Friday, April 20, 2012

Chapters 10 and 11, Judge Piddle, Mickey Mouse, and Fellatio?


            I began to settle into a routine in the next weeks, although it was a somewhat frantic one.  Morning court resembled a bazaar, where charges and days and weeks of people’s lives were bartered like goods and money:  “You want that DUI reduced to a lesser charge?  Then you’ll have to give me three days in jail instead of one.”  It all seemed ludicrous, but it also seemed the way things were done.
José explained his philosophy to me.  He projected a surprising intellectual authority, despite wearing sunglasses as, basically, a headband.  He thunked his feet on my desk, threatening a few precariously stacked piles of files and paperwork.  “Look, your client has something valuable—the right to a jury trial.  Jury trials are a lot of trouble.  The court has to call in a jury.  The prosecution has to subpoena and produce witnesses.  Then, the witnesses have to testify, and you can cross-examine them, and the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Not to mention that there are about a million ways the prosecution can screw up a trial and have the case reversed on appeal.
            “If every criminal defendant insisted on his right to trial,” José continued, professorially, “the system would break down—the county doesn’t have enough time or courtrooms to provide a jury trial for every case.  Thus, your client possesses this valuable right to a trial, and the prosecutor wants him to give it up.  Is he going to give it up for free?  Hell, no.  If the government wants you to give up something valuable, it has to give you something valuable in return—like a reduction of the charges to something less serious, or less jail time.  It’s like capitalism or something.  Hence, the ‘bargain’ in ‘plea bargain.’”
            José’s reasoning made sense to me, but it was hard to imagine going to trial on an unwinnable case, just because I had nothing to lose.  Otherwise, I was starting to get the hang of things.  I would go to court in the morning and haggle my brains out.  If I was able to resolve cases, my client would enter a plea that morning.  After the morning break, the judge would accept guilty pleas and impose sentences.
By Friday, I had done a couple of guilty pleas, and was feeling fairly confident.  That morning, I was pleading a teenager guilty to negligent driving, reduced from reckless driving.  In a guilty-plea hearing, the judge would review the guilty-plea with the defendant, making sure that he understood the rights he was waiving and the possible consequences of pleading guilty.  And then, in three minutes or less, I would tell the judge something about my client, futilely trying to humanize him and make him seem different from the thousands of defendants the judge had seen before.
            My teenager and I stood at the counsel table.  I was feeling comfortable, like this was routine, when the judge’s eyes suddenly grew huge.  “Miss Hamilton!” he practically screamed, incensed.
            What now? I wondered.
            “I am going to take this young man into jail right now, and hold you in contempt of court!” he snarled, so livid that he stood up and pointed his gavel at me.
            We had merely walked up to the counsel table, and the prosecutor had identified the case.  How had I screwed that up?
            “I’m sorry your honor, but …”
            Again, he pointed his gavel at us.  “That shirt is an affront!”
            I looked down at my blue oxford-cloth blouse.  I knew I should have ironed this morning.
            “No, Miss Hamilton,” the judge said snidely, “his shirt.”
            I looked at my client and, saw that he was wearing a T-shirt with a graphically large Mickey Mouse cartoon gesturing at the judge with a graphically large middle finger.
            “Miss Hamilton, I am going to hold both your client and yourself in contempt!”
            Just as I held out my wrists to be handcuffed and led away by the bailiff, José stood up.  “Just a minute, your honor.  I am familiar with this particular T-shirt, having seen it sold on my last trip to Disney Land.”
            Where on earth was he going with this? I wondered in panic.
            “The Mickey Mouse figure is not, ahem, giving the court the finger, but rather pointing its index finger indicating a charge forward to the rides of Disney Land,” José explained.  “First, if you will notice, the character has only four fingers.  Therefore, it is just as likely to assume that the character is pointing its index finger, as gesturing with its middle finger.  Secondly, this shirt was manufactured by the Disney Company,” he said, pretending to check the tag sewn in the back of the shirt, “which would never allow its treasured mascot to be marketed with such an offensive gesture.  I can understand how the court could mistake this innocent gesture for an obscene one; however, I assure the court that this Mickey Mouse is absolutely innocent.”
            The judge looked at me, then at my client, then back at me.  To my client he said, “I will give you the benefit of the doubt, sir, although I am not completely convinced.”  To me: “Ms. Hamilton, you will donate $50 to the charity of your choosing, and be reminded to be more cautious in what you allow your clients to wear to court.”
As José and I left the court house, I said, “Thanks, José, you really saved me in there.  I didn’t know you were so persuasive.  I shouldn’t say it, but you surprised me.”
            “I am a lawyer, you know,” he said mockingly.
            I narrowed my eyes.  “You’ve never been to Disney Land, have you?”
            “God, no,” he said, laughing.
            I began to think there was more to José than just glib rakishness.  “Will you be my lawyer if I ever get in trouble?”
            “What do you mean, ‘If?’”

            When I got back to my cubicle there was a note on my chair.  Scrawled in red.: “Please see me.  Ed.”  Great.  I was in trouble.
            I knocked timidly on Ed’s office door, but was greeted with a hearty, “Come in!”  When I stepped inside, I noticed his hair was wild again.  I wondered if this meant anything.  He looked at me sternly.  “Kate, I just got a phone call from an irate Judge Piddle.  He is very displeased with your performance in his courtroom.  He would like me to fire you, or, at a minimum, impose some sort of discipline.”
            He paused, and I thought, Here it comes, my first job, and I’m fired in a month.  I stared at the row of dusty model boats on a shelf above his desk in a attempt to keep the tears out of my eyes.
            Ed stood up and held out his hand.  Unsure what was happening, I held out mine.
            “Congratulations, Kate,” he said, giving my hand a big shake.  “This means you’re doing a great job!”
            We both sat down, and I looked at him blankly, totally confused.
“It’s not our job to make judges happy,” he explained.  “It is not our job to make prosecutors happy.  It is our job to zealously represent our clients, and if this aggravates the judge and the prosecutor, then it’s too bad.  In fact, it’s generally a good sign when judges and prosecutors are angry at you.  In fact, I would worry the most about a lawyer who judges and prosecutors never criticized.”
            “But he keeps fining me fifty dollars.  I can’t afford to pay fifty bucks for every day that I’m in court.”
            Ed sat back in his chair for a moment, thinking.  “He ordered you to donate the money to a charity of your choosing, right?  As you may or may not know, Judge Piddle is fervent in his anti-abortion beliefs.  If you were selective in which charity you chose, he may be discouraged from fining you in the future.  I’ll meet you at Moezy’s at 5:30.  I think it’s time for a fundraiser.”

            I left messages for José, Matthew, and Janice to meet Ed and me at Moezy’s “for fundraising.”  José apparently knew what this meant, because he arrived carrying a large glass jar.  After taking his place in his usual chair, he pulled a roll of Scotch tape out of his pocket, taped a piece of yellow legal paper on the jar, and wrote in black felt tip: “Give $ if you hate Piddle.”  I had borrowed a book from the library that listed all the non-profit charities in the United States.  After leafing through the book and drinking a couple of beers, we decided on the Radical Lesbian Feminist Abortion Rights League for my donation.
            “Why would lesbians need abortions?” Matthew asked.
            “It’s probably the principle,” José said.  “That’s why we’re here, Matthew.  Principles.”
            “You have principles?” I said.
            “I’m for fighting the man.”
            Janice raised her beer mug.  “Here’s to fighting the man!”  We all clinked our mugs and took big gulps of beer.
“You know what type makes the best public defender?” Ed asked.  “It’s the smart kid sitting in the back of the class throwing spit balls when the teacher isn’t looking.”
“I don’t get it.”
“There just needs to be that instinct, that willingness to cause trouble, and a healthy disrespect for authority.  Maybe a little boredom with classroom learning, but an ability to thrive on stress.  So, Kate.  Ever throw any spit balls?”
“Not exactly.  But I did make up a bunch of current events.”
“In high school, we had this history teacher who taught to the lowest common denominator, and the class was unbearably dull.  For extra credit, though, we could report a daily current event.  One morning, I had forgotten to check the newspaper, so I just made something up—War in Lichtenstein, I think.  After that, it became a challenge to invent something exotic but believable.  She never knew.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Kate.”
“Creative disobedience.”
I’d never considered this aspect of my personality an asset.  I’d never known there was a place for me.
            Surprisingly, throughout the evening, a steady stream of bar customers came by to put money in the jar.  By 10 o’clock, we had gathered two hundred dollars.
            The next day I wrote a check to the Radical Lesbian Feminist Abortion Rights League.  I photocopied the check and enclosed the photocopy with a letter to the judge:
            “Dear Judge Piddle, Enclosed is a copy of the check I wrote to the charity of my choosing, as per your order.  I added an additional $150, because I wanted you to know the sincerity of my contrition for my inappropriate courtroom behavior.  Sincerely, Kate Hamilton.”
            The letter ended the fifty dollar fines, if not the animosity.


Whenever I had a CD playing in my office, Matthew would pop in and say, “Wow, who is this?  This music is great.”
            “It’s the Eagles, Matthew.”
            “The Eagles?  Can I borrow a piece of paper?  And the name of the album?”
            “Greatest Hits,” I said slowly.
            “Got it,” he said, carefully writing, Eagles—Greatest Hits.
            After about the fourth time this happened—“That’s Elvis Costello,” I said when I noticed his puzzled look after I told him that it was Elvis singing “Alison.”  I finally asked, “Matthew, where have you been?  The CD player is not a new invention.”
            “I wasn’t allowed to listen to music growing up.”
            “No music?”
            “Rock and Roll can cause sinful thoughts.”
            “Really.  Are you having sinful thoughts right now?”
            He blushed. “When I was in college, my parents let up and allowed me listen to Christian Rock.”
            “But didn’t you hear music in the dorms?”
He shook his head.  “I lived with my parents during college and law school.  Dorms can cause sinful thoughts, too.  Actually, I just moved to my own apartment.”
I shook my head.  I thought I had a lot to learn, but maybe not as much as Matthew.

            Both a benefit and a detriment to the Wall Street set-up was that you could overhear not only other people’s music, but also their conversations.  Every telephone call, every client interview.  The scheduling of a gynecologist appointment was a public event.
            Early one Friday morning, I was sitting in my office, trying to write a brief.  For the millionth time, I wondered why I had not purchased ear plugs.  José was talking to a client on the telephone:  “I know you don’t want to waive your right to a speedy trial.  But think about it.  When you hire someone to paint the car you’ve lovingly restored, do you go to the nearest hack shop and have it painted in four hours?  Or, do you hire a master painter who spends four months on your baby?" I could hear passion combined with salesmanship in his delivery. "You hire the master painter, of course, because you don’t want to skimp on something as important as your car.  And what about your liberty?  Do you want to skimp on that?  Do you know what the difference between four hours and four months is?  It’s art, my friend—art.”
  José, despite his eloquence, was unable to persuade his client to agree to a continuance of his trial date.  José banged down his telephone and stomped out of his office.  The lack of José noise made it only more impossible to ignore Matthew, who was talking to a client on my other side.
            Matthew was reading the police report out loud.  “Campus police report receiving a call from a pedestrian.  The pedestrian reported what he believed to be amorous activity in the rose garden.  Upon arriving in the rose garden, this officer saw two males engaged in an act of ... hmmm …  Fell…At…Ee...Oh….Fell..At..Ee..Oh,” Matthew said again.  “I wonder what that means.”
            I could feel the poor kid dying in there.  Matthew asked the kid, “Do you know what that means?”
            “Ummm, no,” the kid muttered in a strained voice.
            “It must mean something. …  It sounds sort of Italian.”
            I couldn’t take it any more.  I found a dictionary and photo-copied the page with “Fellatio.”  I highlighted the word and definition.  Discretely, I knocked on Matthew’s door and peeked in.  “Mr. Nelson? (I was pretending to be his secretary) I have the document you requested.”  He looked puzzled, but took the piece of paper.  I turned and ran from his cubicle, figuring I had done my good deed for the day.

            A week later, Matthew came in to my office.  “Kate,” he said, “I was wondering if you could help me with a case?”
            “The fellatio case?”
            “No,” he said, flushing.
            “It’s sex, though, isn’t it?”
            “Kinda …”
            “You might as well tell me about it,” I said, even though I knew better.

Not only did the case involve sex, but it was also Matthew’s first felony.  Ed was trying to transition Matthew to a felony caseload.  This worried me.  A couple of days ago, José and I had taken the stairs down to the street when the elevator was out of order.  We made a race of it, and I was about to beat José, despite my high heels, when I ploughed into a man in a suit as I rounded the last corner.
The man, however, was utterly preoccupied; he barely noticed my assault.  He muttered incoherently and continued up the stairs past me.
            “Who was that?” I asked José.
            “Felony lawyer.  We try to stay away from them—we call them the Night of the Living Dead Lawyers.”
            “What makes them like that?”
            “Stick around a couple of years and you’ll find out yourself.”

Matthew told me that his new client, Ryan Keyser, was charged with Indecent Liberties by Forcible Compulsion.  I had never heard of such a thing, so I pulled out the book of statutes to find the legal definition of Indecent Liberties.
“Here it is,” I said to Matthew.  “A person is guilty of indecent liberties,” I read out loud, “when he knowingly causes another person to have sexual contact with him by forcible compulsion.”  I thought for a minute.  “I wonder what ‘sexual contact’ means.”
“Ummmm,” Matthew choked.
“Never mind,” I said, trying to get Matthew to relax, “there has to be a definition in here somewhere.”  I flipped through the thick book of state statutes.  “Here it is:  ‘Sexual contact means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party.’”  I wondered what “sexual or other intimate parts” meant.  I had this one little spot, right behind my knee ... Was that an “intimate part?”
“The definition seems pretty vague,” I said to Matthew.  “It sounds like you could get charged with indecent liberties just for grabbing someone’s butt in a bar.  I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened to me,” I said.  “I may have even done it myself a couple of times.  Is that what he did?”
“It’s actually a little worse than that.”
“He grabbed a girl’s breast?”
“Still worse.”
“OK, Matthew, just tell me.”
“He slapped a girl in the face with his, um, his penis.”
“I take it she did not want to be slapped by a penis.”
“She did not.”
            “Maybe it was an accident?”
            “I don’t think so.  He was asking the girl for a, um, blow job.”
            “How much time is he looking at?”
            “He doesn’t have any priors, so about three and a half years.”
            “That’s a lot of time for an 18-year-old kid.”
            “And he’d have to register as a sex offender.”
            “That probably doesn’t look good on your resume.  Any chance of getting a plea bargain?”
“It’s Penny Pickens’s case.  I’ve heard that she is pretty mean and vindictive.  I’ve also heard that she doesn’t make deals on sex cases.”
“This doesn’t sound like the greatest case, Matthew.”
            “You’ve gotta help.”
            “Why?  You can do it.  You have a lot more trial experience than I do.”
            “It’s just …”
            “It’s just that I can’t say those words in court.”
            “What words?”
“You know …”
            “You mean ‘blow job’?”
            “It’s easy, you just need to practice,” I said, launching into a cheerleader chant.  “Blow, blow, blow, blow! Job, job, job, job!”
            Mathew looked around, horrified, trying to see if anyone could hear me.
            “Please, Kate?” he whispered.
            “All right,” I said, wondering what I was getting myself into.
            Over lunch, I read Ryan’s police report.  Our client was an 18 year old, from a poor but decent home.  His mother worked as custodian at the airport.  Skyview, as the part of town near the airport was known, was a collection of ugly strip malls containing discount stores and money-lending operations, small decrepit houses, and double-wide mobile homes.  It was the ugliest part of town.  Absolutely no rich people lived there.
            According to the police report, Ryan was in Skyview Community Park with two friends, Brittney and Kimberly.  The police report indicated that Ryan approached the girls and said, “Who wants to give me head?”  The girls, according to the report, were shocked and appalled by this suggestion.  Somehow, Ryan got Kimberly on the ground, and straddled her.  “Who is going to give me a blow job?” he asked her.  Ryan’s penis then came out of his pants, and he started waggling it in her face.  The police report stated, “Ryan then slapped Kimberly in the face with his penis several times.”
            Matthew and I took the file to Moezy’s to discuss strategy.  By 6 o’clock, we had shared three pots of coffee, covered the table in wadded up pieces of paper with discarded case theories, and made no progress whatsoever.
            José came in, his hair wildly sticking up and his tie so far askew that he appeared to have been caught in a hurricane.
            “What happened to you?”
            “I was mobbed by a group of admirers.”  He was good looking enough for this to be possible.
            “Male or female?” I asked.  I had a little idea about hooking José up with someone.
            “Both,” he answered.
“What happened with your trial?” Matthew asked.
“I won,” he said with a big grin.
“Awesome,” I said.  “I wish I had been there to hear the verdict.  ‘Not guilty’ are the two sweetest words on the planet.”
“I know.  Sometimes I wish I could ask the judge, ‘Could you say that again?’”
“Who was the prosecutor on the case?” I asked.
“Jodie Kitchens.”
“I haven’t been in trial with her.  How is she?”
“She confuses being bitchy and self-righteous with being right.”
“How unusual.”
“Here’s why I had to win this case.  It’s a harassment charge, and I’m pretty sure my client is innocent.  We’ve got a good case, anyway.  The supposed victim is completely nuts.  My client has no criminal history.  And then one day this nutty guy—who has a documented history of paranoia—calls police and says my client has threatened to kill him.  Long story short, we do some preliminary investigation, and the case is looking pretty good for us.  Apparently Jodie realized that she’s got problems with her case, because she comes up to me in court one day and says, ‘How about we do a continuance for dismissal?’”
“A continuance for dismissal?  You almost never get a CFD,” Matthew said.
“Exactly.  Like I said, my case was pretty good.  So Jodie says, ‘We’ll continue the case for 6 months, and as long as your client doesn’t contact the victim during that time, I’ll dismiss the case.’”
“That’s a pretty good deal.”
“No kidding.  I said, ‘OK, but the CFD needs to say ‘no contact initiated by my client.’’  I was worried that the crazy guy would somehow stalk my client or something, so I thought it was a good idea to include that language in the agreement.  Jodie said that was fine.”
“Then why did you end up in trial?”
“Because when we went to court to sign the agreement, I reminded Jodie we had agreed to add ‘no contact initiated by my client.’  She went ballistic.  ‘You’re changing the agreement!  That’s not what I said!’ she shouted at me.  She stamped her foot at me.  Twice.  I tried to remind her that we had agreed to this provision, but she just got madder and madder.  Finally, I said, ‘OK, we’ll leave out the ‘initiated’ part.  We’ll just put ‘No Contact for 6 months’.’  ‘No!’ she screeched at me in open court.  ‘Deal’s off!’”
“But you gave in to what she wanted.”
“I know.  She’s psycho, though.  That’s why I had to win.  Not only for my client, but to teach her she can’t get away with that kind of bullshit.”
José looked at all of the crumpled up papers on the table.  “What are you two up to, anyway?”
“We’re working on a theory of our case.”
“What case?”
            I explained the penis-slapping case to José, who found the scenario far more amusing than Matthew had.
            “Who called the police?”  José asked.  Matthew and I looked at each other.  We didn’t know.  We started to page through the report.
            “Here,” Matthew said.  “It says on Sunday, June 15th, police received a report of an incident in Skyview Community Park.”
            “What day did it supposedly happen?” José asked.
            “Saturday,” I said.
            “So they waited a day to call,” Matthew said.
            “Interesting,” we all said at once.

Want to keep reading?  Find the next chapters, 12-14, Kate and Matthew work on the Weenie Whacker's trial; Private Attorney Day and a Panty Incident; What is Sexual Intercourse, Anyway?, here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you start making the 'get out of jail free' necklaces again! if you do i am first to order one!