judge asked.
            “Timothy Baxter.”
            “You’re late.  You have a warrant.  Have a seat by the steel door.”  The kid’s eyes grew huge, and he stood still for a long time before walking to a seat in the back of the courtroom.
            “Oh my God, José, what on earth is the steel door?”  I asked, picturing a heavy metal trapdoor over a burning pit of despair.
            “It’s the door to the jail corridor.”
            “Is he going to jail?”
            “It depends on the judge’s mood.  Sometimes he sends them to jail, and sometimes he just makes them sit by the metal door all day, sweating it out, and then lets them go.”
            “Oh my goodness.  Just because he’s a “B” and not an “R?”  What if he has a job, a family?  What’s going to happen to him?”
            “If he’s lucky, they’ll bring him to court tomorrow and he can plead guilty and get out.  If he’s not lucky, his next court date will be in a couple of weeks and then he can plead guilty and get out.”
            “But what if he’s innocent?”
            “Then he can wait in jail a couple of months for his trial.”
            The judge left the bench after calling roll.  The young man fidgeted by the metal door.  I tried to figure out who my clients were, which was somewhat difficult without the right files.  I knew I had taken over Jacob Horwitz’s caseload, so I started going up to people and asking them who their lawyer was.  Some had no idea, but a few actually said, “Jacob Somebody,” or “Josh Somebody,” which I thought was close enough.  Most of the clients agreed to continue their pre-trial dates in order to come in on Friday and discuss their cases with me.
            One client, James Davidson, did not agree to a continuance.  James was in his early 20s, black, and nicely dressed in a pressed shirt, hip, baggy pants and a long leather jacket.  He said he was a radio disc jockey.
            “Look, Babe,” he said. “I’m innocent of this.”
            I didn’t chide him for the “Babe,” as the mini skirt seemed to invite it.
            “I was harassed and beaten by the police for no good reason,” he said indignantly.
            I was skeptical.  Police harassment only happened in movies.
            “This case has been continued long enough.  I want my trial,” he said.
            “Fine,” I said, not in the mood to argue.  “I’ll ask for a trial.”  This guy was going to be a pain, I could tell.
            When the judge came back from the recess, he called the docket again.  Some cases were continued, some were pled out, and a few dismissed.  Timothy Baxter, who had been sitting by the steel door for four hours, was finally allowed to leave.  When the judge got to James’ name, I said, “We request a trial setting, your honor.”
            “Really?”  He said, like I had some nerve.
            “Really,” I answered.
            “Fine, Ms. Hamilton.  You can have your trial next Monday.”

            The next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, were much the same—going to court in the morning, scrambling around, meeting a dozen or so of my new clients, and getting continuances.  I hoped to use the afternoons to work on Mr. Davidson’s trial, but on Wednesday afternoon, a client called from the jail, frantic because she had been arrested on a bench warrant for failing to appear at her last court date.
“You have to get my warrant squashed,” the distraught woman said.
“Excuse me?”
“I’m nine months pregnant.  I don’t want to have my baby in jail.”
“Why did you miss court?”
“My boyfriend beat me up, so I moved to the women’s shelter.  That’s why I didn’t get the letter about my court date.”
“OK.  I’ll see what I can do.”
            Her case was assigned to Bradley.  I called and called for Bradley, but couldn’t get him on the telephone.  Finally, I sat on a bench outside Bradley’s office and waited for him to either come in or go out.  After an hour, I saw Bradley walking toward me.  He was carrying an umbrella, even though it was not threatening to rain.  Luckily, there was no way he could avoid me.
            “Look,” I said, stopping him from entering his office, “this lady is about to pop, and nobody wants her to have her baby in jail, especially not the jail.  She missed court because her boyfriend kicked her out his house and she had to go live at the women’s shelter.  That’s why she never received her court date in the mail.”
            “I will need a letter from her doctor that she is pregnant,” Bradley said officiously.
            “I went and saw her in the jail.  She is definitely nine months pregnant.”
            “Are you a medical doctor, Miss Hamilton?”
            No, but I’m not an idiot either, I thought.  I swallowed this thought.  “Can’t you just come and look at her?”
            “I am not a medical doctor either, Ms. Hamilton.”
            “How about an Early Pregnancy Test?”  I offered, figuring this would be easier than tracking down her doctor, if she had one.
            “I have seen no studies regarding the scientific reliability of EPTs.”
            “I’ve heard they’re quite good …”
            He didn’t respond.
            “Fine, a letter from her doctor.”  Sarcastically, I added, “Would you like that notarized?”
            “Why, yes I would,” Bradley said, liking the idea.  “And I’ll need a letter from the women’s shelter too,” he added.  “Also notarized.”
            Finally, at 4:30, I hand delivered to Bradley the letters from the doctor and the shelter.  “I’ll also need an affidavit from her, stating that she never received her court date in the mail,” he said after examining the documents.
            “Jesus, can’t I just tell you that?”
            “Language, Ms. Hamilton.  And no, it’s Office Policy.”
            “Of course,” I said wearily, and rushed to the jail.
            At 4:55, I had the order of release signed by Bradley and the judge. I sprinted to the jail to deliver the order.  A sign at the jail reception desk read: “No orders past 5:00 p.m.”  A jail visitor was in front of me in line.  “Excuse me ma’am,” I said to the visitor, “would you mind if I cut in here … I’m trying to get a pregnant lady out of jail …”
            “Wait your turn,” snapped the overweight grandmother as she struggled to contain an unkempt and squirming 2 year old.
            Just then, the frustration from Bradley’s stupid policies, biting my tongue, and spending four hours doing something that should have taken 10 minutes boiled to the surface.  I went around in front of the lady.  “Look lady,” I said.  “This is a court order that gets a pregnant woman out of jail.  It has to be given to the receptionist here in two minutes.”  I noticed I was jabbing the court order at her like a weapon.  “This baby will not be born in jail, just because you’re too rude to let me in front of you.”  I wasn’t sure whether the lady feared me or a paper cut, but she stepped aside.

I dumped my files on my desk.  On my chair was a note from Janice.  “We are at the bar.”  I told myself that I should put my files alphabetically in my file drawer, leave myself a neat desk for the morning, but I was both too tired and too wound up.
            I found the three comfortably settled in the same booth in the front window where we had sat last time.  A pitcher of beer sat on the table, half empty.
Pam brought a frosted mug and filled it for me.
“How come she gets a frosted mug?” Jose said.  “I just got this regular old pint glass.  And it had lipstick on it.”
“The new ones always need a little special treatment,” Pam said.
“Does this mean I’m adopted?” I asked.
“You already were,” she said, patting me on the back.  She went back to the bar and I took a drink.  I told the story of quashing the pregnant lady’s warrant and assaulting the rude jail visitor with the court order.
            “You know, there is an after-hours box for release orders at the jail,” Matthew said sheepishly.  “Guess I should have told you that.”
I punched Matthew in the arm.  Surprisingly, he boxed me back, not hard, but not soft either.  Soon we were engaged in a struggle more appropriate for 10-year-olds than lawyers.  I finally twisted his arm behind his back and wouldn’t let go until he agreed to forever be my faithful servant.  Janice separated us and made us sit on opposite sides of the table.
“What is it with that Bradley?” I asked after I had poured myself another beer.  “He’s reminds me of those annoying people in law school, but worse.”
“Just take an ambitious nimrod from law school and add self-righteousness and power,” Jose said.  “Mix it up and you get the army of Bradleys out there.”
“And then when you need him, you can’t find him.  I finally had to camp outside his office.”
“That’s because he irritated Judge Piddle today.  Bradley was probably in his supervisor’s office.”
            “What did Bradley do?”
            “We were in court and my client was muttering.  My client was always muttering something—I just ignored it most of the time, because I usually couldn’t understand what he was saying.  But Bradley must have been listening, because all of the sudden, Bradley stands up in the middle of my client’s guilty plea, and says, ‘Your honor, will you please instruct the defendant to stop telling me to go fuck myself.’”
            “Oh, my.  What did Judge Piddle do?”
            “He said, ‘Please don’t use that language in my courtroom, Mr. Boldham.’  You’d think that Bradley would get the hint that it was time to shut up, but then he said, “Will the court please instruct the defendant to stop telling me to have intercourse with myself.”
            “Where do they get these guys?” I asked.
            “They’re a dime a dozen, Kate,” Jose said.  “Get rid of Bradley and there’s one that’s even worse who takes his place.”
“How did you end up in this job, anyway?” I asked José.  “Wait, let me guess.  Your parents were immigrants who were abused by police?  So you decided to become a public defender to help people like them?”
“No, Mistress of Stereotypes.  My dad is an economics professor and my mother is a tax lawyer.  I started volunteering here for extra credit during law school.  I did a couple of trials, and I was hooked.”
I blushed at my assumption, so I turned to Matthew.  “Matthew?  What about you?”
“My church taught me to help poor people.”
Matthew looked uncomfortable, so I asked Janice, “And you?  Why did you become a public defender?”
“When I was 22, I was a bartender.  I had my GED, but never went to college.  I had a boyfriend who was a race car driver.  God, he was sexy.”  She flushed at the thought of him.  “But he was violent when he drank.  One night after a win at the track and too many victory beers, he got pissed at me for some reason.  I don’t even remember what.  But instead of shaking me or pushing me like he usually did, this time he punched me in the face.  I ran off crying.  He thought I went to our room or the bathroom, but I went to the kitchen.  I got a skillet, snuck up behind him, and smacked him over the head.  Knocked him right out,” she said with a nod for emphasis.
“With a skillet?” I asked.
“Cast iron.  Son of a bitch got a concussion and I had to take him to the hospital.  The doctors called the police, and I ended up charged with felony assault.  The court appointed me a lawyer.  I thought I was going to get some loser public-defender type.  If I wasn’t paying for my lawyer, he couldn’t be any good, right?  In this country, nothing good ever comes for free.
“For one thing, the public defender was a woman, not a man.  Anyway, not only did she get my charges dropped, but she spent a lot of time with me, talking about my future.  She said she could tell I was smart, so what the hell was I doing working as a bartender?  I told her that I was fulfilling my mother’s low expectations.  I remember she asked me, ‘If you could be anything, what would you be?’  Without thinking, I said, ‘I’d be like you.’  And she said, ‘Well, let’s get started.’  And so I did.  Eight years of going to school in the day and tending bar at night, and I had my law degree.”
I didn’t say anything for a minute, impressed by the difficulties Janice had overcome.  I hadn’t overcome anything.
“What about you, Kate?  What made you move here from Texas?”
I hesitated.  My reason for moving across the country to a place I had never been before was a little random.  “I was just tired of Texas, and I wanted to see someplace new.  It sounds a little flaky, I know.”
“This state is full of people who came here for the same reason,” Jose said.  “It’s the last place, besides maybe Alaska, where you feel like you’re on the frontier.”
I noticed a sign tacked on the wall, “Room for Rent.”  My month at the YMCA was almost up.  “Thirty-two East Elm.  Where’s that?”
            “We’re on Elm right now,” Matthew said.
            “Where’s 32?”
            “Not sure.  Why don’t you go outside and look at the street numbers,” Janice suggested.
            I walked out and looked down the street.  Elm Street was one of the main streets of downtown, and certainly the most charming.  It had been the center of town around the turn of the century; and three- to five-story brick buildings lined the street.  All the buildings had been restored, and what once had been the general store, cobbler, and haberdashery, were now a collection of restaurants and bars.   Hanging pots filled with colorful mixtures of exuberantly healthy flowers were maintained by the city, symbolizing the wealth and prosperity of the community.  A few blocks over, the jail and police station loomed in ugly concrete.
            “Twenty-eight” was a bicycle shop, “Thirty” a used book store, and then, “Thirty two.”  Of course—the bar.  I looked up and saw that behind the large neon “MOEZY’S INN” sign mounted in front of the building’s fourth floor was a window with an “Apt For Rent” sign.
            I took the flier over to Pam.  “I’m interested in the apartment” I said, pushing the flier across the bar.
            “Sure, honey.”
            “How much is it?”
            “Three hundred a month, but that includes heat and electricity.”
            “Can I see it?”
            “Sure,” she said.  “Henry, watch the bar.”  Henry appeared to be her husband, and was clearly not in charge.
            Pam led me through the bar’s kitchen to a set of stairs.  As we climbed the steps to the apartment, Pam said, “It’s been a couple of years since we had a public defender up here.  It’s a great place for you guys, though.  Close to the courthouse and you’ll never drive home drunk from the bar.”
            I loved the little apartment the minute I saw it.  It had hardwood floors and big windows on the south and west sides that filled the room with sunlight.  Old fashioned elaborate crown molding gave the rooms a touch of elegance.  The walls were painted buttery yellow, which emphasized the sunniness of the room.  A fireplace surrounded by terra cotta tiles dominated the living space.  Lace curtains covered the windows, and for once in my life, I didn’t find lace offensive.
            “How bad is the noise?” I asked, but realized that the answer probably didn’t matter.  I believed that fate was as important in choosing a home as a love interest.  This was my apartment.
            “Not too bad.  No live music, and we close early for a bar.  We serve the after-work crowd more than the late-night partiers.  Close at 11:00 on weekdays and midnight on the weekend.”
            “Fair enough,” I said, thinking I’d better buy some ear plugs.

            Later that night, I sat with Pam at a small table in the bar’s kitchen to sign the lease.
“Do you make enough money to cover the rent?” she asked.
“I think my take-home will be about $2000 a month.”
“That should do it—if you don’t spend all of your money at the bar.  How long do you want the lease for?”
“What’s the shortest I can get?”
“I suppose I could go 6 months—but I’d give you 25 dollars off per month if you sign for a year.”
“Better go with the 6 months.  I don’t even know if I passed the bar exam yet.”  I watched as she wrote “6 mos” in the space for “Term of Lease.”  I signed my name at the bottom of the page.  I had a home and a job.  I wasn’t sure I wanted either.

Want to keep reading?  Find the next installment, chapter 9, the Trial of Johnnie Cock-Ring, here.  

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