Friday, May 11, 2012

Chapters 17, 18, and 19, the bomb squad; dinner with Matthew's parents; and Bradley's plea "bargain"

(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 it here.)
(Haven't read chapters 10 and 11? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 12 through 14? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 15 through 16? Find them here.)


            After the victory on Ryan’s trial, things settled down.  Bradley Boldham got married to another ultraconservative, and was too busy trying to make ultraconservative babies to make bad plea offers.  Any case I set for trial would immediately get a plea offer that was a vast reduction from the original charge.  Doug and I, on the other hand, had developed a sort of brother-sister relationship; he liked to pretend that he hated me and would only give me a deal after a careful exchange of promises.
            “Doug, give this guy a neg driving.  He doesn’t have any history, and his blow was low.”  I had a proud mastery of the lingo by now.
            “With you it’s always give, give, give, isn’t it, Kate?”
            “Just give me the deal, Doug.”
            “But what’s in it for me, Kate.  What about my needs?”
            “You won’t have to go to trial?”
            “I knew you would say that.  But I’m talking about something that actually helps me.  Wait, I know—I’ll give you the deal, if you agree to not talk to me for a month.”
            “But how are we going to deal with our cases?”
            “U.S. mail only.”
            I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but I had always liked writing letters, so I mailed him a list of our cases, and my plea offers, and he mailed me back a letter, accepting some and rejecting others.  The mail exchange was actually more efficient than our usual banter.
            On the last day of the no-talking ban, I thought I’d be funny and refer to our first trial and the feminine-hygiene issue.  From the bathroom dispensing machine, I bought one of those extra-large sanitary napkins that no one uses, wrapped it in a blank court order, taping the ends closed like a Christmas package.  I wrote “VAUGHN” on the front of the package and took it to the prosecutor’s office.  Looking around to make sure no one was watching, I slipped the package into the prosecutors’ in-box.  I smiled at my joke as I walked to the jail to meet with clients.
            Walking back by the prosecutors’ office a couple of hours later, I saw a large crowd gathered in the courthouse commons.  I elbowed my way through police and firefighters to see what was going on.  A squat, white van was in the middle of the commotion.  I saw Doug and walked over to him.
            “What’s going on?”
            “Are you supposed to be talking to me?”
            “The ban expired 30 minutes ago,” I said.  “Who are those guys in white with the funny van?”
            “It’s the bomb squad.”  He looked squarely at me, seeking a reaction.
            “Bomb squad?  Why would the bomb squad be here?”
            “Someone left a suspicious package at our office a little while ago.”
            “The funny thing was that it had my name on it.”
            “Has someone been threatening you?”
            “No more than usual.”
            “What are they going to do?”
            Just as I finished this question, a muffled bang emanated from the white van.  After a few seconds, a bomb squad member opened the back doors of the van.  A puff of smoke wafted out and up into the sky.  The man went to the padded safe inside the van and carefully opened it.  With a pair of industrial-sized kitchen tongs, he reached inside the safe, and pulled out a mangled, white mass.  The wind picked up bits of cotton and blew them through the crowd.
            “Doesn’t that seem odd?” Doug asked.
            “Yes, indeed,” I said, brushing a few cotton fluffs off the shoulder of his suit.


            I was sitting on the floor of my office, because stacks of files covered my desk and all of my chairs.  I was trying to figure out which files contained the biggest emergencies, when Matthew stopped by.  “Kate,” he said, “I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”
            “I was wondering if you would mind going to dinner with me and my parents.”
            “Sure, but why?”
            “I just need a buffer.  I think they’re up to something.  It turns out a lady in their church was on Ryan’s jury.  I think they want me to quit my job.”
            “But they’ve known all along that you work here, right?”
            Matthew stared down at his scuffed loafers.
            “Right?” I repeated.
            “Well, not exactly.  I told them that I was working as a lawyer to help the poor.  Which is true, but I knew they didn’t think I meant defending criminals.  They didn’t even really like the helping poor people part—they wanted me to work at Cache and Carmichael, where some of their friends from church work.  I pointed out that Jesus was all about helping the poor, and they let up.  But now I think they know that I’m a criminal lawyer.”
            “Matthew, you’ve got to stand up to them.  You know, be a man.”
            “I know, but I need some help.  Will you come?”
            “Yes, but you’re going to owe me for this one.”
            “Anything, Kate.  Please.”

            At 7 o’clock on Sunday, Matthew and his parents pulled up in front of the bar in their forest green Chevrolet Caprice Classic.  Too late, I realized that my Moezy’s residence might not give them the best impression of me.
            I slid in beside Matthew in the back seat.  “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson,” I said properly, trying to sound like someone who did not live above a bar.
            “Nice to meet you,” they said simultaneously and stiffly.  They did not turn around to look at me.
            Matthew’s mother wore a tight bun and a light blue dress.  His father wore a brown sweater.  The Caprice pulled out of the parking lot.
            “We’re going to Red Lobster, if that’s OK,” Matthew said.  “It’s Mom’s favorite.”
            I was tempted to say that I was vegetarian, even though I wasn’t.  I resisted the urge for Matthew’s sake.
            At the restaurant, I went a little crazy, ordering the popcorn shrimp, lobster, and crab cakes.  Matthew’s mother ordered a broiled chicken breast.  We talked about little things for most of the meal, such as what Matthew’s sister was doing in bible camp and today’s sermon.
            “Didn’t you go to a movie last night, Mom?”  Matthew turned to me.  “Mom and Dad have started going to the dollar movie on Saturday nights.”
            “We went,” his mother said primly, without elaboration.
            “How was it?” Matthew asked.
            “We had to leave.”
            “You mean you left in the middle of the movie?”  I had never left in the middle of a movie in my life.
            “Your mother became upset by the vulgarity,” Mr. Nelson said.
            “What movie was it?” I asked.
            “Forest Gump,” Mr. Nelson said, grimacing at the distasteful memory.
            “Matthew,” Mrs. Nelson said.  “Mrs. Houghton was on a jury for one of your trials a couple of weeks ago.  I didn’t know you were defending criminals.  You never told us that.  She said you were there with some female lawyer.”  Matthew’s mother turned and looked at me.  “Was that you?”
            “Yes ma’am,” I said, refusing to look downward, despite her disapproving stare.
            “Your father and I have talked about it and we don’t approve at all.  Matthew, your father has arranged an entry level job for you at Cache and Carmichael.  Now that you have gotten some good trial experience, you will be perfect for their litigation section.  It’s all arranged.”
            “Mother …”
            “Your father has it all arranged for you to start a week from Monday.”
            “You’ve got to understand, son, that this defender work will harm your reputation,” Mr. Nelson said.  “You will become associated with the criminals you represent.  You won’t be able to find a good Christian girl to marry, and if you do, you won’t be able to support her.  Your wife would have to work,” he said, turning to me with his last words.
            “Dad,” Matthew said, taking a deep breath and gathering his strength.  “I’m staying at the public defender’s office because I like it there.”  He paused and took another breath.  “You can’t tell me what to do anymore.  You never cared about me becoming what I wanted to be.  You only cared about what you wanted me to be.  I don’t want to be you.  And I don’t want to become your crazy idea of what is perfect.”
            “We raised you better than this,” Matthew’s mother whispered in an angry hiss.  “We raised you in a good Christian household.”
            “Yes, you did.  And you know, I believed in Jesus.  I still do.  You taught me my whole life to believe in his words.  He said, ‘Help the poor, help the oppressed, wash their feet.’  If Jesus were here today, he would be a public defender.”
            “That’s just blasphemy.”  Mrs. Nelson was outraged.
            “Mom and Dad, I am a public defender, and I am going to stay a public defender.  And another thing, Kate is pregnant.  We’re going to keep the baby, but we’re not going to get married.”
            Everyone was staring at me.  I had never seen Matthew so wound up before.  His hands were shaking.  I reached over and held his hand,
            Mrs. Nelson grabbed her purse and scooted out of the bench.  “Let’s go, Fred.”
            “Yes, let’s.”  Without looking back, they walked out of the restaurant.
            “Matthew, what just happened?”
            “I think I just told my parents that they could go fuck themselves.”
            “Matthew, Jesus would not use the F word.”
            “And I’m pregnant?”
            “Sorry about that, too.  I got a little carried away.  It’s just that they always told me if I ever had a baby out of wedlock I would be cut off.”
            “But I’m not pregnant.”
            “That could change.”
            “Couldn’t you have just told them that you’re gay?”
            “But I’m not gay.”
            And another thing,” I said.  “They left without paying.  Now we’re going to have to pay for dinner.”
            “Does this mean you don’t want to have my baby?” Matthew asked.  After a brief pause, we both dissolved into laughter.


            I arrived at work early on Monday morning, hoping to get organized for the week.  The angry red light on my telephone indicated I had new voice-mail messages.
            Sighing, I punched in my code, and the voice mail lady spoke.  “Your voice mail is over …  eighty … percent full.  Please delete unneeded messages.”
            “Hi, this is Jack, call me back.”
            “Jack.  Who are you, Jack?”  I had started talking back to the voice mail.
            “Hi, this is Brandon.  I got a warrant I need to get squished.  Call me.”
            “Phone number, Brandon.  You’ve got to leave me your phone number.”
            As I scribbled down the inadequate messages, I looked over at my computer screen.  On it was a yellow sticky note.  “Come see me, Ed.”
            I didn’t think I was in trouble, but couldn’t imagine why he wanted to see me.  I walked down to the second floor and peered in the door to Ed’s office.
            “Come in, Kate.  Sit down.”
            “Did Judge Piddle complain about me again?”
            “Kate, you know I don’t care what Judge Piddle thinks about you.”
            “I know.  But I keep having these run-ins with him.  In the back of my head, I keep worrying that you’ll get one complaint too many, and I’ll get fired.”
            “I’ve only fired one lawyer since I became the director here, and that certainly wasn’t because a judge complained.”
            “You fired someone?  Why?”
            “The lawyer was an earnest young woman who had attended one of the better law schools.  She was a good lawyer, too—efficient, professional, hard-working.  One day we were talking, and I asked her how she liked the job.  She answered that she loved the legal work, but could do without some of the clients.  I asked her what she meant.  She said that they were just different from her.  Trying to explain herself, she said that while she was concerned about her client’s legal issues, she’d never had a client she could imagine having a cup of coffee with.”
“Maybe she didn’t drink coffee?”
            “Kate, to do this job right, you have to be willing to have a cup of coffee with anyone.  You have to be willing to look at every client as a person, rather than as a derelict.  You have to try to see the good in everyone.”
            I suddenly remembered the time I had refused to have a beer with Doug.  Having a beer was probably the same as having coffee.  “Does this rule extend to prosecutors?”
            “I suppose.  But I just said that you had to try to see good in everyone.  I didn’t say you would always find it.”
            “Even Judge Piddle?”
            “That’s a tough one, I have to admit.  No need to worry, though.  You won’t be getting any more complaints from him.”
            “Why not?”
            “I’m moving you to a felony caseload.”
            “What?” I asked anxiously.  “But I’m just getting comfortable in misdemeanors.  That is, if one can ever be comfortable with Judge Piddle.”
            “We’ve had several felony lawyers leave the office recently.  You’ve done good work with your last couple of trials—I think you’re ready.”
            “No,” I said, emphatically.  “I am not.”
            “Kate,” Ed said, “you don’t have a choice.”

            That night at the bar, Janice, Matthew, José, and I commiserated.  Matthew already had a handful of felony cases, and José had just heard that he was switching too.  Janice was staying behind to train the new misdemeanor attorneys.
            “But there is no training for the misdemeanor attorneys,” I pointed out.
            “Why do you think I asked for the assignment?” she said, pulling off her long cigarette.  There was something to be said for street smarts.
            “What is the deal with the felony lawyers?” I asked José.  “Why do they seem so out-of-it?”
            “Because of the stress.  It’s one thing to worry about a client who is facing a couple of days in jail.  But when they’re looking at 30 years, it gets to you.  In general, the felony lawyers don’t sleep.  They seem to exist on a combination of adrenaline, caffeine, and nicotine.  Oh, and wait ’til you get a load of the felony prosecutors.”
            “They can’t be worse than Bradley.”
            José just shook his head.  “If only that were true.  Anyway, Bradley told me last week that he and Doug are going to felonies, too.”
            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.  “Doug will be fine, but Bradley can’t even handle misdemeanors.”  I turned to Janice, who had a far away look. “Janice, you should come with us.  We’re all in this together.  We can help each other.”
            “I just can’t do it,” she said, strangely.  “Not now.”

            Matthew, José, and I got our own cubicles on the second floor.  Janice stayed behind in the cubicle we had shared.  I was feeling more like a real lawyer—I had my own office now—until I realized that José was using our cubicle wall as his personal laundry basket.  I was interviewing my first felony client, feeling very professional, when I heard a sudden whap! above my head.  My client and I looked up and saw a wet gym towel draped over the divider between our cubicles.  We watched as droplets of musky-smelling liquid dripped onto my desk.
I also got a computer.  I positioned it away from the towel-drying spot.  At first I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have such a marvel of modern technology.  Then I opened my e-mail program.  Messages came screaming into my in-box, often with exclamation points attached to their titles, and often written in all capital letters.  Apparently much of the communication in superior court was done by computer.  While I considered this e-mail assault annoying, I figured I was probably lucky to avoid actually talking to these people.

            Bradley took his new felony position extremely seriously.  He walked superior court’s hallways with his head up and shoulders back, as if he were the star of his own prosecutor movie.  I wanted to shout, “Lights!” whenever I saw him with his shiny, prosecutor briefcase and unneeded umbrella.  I had a feeling that what had before been harmless incompetence might become dangerous in this arena of higher stakes.
            Most of the e-mail messages I received on my new computer conveyed plea offers:  “Your client can plead guilty to the theft charge, and I’ll dump the possession.”  Sometimes, the e-mails included a snide remark about the client:  “Your client is a four-time loser.  I’m not cutting him any breaks this time.”  While annoying, most of the e-mails were short, and at least communicated an offer in a fairly efficient fashion.
            On the first day of my second week in felonies, I opened a message from Bradley.  It was a couple of pages long, rather than the usual two or three sentences that the other prosecutors sent.  It appeared to be a form letter.

“Dear Ms. Hamilton:

               In accordance with the above-referenced superior court case, State v. Eddie Keller, I tender the following offer for settlement:

The defendant may plead guilty to possession of stolen property, as charged.
His offender score appears to be:  Zero.
Standard sentencing range is therefore: 2 to 6 months
If the above offender score is correct, we are willing to resolve the case with a plea to the charge(s) and an agreed joint recommendation of all of the following:
1. 4 months incarceration;
2. 12 months community custody with the following conditions: finding of Chemical Dependency, advise CCO of changes in address or employment, geographic restrictions at CCO’s discretion, no use/possession nonprescribed controlled substances, legend drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia, no criminal law violations, random drug monitoring and alcohol (UAs and BAs) with substance abuse evaluation and follow-up treatment at CCO’s discretion, no association with DOC identified drug offenders, comply with affirmative acts, DNA testing, HIV testing;
3. Legal/financial obligations of: victim’s assessment, court costs, lab, DNA collection and warrant fees if any, mandatory drug fines, attorney fees of $650 for a class A felony, $450 for a class B felony or $250 for a class C felony;
4. If the defendant will claim indigency as to fines or costs, the State must be made aware of the claim and basis for the claim, prior to the plea;
5. If the defendant was required to do TASC, costs for the pretrial TASC monitoring;
6. If a vehicle was involved, pursuant to 46.20.285, DOL will be notified of the defendant’s conviction;
7. No Alford plea (defendant must agree to allocute and/or agree to police report/affidavit of probable cause); and
8. All of the above terms and conditions must be noted as a joint recommendation and spelled out in the defendant’s Statement on Plea of Guilty.
This offer expires: two weeks from today’s date. The offer will be automatically revoked/automatically withdrawn should the defendant incur new charges or violate conditions of release. Offer revoked should the defendant intend to request DOSA, Drug Court, First Time Offender, or Community Service or other alternative sentencing without prior agreement. Should the defendant attempt to enter an Alford plea at plea without prior agreement, the offer is revoked/withdrawn.  Should this case not be resolved, the State may at anytime thereafter amend to add such additional charges, enhancements, or more serious charges as may be supported by the facts. As a condition of the plea, if applicable, the defendant must agree to forfeiture of any firearms. No other cases, pending, referred or unreferred are included in this offer unless specifically identified by police report number and date.
The information in this e-mail message is privileged and confidential. It is intended only for the use of the recipient named above.  If you received this in error, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify me.
I read Bradley’s email three times, and still had no idea what it all meant.  Legal boilerplate apparently made Bradley feel like a real lawyer.  I called my client and told him that the prosecutor had made a bullshit offer, and that we could discuss it at his next court date, if we didn’t have a better offer by then.  I decided to reply to Bradley’s e-mail with the opposite of legalese, but became sidetracked by a feature of my computer’s e-mail program.  I had decided that I would purposefully misspell every other word in my reply message to Bradley.  However, as soon as I typed “becuase” my word processor’s spell-checking program changed the word to the properly spelled “because.”  I tried over and over to spell “because” incorrectly, but as soon as I hit the space key—zap—the letters magically rearranged themselves.
            I started to wonder how this worked.  After all, if I wanted to misspell a word, I should surely be allowed to.  Who would want to live in a world where misspelling was not only forbidden, but impossible?  I clicked on the “Tools” bar of my e-mail program, and found a subsection called “AutoCorrect.”  In this subsection, I discovered how the rigid spelling changer worked.  The AutoCorrect contained a list of common misspellings, and then next to the common misspellings, the program told the computer what to change the misspelled word to.  Thus, “hte” would become “the,” etc.
            I also noticed that one could also add to these lists.  “Hello,” for example, could be changed to auto-correct to “What’s up, motherfucker?”

            I ran into Bradley in the courtroom as we all stood around waiting for an arraignment docket.  He approached me with an eager smile.  “Did you get my plea offer on Keller?”
            “I did,” I said.
            “Is he going to take it?”
            “I didn’t read it.  I don’t read e-mails that are that long.”
            “Well, you’ll have to look at it at some point,” he said puffing his chest out.
            “I’m afraid I deleted it,” I said.
            “What?” he said, “You can’t do that.”
            “Actually, yes, I can do that.  You see, if I hold down the ‘control’ button and then hit the letter ‘D,’ it just disappears.”
            “No, no, no, Kate,” he said, wagging his finger under my nose.  “You have an ethical and moral duty to read each offer I send you and to duly convey it to your client.”
            I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, “I told you I don’t read e-mails that long.”

            A couple of days later, Bradley chased me down the courthouse stairs.  “You still haven’t gotten back to me on Keller.  We’ve got to set a plea.”
            “Why would we do that?”
            “I made you an offer.”
            “The one I didn’t read?”
            “You can’t do that.  My offer was extremely reasonable.”
            “Don’t I get to be the judge of that?”
            “Look, if he pleads guilty, I’ll recommend four months.”
            “If he goes to trial and gets found guilty, his sentence will probably be three months.”
            “He should take it, you know he’s guilty.”
            “I don’t know any such thing.”
            “Just take the plea bargain, Kate.”
            “You don’t seem to understand the basic premise of a plea bargain, Bradley.  It’s not called a ‘plea,’ it’s called a ‘plea bargain.’  That means if you want him to give up his right to a trial, you have to give him something.  For example, you reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and agree to let him out of jail today.  That way, even if he’s innocent, he might take the deal, just to get out of jail early.  Let’s put the ‘bargain’ back in ‘plea bargain,’ Bradley.”  José would have been proud.
            “I can’t do that, it would hurt my stats.”
            “Your whats?”
            “Our office keeps statistics on how many charges we reduce.  If I want to get in major crimes, I’ve got to keep my stats up.”
            “Which is why I don’t read your e-mails.”
            “Kate, will you please stop kidding around.  When are we going to set a plea?”
            “If pleading guilty to a felony is your best offer, we aren’t.”
            “What are we going to do then?”
            “I was thinking about a trial.”
            “You can’t go to trial on this case.  You don’t have a defense.”
            “Why don’t you let me worry about that?”
            “He was caught red-handed in a stolen car.  You can’t go to trial on that.”
            “Bradley, I’m not listening to you anymore.”
            “Kate, you have a responsibility …”
            I actually had to put my fingers in my ears and chant “I’m not listening, I’m not listening” until he went away.  His misguided earnestness was beginning to affect my professional demeanor.

Want to read more?  Find the next chapters, 20 and 21, B.Y.O.C.; and Ah, Ed, here.


Miranda said...

I'm really enjoying these chapters. Thanks so much for sharing. I have to say that this week was maybe my favorite. The chapter of the dinner with Matthew's parents was great and this line:
"'Hello,' for example, could be changed to auto-correct to 'What’s up, motherfucker.'"
made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

carol d said...

Thanks, Miranda! Nothing makes me happier than making people laugh.

Keri said...

Bradly's plea offer seems very from a former Prosecutor I knw who made your client agree to everything but their first born child in order to accept the deal!

carol d said...

I know, Keri, I know. I wish I could find the plant where they manufacture these guys so I could make a few adjustments.