Friday, May 18, 2012

Chapters 20 and 21; B.Y.O.C.; and Ah, Ed

(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.)
(Haven't read chapters 17 through 19? Find them here.)


            I would have gone to trial on Eddie Keller’s case whether I had a defense or not, just on principle, but luckily, we actually had something to argue.  My client was an attractive, articulate, young black man who was stopped on the highway driving a stolen pickup truck.  He insisted he was innocent, telling me that he had not known the truck was stolen.  When I talked to him, however, he was vague about the facts, saying that he borrowed the truck from a friend, but providing few details.
            Two weeks before the trial, I went to see Eddie in the jail to try to get a straight story from him.  After 30 minutes, I finally said, “Look, you’re not going to win at trial, because you’re hiding something.  Why won’t you tell me the whole story?”
            Eddie looked down and sighed.  “I’m embarrassed,” he said.  “I was doing some stuff I shouldn’t have been doing, and I’m afraid you’ll think less of me.”
            I looked at him patiently.
            “OK,” he said, “we were doing drugs in my apartment, and this one guy wants more, but is out of money.  He tells me I can use his truck for a week if I give him some more drugs, and I agree.  I didn’t have a car myself, and I wanted to drive to Athens to look for work.  I swear to God that’s what happened.”
            I would have preferred that he had borrowed the car from his minister in order to deliver food to the elderly, but I had to work with the facts I had.  And while my client may have committed the crimes of drug delivery and possession, he did not knowingly possess stolen property.
“I can’t tell that story at trial,” Eddie said.
“Why not?”
“Then they can get me for drug delivery.”
“Not unless the drugs and the people you gave them to are still around.”
“Why is that?”
“There has to be some evidence of a crime besides your own statement.  I doubt the drugs you sold that night still exist—they were undoubtedly consumed.  Without the drugs, they can’t prove drug delivery.  You can tell your story to the jury.”
“They’re not going to like it.”
“Probably not.  But if it’s the truth, it’s all we’ve got.”

Felonies were even more frantic than misdemeanors.  While I had a larger number of cases when I was in Judge Piddle’s courtroom, most had settled with plea bargains.  I was still trying to figure out what I was doing in felonies, but I was finding that I had to work the cases more; that is, interview witnesses, research legal issues, write suppression motions.  My work days seemed to consist of running from meaningless and time-wasting court appearances, to interviewing witnesses, meeting clients, and jail visits.  Legal research and writing had to wait until the weekend.  I couldn’t imagine where time for trial preparation fit into all of this.

The week before Eddie’s trial, I was in Doug’s office, interviewing a 16-year-old girl who had witnessed a burglary.  When she described seeing the prowlers enter her neighbor’s house, her eyes suddenly filled with tears.  Doug was oblivious, apparently daydreaming as he doodled on his legal pad while I asked the girl questions.
            “Doug ...” I said, trying to get his attention.  He was engrossed in his drawing of a motorcycle at the bottom of his legal pad.  “Doug!”  I said again, with added force.
He jolted from his daydream.
“Do you think we could get some tissue here?”
            He looked up at the girl’s tear-streaked face and was immediately embarrassed.  He opened a few desk drawers.  “I, uh, don’t have any.  Just a sec, I’ll be right back,” he said, leaving the girl and me alone in his office.
            I knew I only had a few seconds.  “Oh, my goodness,” I said to the girl, who wasn’t paying attention to me, anyway.  “I just realized I’m late for an appointment at my office.  I’ll just send a fast e-mail to my secretary.”
            I quickly moved to Doug’s chair, where I accessed his e-mail program.  I clicked on “Tools,” then “AutoCorrect,” and made a few adjustments.

            Doug called me that afternoon.
            “Dammit, Kate.  What did you do?”
            “What are you talking about?”
            “My computer.”
            “Someone stole your computer?  It wasn’t me.”
            “No, it’s my e-mail.  Whenever I type the word “think,” my computer changes the word to ‘thunk.’”
            “Hmm.  Maybe it’s a new form of past tense—you know, like think, thank, thunk?”
            “I’ve tried at least a hundred times to type ‘think,’ using all caps, italics ... but as soon as I press the space bar, it changes to ‘thunk.’  The only way I can use the word “think” in an e-mail is if I put it in quotation marks, which tends to change the meaning of what I am trying to say.”
“Can you type the word ‘thinking’?”
            I heard a few clicks.
            “Yes.  That seems to work.”
            “Then you’ll just have to use the present perfect.”  Finally, a practical use for my English degree.
            “As in, instead of writing ‘I think,’ you type ‘I am thinking.’  I’ve actually always been fond of the present perfect.  ‘I think’ sounds so straightforward.  ‘I am thinking,’ on the other hand, implies that you have an opinion about something, but are still thinking about it, and could be persuaded otherwise.”
“I am thinking I am going to come over there and kill you.”
            “But then you would have to prosecute yourself.”
            “It would be justifiable homicide.”
            “I am thinking not.”

            I worked over the weekend on Eddie’s trial, which would be my first solo felony trial.  I surprised myself by not panicking over the weekend.  When I analyzed the facts of Eddie’s case, I realized they were really fairly simple, despite being labeled a felony.  The state’s case was:  Eddie was driving a stolen car.  Our case was: Yes, but he didn’t know it was stolen.  I even took a few hours off and watched TV down in the bar.

Eddie’s trial was assigned to Judge Aaron Black.  Judge Black was a tall, handsome man with dark hair and a salt-and-pepper goatee.  His appearance could have been intimidating, and I imagined that he could be fierce on occasion, but the few times I had seen him he was always smiling or laughing.  José had told me that Judge Black was one of the most normal judges in the county.  He said he was a “mensch,” and hadn’t let the power of the robe go to his head.
I arrived at Judge Black’s courtroom about 30 minutes before the trial was scheduled to start.  I chose the counsel table closest to the jury.  My theory was that the jury would feel more connected with my client if he was close to them.  This theory would probably not work with a client who had an unfortunate resemblance to an ax murderer; luckily, Eddie was nice-looking and likeable.  Thus, I arrived at court early to ensure I could claim the table closest to the jury.  I spread my trial books and binders out on the table and hung my jacket on the back of one of the chairs.
Rodney, Judge Black’s bailiff, offered me coffee while I waited for the jail staff to transport my client.  I spent the next 20 minutes talking with Rodney, who proved to be friendly and opinionated.  Rodney had thinning hair that he wore greased back in an old-fashioned way.  I wondered if his hair product would work on Doug’s hair.
“What’s this trial about, anyway?” Rodney asked.
“Possession of a stolen car.”
“Was your guy caught driving it?”
“Any evidence he knew it was stolen?”
“Nope—just that he was in it.”
“Criminy.  Don’t the prosecutors have anything better to do?”
“Apparently not.  It has something to do with Bradley’s stats.”
“That’s the whole problem with this system.  A bunch of ambitious knuckleheads wasting everybody’s time on minor offenses.  They should put me in charge.  I’d save the state millions of dollars.  I’d lock the seriously scary ones up forever and send everyone else to treatment.”
At exactly 9 o’clock, Bradley breezed in to the courtroom, put his briefcase down on my table, and started spreading out his legal pads.  I couldn’t figure out what he was doing.  Surely he had seen all my stuff on the table.
“Hey Bradley,” I said from the judge’s office, where I was still having coffee with Rodney.  “What are you going to do—sit with me at the counsel table?  Don’t you think it will look funny for us to both sit at the same table?”
Without looking up, Bradley arranged his pens in a straight line next to his yellow pad.  “The plaintiff always sits next to the jury in superior court,” he said officiously.
I shook my head.  “Not today.”  For Rodney’s benefit, I said, “Hey, Bradley. Why don’t we arm-wrestle for it?  I’ve been working out.  I think I could take you.”
Bradley turned to me, and said, “Now, that wouldn’t be a very good legal solution to our problem.”
            I turned to Rodney, and, with an effort to be overheard, said, “You know what?  I think he’s chicken.”
Rodney looked at Bradley and then back at me.  “I think you’re right,” he said.
A few minutes later, Rodney told us that the judge would like to see Bradley and me in his chambers.  Judge Black welcomed us warmly, shaking hands with each of us.  He invited us to sit in the chairs opposite his desk.  We discussed the trial’s schedule and Bradley told the judge the names of the few witnesses he would call.
“Looks like the trial will be fast, anyway,” Judge Black said.  “I assume the issue will be whether your client knew the truck was stolen, Ms. Hamilton.”
I nodded my head slightly.
“I presume you offered a misdemeanor to settle the case, Mr. Boldham.”
I raised an eyebrow.  Bradley pulled at the collar of his shirt.  “The state was not in a position to extend such an offer.”
As we were getting up to leave, Bradley said, “One more matter, your honor.  It is my understanding that the plaintiff traditionally occupies the counsel table closest to the jury in superior court.  May I presume that this custom exists in your honor’s courtroom as well?”
            The judge looked from Bradley to me, leaned back in his chair, and said, “Nah, first come, first served.”
            I knew this was a tiny battle to win, but my pleasure was immense as I watched Bradley walk to my table and gather up all the books and notepads he had so carefully arranged.  I looked over at Rodney, made a fist, pointed to my bicep, and smiled.
            By noon, we had completed voir dire and opening statements.  After we returned from a quick lunch break, Bradley called his first witness, the police officer who had stopped Eddie in the stolen car.  The officer testified that he had pulled my client’s car over for speeding.  After running the car’s license plate number, dispatch informed him that the car was stolen.  Eddie would testify that he did not know the car was stolen, because he borrowed it from an acquaintance.  As long as the jury followed the law, I should win this case, because Bradley had no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Eddie knew the car was stolen.  Unless, of course, Bradley destroyed Eddie with his cross-examination.
            Eddie told his story during direct examination.  He did well, I thought, just telling facts, explaining the hotel he lived at, and that on the weekends he occasionally used drugs.  He told the jury that a man from a nearby apartment had come to party with him, wanted more drugs than he could afford, and had offered Eddie the use of his truck in exchange for more drugs.
            At the very end of the direct examination, I asked the ultimate question.  “Mr. Keller, did you have any idea the truck was stolen?”
“No, Ma’am, I did not.”
I smiled at Eddie and walked to my seat.  I hated letting Bradley cross-examine Eddie; I felt helpless, like I was some how failing my duty to protect my client.
            Bradley stood up and slowly walked to the lectern.  He removed his glasses, and gave Eddie his most lawyerly look.
            “Now, sir,” he said, “You’ve testified that you were using drugs in your apartment.  What drug were you using?”
            For some reason, Eddie hesitated, “Ahh, well … it was an illegal one …”
Bradley smelled blood, “Sir,” he said, his voice a little louder, “What drug were you using?”
Eddie hesitated again.  What was he doing?  Just answer the question, I tried to send through mental telepathy.
            Finally, he answered.  “The ‘C’ one.”
            What was going on here?  I could feel my face becoming hot.
“Sir,” Bradley said, this time loudly and with great authority, “What Drug Were You Using?”
            “It was cocaine,” Eddie said in a quiet voice.
            Bradley went in for the kill.  “Well, sir,” he said, pausing for emphasis, “if you were indeed using cocaine on the night in question, why did you have such a hard time telling the jury about it just now?”  I wanted to put my head down on the table and cry.
            “Sir,” Eddie said with an abashed look, “because I am embarrassed to have to tell these nice people about how I was behaving back then.”  He looked over at the jury and smiled shyly.  Most of the jurors smiled back.  “I didn’t even want to tell my lawyer about me using drugs—I didn’t want her to think badly of me.  But I finally told her, and she told me that I just have to come in here and tell the truth, so that’s what I’m doing.”  I had to restrain myself from running up to give him a big kiss.
            Bradley stumbled along after that, basically having Eddie repeat his story in great detail.  Finally, Bradley was wrapping up his cross-examination.  He decided that he was going to get Eddie to admit all the elements of the crime.  In this case, the state would have to prove that 1) in the State of Washington, 2) the defendant possessed a motor vehicle 3) knowing that it was stolen.  Obviously, we were only contesting element number 3), but Bradley wasn’t going to let anything slip by him.
            Once again, Bradley took off his glasses and increased his volume.  “Do you concede, sir, that you possessed a motor vehicle?”
            Eddie was confused by the question, which he thought must be some kind of a trick.  “What?” Eddie said with a puzzled look.
            With greater volume and pomposity, Bradley asked, “Do you concede, sir, that you possessed a motor vehicle?”
            “Well, it was a truck …”  I had to work hard to suppress a giggle.
For the third time Bradley began, “Do you concede, sir, that a truck is a motor vehicle …”  I was starting to shake my head when the judge rolled his eyes and said, “Why don’t you just move on, counsel.”  Thank goodness, I thought.  I was afraid I was going to laugh out loud.
            “Do you concede, sir, that you possessed the truck in the State of Washington?”
            Again, Eddie looked lost.  “I was in Athens …”
“Yes, sir,” Bradley said with a booming voice, “but do you concede that Athens is in the State of Washing …”
A chirp of laughter escaped my throat.  Fortunately, just as this happened, the judge said in a weary voice, “Mr. Boldham, don’t you think that’s enough?  I think even Ms. Hamilton will agree that Athens is in the State of Washington.”  Bradley sat down.
            The court took a ten minute break before closing arguments.  I headed to the ladies’ room in the hallway.
I noticed a distinguished looking man sitting in the back of the courtroom.  He was actually quite handsome with a tanned face and brown hair touched by gray at his temples.  As I passed by him, I asked, “Can I help you, sir?  Are you here for this trial?”
            “I’m Bradley’s father.”
            “Really.”  I had a mental image of Bradley being created, rather than born.  “You look familiar,” I said, trying to place him.  “Have you been to court before?”
            “Maybe you’ve been to my church.  I’m the minister at First Methodist.”
            “That must be it,” I said, not wanting to mention that I had never entered a church in this town.  “Well, nice to meet you.”
            “And you too,” he said with a genuine smile.  He seemed much more human than Bradley, who must have taken after his mother, I decided.

            As I came out of the restroom by the courtroom, I stopped in the alcove to straighten the seam of my skirt.  I heard Bradley’s voice.  “You don’t understand, Dad.”
            “Did it ever occur to you, son, that this young man may be telling the truth?”
            “You’ve got to be kidding me, Dad.”
            “Anyway, son, don’t you just feel sorry for him?  What good is it going to do to lock him up in jail?”
            “I can’t believe you’re saying this, Dad.  I’m on the side of righteousness.  They’re the bad guys.”

My closing argument was short and matter-of-fact.  I emphasized that the state had the burden to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt; that Mr. Keller testified that he did not know the truck was stolen; and the state produced no evidence that proved he knew it was stolen.
Bradley, however, was not going down without a fight.  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  There is only one question before you today,” he announced loudly.  “What would a reasonable person at a cocaine party know!”
            Reasonable person at a cocaine party?  I was pretty sure that Bradley had never been to a cocaine party.  A reasonable person would bring clear sinuses and plenty of cash, I thought to myself.  I could just see the invitations:  You are cordially invited to: A Cocaine Party!  (B.Y.O.C.)
“Thus, you must ask yourself that question,” Bradley said dramatically.  “What would a reasonable person at a cocaine party know?  I’ll tell you the answer to this question.  A reasonable person at a cocaine party would know that the motor vehicle was stolen!”

            A couple of the jurors smiled at Eddie as they left the courtroom to begin deliberations.  I wondered if Bradley knew that he had already lost.
            As we were leaving the courtroom, Bradley’s supervisor, a mousy man with out-dated plastic-framed glasses, stopped by to see how the trial was going.
            “So,” he said to me, putting his hand on Bradley’s shoulder, “How’s our new felony lawyer doing?”
            “OK,” I said, trying to be generous, “but Bradley has a hard time thinking outside the box.”
            I thought Bradley might bristle at this light insult, but instead, he straightened his posture, and proclaimed, “Kate, you don’t understand—I am the box!”
            I looked at him in amazement.  “That may be the smartest thing you ever said, Bradley.”


            When I arrived at work the next morning, I saw that Janey, our receptionist, had red, puffy eyes.  I wanted to ask her what was wrong, but she was busy simultaneously misdirecting five different calls.  I went upstairs to investigate.
I couldn’t find anyone on the felony floor, so I went up the stairs to Wall Street.  I immediately knew something was wrong.  There was no noise.  Janice was not in her cubicle, so I went to the kitchenette, which was on the same floor.  There, sitting at the lunch table, were Janice, José, and Matthew.  They held cups of coffee in their hands, but weren’t saying anything.
            “What is it?  Did someone die?”
            “Ed’s leaving,” Janice said flatly.
            “What?  He can’t do that.”
            “He’s doing it, all right.  He’s leaving in a week.”
            I left the three of them staring at their coffee mugs and went searching for Ed.  I found him in his office, his back to the door, typing something on his computer.  I didn’t bother to knock.
            “You can’t leave,” I said, hands on my hips.
            Ed slowly swiveled around in his chair to face me.  “That was fast.”
            “Tell me it’s not true.”
            “I’m 68 years old.  There are some things I want to do before I die.  One of them is to sail around the world in my wooden boat.”
            “A wooden boat?  Why wood?”
            “Because it’s more real than plastic.”
            “You know, I used to be a purist about cotton, but now with what they’re doing with micro fibers … It’s probably the same with wood …”  I was babbling.
            “It’s not about that, Kate.”
            “You can’t go.  You’re the only authority figure I’ve ever liked.”
            “That’s because I’m not really an authority figure.”
            “Exactly.  But who would take your place?”
            “A committee of judges and county commissioners will pick someone.”
            “But we drive the judges crazy.  Should they really be allowed to pick who our boss is?  And the commissioners, they don’t want us to spend any money.  What if they pick someone who doesn’t get it?”
            “It will be fine.”  Ed tried to sound reassuring, but I was far from convinced.
How could Ed abandon us?  Even though I was new to the office, Ed’s presence seemed essential.  He had founded the office back in 1963 after the Supreme Court ruled that poor people were entitled to a lawyer when accused of a crime.  Ed occasionally joined us at Moezy’s and told us stories about the early days, when six lawyers shared a large room and a single telephone.  He was feisty and funny and didn’t let the judges tell him how to run the office.  Ed couldn’t leave—he was the heart of the office.

Want to read more?  Find the next chapters, 22 and 23, Ed's Going Away Party; and Night Court!, here.


Charles said...

I'm losing sleep because of this book :) can't stop reading

carol d said...

Go to sleep, Charles. :)