Sunday, May 6, 2012

Chapters 15 and 16, the Weenie Whacker trial; and a skirmish with Judge Piddle

(Haven't read the previous chapters?  Start  here.)
(Haven't read chapters 6 and 7?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapter 8? Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapter 9?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 10 and 11? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 12 through 14? Find them here.)


I picked my parents up at the airport at 7 o’clock the morning of Ryan’s trial.  I was dressed for trial in my navy suit, which had apparently become my first-day-of-trial suit—I had worn it the first day of both of my previous trials.  I had two other suits, one black and one olive green.  I realized that I would have nothing to wear if the trial lasted more than three days.
“Look at our daughter,” my mother said, hugging me at the baggage claim area.  “Doesn’t she look just like a lawyer?”
“What’s this trial about, Hon?” my dad asked.
“I think it would be better for you to hear about it fresh at the trial,” I said.  “So you’re not biased.”
“Good thinking,” my dad said, giving my shoulders an affectionate squeeze.
When we arrived at the courthouse, we met Matthew on the third floor.  My parents, unlike many of the people waiting in the courthouse hallways, were extremely respectable looking.  My father was tall and thin, with distinguished gray hair.  He wore ironed, pleated jeans and an immaculate button-down shirt.  His eye-glass frames were stylish, but not too trendy.  My mother was equally elegant.  She wore wool pants and a silk blouse.
“Where should we sit?” my mother asked, looking around the courtroom.
“Anywhere,” I said dismissively.  I needed to forget that they were here.
“Actually,” I said, suddenly having an idea, “maybe right here, behind our table.”  Ryan’s mother hadn’t been able to get off work to attend the trial.  I thought maybe my parents could substitute for Ryan’s parents.
Matthew and I spread our notebooks and legal pads on our counsel table.  Ryan arrived looking sweet and vulnerable in new khakis and a bright rugby shirt.  Matthew and I had Ryan sit between us, feeling a need to protect him.  Penny sat stiffly at the other counsel table, pretending she was the only person in the courtroom.  I felt the now-familiar resignation that the trial was about to begin.

“All rise,” Judge Stewart’s bailiff announced a few minutes later.
Judge Stewart entered the courtroom majestically, her black robe billowing.  “Are the parties ready to proceed?” 
“Yes, we are,” I said.  I didn’t hesitate or panic.  Maybe I was getting better at this.
Judge Stewart began the trial by asking the 50 potential jurors the standard general questions about where they lived and worked.  I scanned the jurors’ faces, straining to see a clue to their personalities in their eyes.  Matthew and I had decided that we wanted mothers of teenage boys on the jury.  I worried that the jurors would bond with Penny, mistaking her for the trustworthy grandmotherly type.  I had heard of “jury consultants,” specialists who could tell lawyers which jurors would be best for their cases.  I could have used one of these consultants, because I couldn’t tell a thing about these people just by looking at them.  I doubted that an hour’s worth of questioning was going to give me any great insight, either.
When the judge concluded her initial questioning, I still had no idea which jurors would be the best for Ryan’s case.  Penny walked up to the podium, buttoning her sky-blue cardigan.
            “Good afternoon ladies and gentleman,” Penny said as she placed her purple trial notebook on the lectern.  “My name is Penny Pickens, and I represent the State of Washington in this case.”  The potential jurors smiled at her, apparently liking her homey appearance.  “I am going to ask you a few questions to help me determine who can be a fair juror in this case.”
I wished I could do something to keep the panel from smiling at her.
Penny cleared her throat.  “Who here has had sex in a public place?” she asked the panel.
            My eyes grew large in disbelief, as did the jurors’.
            One cowboy-looking man in the front row half raised his hand, having taken his juror’s oath to tell the truth a little too seriously.
            “Tell me sir, when you had sex in a public place, was it against the woman’s will?”
            “Not exactly.”
            “What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”
            “Well, it wasn’t with a woman.”
            I looked down at my paper, afraid to look up.
            “Let me ask the panel this, who thinks it is OK for a man to force himself on another person sexually?”
            No hands were raised.
            “How about this, sir,” she said, addressing another male juror in the middle row, “do you think it is OK to slap a woman in the face with your penis?”
            I noticed that all of the jurors had their arms crossed over their chests.
            “I suppose that would depend on the context,” the man answered defensively.
            I couldn’t look at Matthew.  I had a feeling he would look panic-stricken, which would definitely make me laugh, I was so nervous.   I did relax a little bit, , though.  I should have known that Penny would be as obnoxious in trial as she was in person.
            The jurors eyed me suspiciously when I stood up to ask them my voir dire questions.  After it became clear that I wasn’t going to ask them any questions about their personal sexual histories, however, the panel loosened up.  I asked if they remembered being teenagers.  I asked if they remembered how they thought about sex at that age, and if they thought that teens still felt that way.  One elderly woman condemned all modern teenage girls as having more carnal knowledge than the girls in her day.  I found out which women had teenage sons.  We kept the women on.  We kicked most of the men off.
            I had never seen Matthew in trial before, since I had never really seen anyone in trial besides myself, Bradley, and Doug.  Matthew had more experience than I did, though, and I was relieved that he would be giving our opening statement.  Matthew stood up and carried a few crumpled yellow pages to the lectern.  He started, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I, um, and my friend, um, Kate, I mean co-counsel, Kate, I mean, Ms. Hamilton, and I are here today, with Ryan, I mean, our client, you know, because they say that he did something—not that he didn’t do anything—that he isn’t guilty of.”
Matthew’s face was red to his hairline.  He wasn’t making any sense; he wasn’t saying anything.  Was there anything I could do?  I was about to fake a coughing attack in order to divert attention from Matthew, when I looked over that the jury.  Every one of the women were listening intently to Matthew and smiling at him.  Whatever he was doing was working.

After opening statements, the judge allowed a 15 minute recess.  I guided my parents to the courthouse hallway.  “Kate,” my mother said, “now what was this business about a penis?”  
“Um, well …” I started.  I had never discussed any kind of penis business with my mother before.  I was surprised to see Don, Judge Piddle’s bailiff, coming up the stairs.  “Matthew,” I said, “tell my parents about the penis incident.”  I walked over to Don.
“Judge Piddle would like to see you immediately,” he said.
            “Why?” I asked.
            “Because you have a trial scheduled with us.”
            “But I arranged for it to be continued.  Bradley agreed, and José was covering for me …”
            “The judge wants to see you right now.”
            “Actually, I am doing something else right now—a superior court trial.  I can’t go to see him right now.”
            “Is that what you want me to tell the judge?”
            I considered the situation for a moment.  “Yes, it is.”
            He gave me a funny smile and left.
            As predicted, the girls came to court dressed in long flowery dresses with their hair pulled back in demure ponytails.
Penny’s direct examination questions ranged from “And then what happened?” to “What happened next?”  Kimberly described running into Ryan at the park on the weekend.  She said her relationship with Ryan as friendly, but not close.  She shed a tear when she talked about how Ryan threw her to the ground, exposed himself to her, and slapped her in the face with his penis.  Her mother nodded proudly at her little girl’s bravery.  Kimberly had apparently forgotten our conversation.
“Good morning, Kimberly,” I said.
“Hi.”  Her tone was a guarded, but still friendly.
“We’ve met before, haven’t we?”
            “And that was on March 15th.”
            “And when we met before, it was at the prosecutors’ office.”
            “And you were there, obviously.”
            “I was there.”
            “Mr. Nelson was there.”
            “And Ms. Pickens was there.”
            “And we were all taking notes.”
            “To make sure we wrote down exactly what you said.”
            “After we finished our conversation, I asked you to review my notes, to make sure I hadn’t written anything incorrectly.”
            “You agreed that my notes were accurate.”
            “You remember the day you and Brittney met Ryan in the park.”
            “You were in a happy mood that day.”
            “The weather was nice.”
            “You and your friend were going to enjoy an afternoon in the park.”
            “When you ran into Ryan, you were happy to see him.”
            “He wasn’t a close friend, but he was an acquaintance who you liked.”
            “You both thought he was cute.”  I was just guessing on this one, but Ryan was pretty cute.
            “You three walked through the park together.”
            “At some point, in a joking voice, Ryan said, ‘Who wants to give me head?’”
            “You knew what he meant by that phrase.”
            “Both of you girls giggled in response to this question.”
            “You didn’t mention the giggling to the police?”
            “Because they didn’t ask?”
            “After he asked you for head, both of you kept walking with him, giggling and flirting.”
            “He asked you again, saying, this time, ‘Who wants to give me a blow job?’”
            “You knew what this phrase meant as well.”
            “You said, ‘no one,’ but you said this in a friendly way.”
            “You were all still joking around.”
            “And laughing.”
            “While you were laughing, you and Ryan started wrestling.”
            “The wrestling was friendly.”
            “Just horsing around.”
            “At some point, you ended up on the ground.”
            “The situation was still friendly at that point.”
            “He pulled out his penis.”
            “And began sort of wagging it in your face.”
            “You moved your head back and forth to get away from it.”
            “At this point, you stopped laughing, because you didn’t want his penis in your face.”
            “And you said, ‘Stop it.’”
            “And he stopped.”
            “He didn’t run away.”
            “Or threaten you two.”
            “He just helped you up off the ground.”
            “And the three of you walked off the park grounds together.”
            Brittney’s testimony was the same as Kimberly’s.  I felt satisfied, in a way, because I had exposed some important facts that had not been in the police report.  But what did it mean?  At what point did a situation change from joking around to a sex crime?  Was it when he exposed his penis?  Or would it be only after she told him to stop, and he refused?  I just hoped the jurors would think it mattered that the girls were giggling when the penis-slapping occurred.
            After the testimony concluded, Judge Stewart took the morning recess.  My parents and I left the courtroom, but Matthew stayed behind to work on his closing argument.
Standing up from getting a drink from the hallway water fountain, I discovered Don, Judge Piddle’s bailiff, beside me.  “Kate, Judge Piddle says he wants you in his courtroom right now.  He said not to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
            “I’m afraid he’s going to have to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
            “He told me to bring you in handcuffs if you didn’t agree to come.”
            I rolled my eyes.
            “He was serious, Kate.  I don’t want to do it, but he was serious.”
            Half of me wanted to hold out my arms for the cuffs.  What a story that would make.
“Listen,” I said, “I’m going to go back into Judge Stewart’s courtroom.  She won’t let you take me out of her courtroom.  As soon as the trial’s over, I’ll go over there.  It’s about time I had a word with Judge Piddle.”

Matthew blushed and fumbled through his closing argument.  No trial skills class would ever instruct a lawyer to blush and stutter, but he couldn’t have been more effective.  Every one of the 10 women on the jury wanted to climb out of the jury box and hug him and tell him everything was OK.  I didn’t think it mattered what anyone said at this point.  What mattered was how the jury interpreted those seconds when Ryan and Kimberly were on the ground.  I didn’t really know if it was a crime myself.  It was obviously bad behavior on Ryan’s part, but whether it was actually indecent liberties was another question.  Technically, it may have been.  The problem was that crimes are defined by words, which by their nature mean different things to different people.  I didn’t think Ryan should go to prison for what happened.  I hoped the one mother of a teenage boy on the jury would help me out; I hoped she could see her own son doing something this stupid.


            As soon as the jury had begun deliberations, I knew I needed to deal with Judge Piddle before he sent Don to fetch me in handcuffs.
            “Mom, Dad, I’ll be back in a minute.  I’ve got something I have to take care of.”
            “Don’t you want us to come?”
            “No, just sit out here in the hallway and look worried.  If the jurors walk by on a break, dab you eyes for tears.”
            “Kate, what are you talking about?”
            “Oh, nothing.  Just sit there and look worried, OK?”
            “You are starting to worry us now.”
            “Good.  I’ll be right back.”
            Matthew and I walked to Judge Piddle’s courtroom.  He was conducting pre-trial hearings, and the courtroom was packed.
            As soon as Judge Piddle saw me, he stopped in the middle of a guilty plea.  “Ms. Hamilton, you were not here to answer your cases.  Tell me why I should not hold you in contempt.”
            Everyone in the courtroom turned around to look at me.  I stood up straight.  “Because I was conducting a trial in superior court, and I had previously arranged for my cases to be continued.”  My tone was not entirely appropriate.
            “I did not allow you to do that.  You are assigned to my courtroom.  You are required to be here.”
            “I am not your property, Judge Piddle, and I refuse to be treated as such.”
            “Miss Hamilton!  I will not tolerate your insolence!  Meet me in chambers!”
            “I will not meet you in chambers,” I said, surprising myself.  “I was assigned to work on another case.  I made arrangements for Mr. Rivera to cover my cases.  I am not your chattel to order around as you please.  Private attorneys have obligations in other courtrooms all the time, and you allow other lawyers to cover for them.  I will not allow you to treat me differently because I am a public defender.”
            Matthew was pulling on my sleeve.  His eyes begged me to shut up.  I ignored him.  I was in a zone.
            The judge’s head was as red as a tomato.
            “That is quite enough, Miss Hamilton!”
            “No, I have had enough.”  Might as well go out with a bang, I thought.  “I have had enough of you treating people differently because they are poor.  I have had enough of you treating me differently because my clients are poor.  I am a lawyer who had an obligation in another courtroom.  I cannot be in two places at once.  I am not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.”
            The courtroom was absolutely quiet.  Judge Piddle stood up, trembling with rage.  I walked to the steel door.  Judge Piddle abruptly turned and left the courtroom, slamming the door to his chambers behind him.
            “All rise,” Don said belatedly.
            Someone sniggered, and then José started clapping, and soon the whole courtroom joined in, an ovation of scruffy misdemeanants. Doug was clapping too, but not Bradley.
            “Thanks everyone,” I said, but I had a feeling I was going to pay for this transgression.

            My parents, Matthew, and I waited for the jury to return in the courthouse hallway.  At 5 o’clock, Judge Stewart’s bailiff announced that the judge was releasing the jury for the day.  They would return the next day at 9:00 to resume deliberations.
Matthew rode with us in the car to my parents’ hotel.  My mother had not seen the charm in lodgings above a bar.
“Kate, why was that older man talking about putting handcuffs on you?” my mother asked.
            “Oh it’s just this conflict thing I have with another judge.”
            “I’m not sure that this is a good job for you, Kate.  Some of it seems a little unsavory. And you know, those girls today.  I don’t think they were very savory themselves.  I certainly have to question their virtue if they knew what all of those words meant.  I didn’t know until your father told me.”
            “Well, I knew what ‘blow job’ meant,” my dad said, “but I wasn’t sure about ‘giving head.’”
            I could see Matthew wishing that lightning would strike us dead.

The next day, we returned to the superior court hallway.  Matthew, my parents, and Ryan sat on the wooden benches, waiting.  I paced the hallway, unable to sit still.  Matthew kept saying, “I guess I’ll go back to the office now,” but wouldn’t leave.
After three hours, the bailiff came into the hallway.  “The jury has a verdict,” he announced.
            Here we go again, I thought, my heart pounding.  “Matthew, I’ll just wait out here while you get the verdict.  You can tell me what it is later.”
            “You have to go, Kate.”
            “No, you don’t understand.  It makes me think I’m having a heart attack.  It’s for my health.”
            “All right, all right.”
            Matthew and I stood at the counsel table with Ryan as the jurors entered the courtroom for the last time.  Ryan was shaking.  I put my hand out on his arm, and noticed that I was shaking too.  I watched helplessly as the juror walked to their places in the jury box.  When they were all in place, still standing, the judge asked, “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
            “Yes, we have, you honor,” the apparent foreperson said.  The foreperson was the woman who had teenaged sons.  I let myself hope.
            “Please hand the verdict form to the bailiff.”
            I felt the familiar slowing of time as the bailiff walked from the presiding juror to the judge.  I could feel my heart pounding in my ears.  To calm myself, I tried to imagine that I was lying on a beautiful white sand beach.
The judge looked down at the piece of paper.
I visualized where the azure water met the white sand.  I listened to the sound of the waves against the beach and watched as the judge mouthed words in slow motion.  I saw the judge’s lips moving, and then stop.
I saw a man sitting next to me on the beach.  He was tall and thin.  I couldn’t see his face.
            Suddenly, Matthew was hugging me and Ryan was crying.  Oh no, I thought, snapping out of my daydream.  I turned and saw Penny’s angry face.  Then, I turned and saw my parents, who were smiling.  I looked at Ryan again.  He was crying and smiling at the same time.  Tears of relief.

            After the verdict, we all gathered in the corridor, all hugging and happy.  Penny stood stiffly, not looking at anyone.  “Why doesn’t she just go away?” I asked futilely.
            “She’s waiting to talk to the jury,” Matthew guessed.
            “Why would she want to do that?” my mother asked.
            “She’ll want to lecture them.” I said.  “It will make her feel better, since they denied her the pleasure of sending someone to prison.”
            Jurors started trickling out of the jury deliberation room.  Penny was right on them.  “How could you have possibly found him not guilty?” she asked a female juror who worked in banking.
            “We thought it was the right thing to do.”
            “Right thing to do?  He assaulted a young woman with his penis!  Are you just going to let him get away with that?”
            The man standing next to the banking lady interrupted, disliking Penny’s tone.  “We figured he had learned his lesson, and that it wouldn’t happen again.  And he has those nice parents.  He’s obviously from a good family—they’ll make sure he stays in line.”
            As the two jurors walked away, Penny shouted after them, “But they were HER parents!”  The rest of the jurors scooted past the yelling, crazy lady, afraid for their safety.
            Penny was livid.  She grabbed my arm, “We are going back into the judge’s chambers right now!  Did you hear them?  They thought he was guilty!”
            I kept my voice steady.  “Penny, let go of my arm.”
            “You have to go back in there.”  Her tone was strident.  “They thought he was guilty.  The verdict was wrong!”
            “I don’t have to go anywhere,” I said, prying her hand off my arm.  “‘Not guilty’ is the end of it.”
            “This isn’t fair!”  She said, stomping her foot.
            I shook my head.  A grown woman having a temper tantrum.  How embarrassing.

            That evening, my parents and I went to dinner at a waterside seafood restaurant.  I thought they would appreciate the locally-caught fish, but, distrustful of the unfamiliar salmon and halibut, they ordered steak.  Not wanting to appear contrarian, I ordered steak too.  I winced at the stereotype:  three Texans eating steak in a seafood restaurant.
“Kate,” my father said, “we were very proud of you in that trial.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said through a mouthful of steak.  I hadn’t had steak since I had moved to the Northwest.  It was delicious.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said.  “You’ll probably be able to use your trial experience to get a job in a law firm.”
I put down the luscious piece of steak I was about to put in my mouth.  “I’m not sure that’s what I want.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll think of something.  It’s not like you’ll want to be a public defender forever.”
“I’m not really looking that far ahead right now.”
“I’m sure Kate is keeping all of her options open,” my mother said.  “Aren’t you Kate?”
I put the steak in my mouth.  I nodded because I knew she hated it when I talked with my mouth full.
“That Matthew seems like a nice boy,” my mother said.
I swallowed.  “Matthew’s just a friend, Mom.  I’ve been too busy to think about dating.”
“I guess you still have time.  But we would like some grandchildren some day.”
Children?  I could barely take care of myself.

The next morning, I drove my parents to the airport.  I prayed that there would be no repeat of yesterday’s job or boyfriend discussion.
            “What if you have to go to trial with someone guilty?” my mother asked.
            “Mom, I hate to break this to you, but I think maybe Ryan was guilty.”
            “I didn’t think so.  I think those girls were promiscuous.  He should have had a spanking.  Or been grounded.”
            “That may have been a moral reason to find him not guilty, but not a legal one.”
            “I still don’t understand what you do when someone is really guilty.  What if someone is definitely guilty of something horrendous?  Like rape, or murder?”
            “If someone is obviously guilty, you usually try to plea bargain, but if a person wants a trial, he can have it.”
            “Doesn’t that seem dishonest?  If you think he’s guilty how can you get up there and say he’s not guilty?”
            “‘Not guilty’ means a lot of things, Mom.  It can mean a person is innocent, it can mean guilt can’t be proved by the state, it can mean the prosecutor is an idiot and is bound to screw something up.”
            “But how can you defend a person you know is guilty?”
            “That’s like asking a doctor how he can treat a patient he knows is sick.  I think you’re getting confused by the word ‘defend.’  Because it implies that you are defending what the guilty person did.  Maybe ‘public attorney’ would be a better term.  Or ‘appointed counsel.’  Because it’s unlikely you would ask, ‘How can you counsel someone you know is guilty?’  Because that’s what we do, we explain the charges, give them advice, tell them about their rights.”
            “But aren’t you defending the person if you go to trial?”
“It’s not like I get up there and lie for them.  I just test the state’s evidence.  And let’s say I did refuse to go to trial on any client I thought was guilty?  So the person doesn’t get a lawyer if I think he’s guilty?  That’s a convenient way to do away with the right to a lawyer, isn’t it?  I’m not the one who gets to decide guilt or innocence, it’s the jury.  My job, if I go to trial, is to challenge the state’s evidence.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“You know, Mom, the question should be:  How can you defend someone innocent?  Because defending an innocent person is about the most terrifying thing on the planet.”
My father and I carried the luggage to the ticket counter while my mother checked her lipstick.  We sat the bags down at the end of the line.
            “You know, Kate, I never would have chosen this public defender job for you.  Wouldn’t choose it now, even.  But keep up the fight.  Those people need you.”
            “Thanks, Dad.”

Want to read more?  Find the next chapters, 17-19, the Bomb Squad; Dinner with Matthew's Parents; and Bradley's Plea "Bargain," here.

No comments: