Saturday, August 18, 2012

Things Are Happening!

Dear Lovely Readers,

I apologize for being vague, but things are happening--things that will interest and intrigue you--but things that  mean I will start posting chapters again on September 7, 2012.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chapters 57-59, Wipe With Your Hand!

(Haven't read the first 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.)
(Haven't read chapters 20 and 21? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 22 and 23? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 24 through 26? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 28 and 29? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 30 and 31? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 32 and 33? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 34 through 36? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 37 through 40? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 41 through 44? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 45 through 50? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 51 through 53? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 54 through 56? Find them here.)


            The battle march to the courtroom was more subdued than I had imagined.  José walked beside me, carrying his briefcase.  I carried nothing, not even a notepad.  Janice and Matthew walked behind us, holding up the rear.
Frank was already in the courtroom when we arrived, along with Detective Smoot, the lead detective on the case.  Their side of the counsel table was stacked with boxes of materials, poster-sized diagrams, etc.  José opened his briefcase and took out copies of the affidavit we had prepared.  I put one in front of Frank.
            “What’s this?”
            “Just read it,” I said.  “It’s pretty self-explanatory.”
            Just then, the judge’s bailiff entered the courtroom.  She wore a long, floral dress paired with a man’s navy blazer.
            “Judge wants to know if we are ready?”  The bailiff called Judge Peterson simply “Judge,” as if the title were her first and only name.
            “Judge should probably read this before we proceed.”  I held out my affidavit.
            The bailiff shook her head.  “Judge is ready to come out on the bench.”
            “Judge can suit herself, but if Judge wants to know what’s about to happen in this courtroom, and have some time to prepare, then Judge should read this affidavit.”  I wasn’t even trying to be nice.
            She looked at me, took the document, and walked back to the judge’s chambers.
            José and I returned to the counsel table and sat down.  Janice and Matthew were sitting in the audience portion of the courtroom, smiling and giving us two thumbs up.  Frank was still reading the document, shaking his head and harrumphing.  I ignored him, and told myself to sit up straight.  I felt calm.
            We waited about 30 minutes for the judge to react.  I imagined she called every judge in the county to ask what she should do in response to my defiance.  She probably wanted to put me in jail, but worried about the enormous scandal this action would cause.
            Finally, the bailiff came back into the courtroom.  She tiptoed to my side of the counsel table and leaned over me.  “Judge wants to know,” she whispered, “are you asking for a continuance?”
            I realized that she may have been offering me an out.  I wasn’t biting.  “No,” I said, speaking slowly and deliberately.  “I already asked for a continuance.  She refused to grant it.  Now I’m saying that I’m not going to conduct this trial.”
The bailiff’s eyes became large and she stood still, trying to process what I was telling her.  After a minute, she stepped slowly backwards to the judge’s chambers, not taking her eyes off me.
            Frank finished reading the packet.  “What kind of stunt is this?”
            “No stunt, Frank.”
            “Of all the low-life tricks I’ve ever seen …” he began to preach.
The bailiff appeared again in the doorway.  “Judge would like to see counsel in chambers now.”
Here we go, I thought.  The bailiff escorted José, Frank, and me into Judge Peterson’s office.  The judge wasn’t there yet, and we all stood stiffly, waiting for her.
“Why is Mr. Rivera here?” Frank asked.
“He is my lawyer.”
“That is ridiculous.  I object to his being here.  You have no right to a lawyer.”
            “I’ll tell you what, Frank.  You worry about your rights, and I’ll worry about mine.”
            The judge came into her office through a hidden back door, her black robes billowing as she entered.  She sat down at her desk and motioned for us to sit.
            “This is some situation you’ve put us in, Ms. Hamilton,” she said.
            I didn’t think saying, “I’m not the one who put us in this situation” would help at the moment, so I kept quiet.
            “Now I am left with the dilemma of how to go forward.  I am thinking about just ordering you to proceed, Ms. Hamilton.”
            José leaned forward.  “Judge, you don’t seem to understand.”  He was speaking at half speed, like he needed to communicate an important point to a not-too-bright child.  “Ms. Hamilton is not going to conduct this trial, no matter what you order.”
            “Why are you here, Mr. Rivera?”
            “I am here acting as Ms. Hamilton’s lawyer.  Since her refusal to go to trial could erroneously be construed as contempt of court, she is entitled to legal representation.”
            “I don’t see what purpose that could have.”
            “The purpose is that I have notified the Court of Appeals of this situation.  A panel of judges is standing by to hear an emergency appeal, in the event you were to take Ms. Hamilton into custody.”
            “I can order her to remain in this courtroom.”
            “Judge, you can shackle me to the table,” I piped in, “but I’m not saying anything.”  José kicked my ankle under my chair.  I was behaving like a bad client.
            “This is extremely disrespectful, Ms. Hamilton,” the judge said.
            “I guess it comes down to this, Judge,” I said, looking at José and silently telling him not to kick me again.  I turned back to the judge.  “I respect the constitution and my client’s freedom more than I respect your authority.”
            Frank snorted and rolled his eyes.  I turned and glared at him.
The judge regarded me.  I sat still and straight; I refused to drop my eyes.  She wanted to put me in jail, I could tell.  On the other hand, the political fallout of incarcerating a harried public servant could be ugly.  Finally, she put her Montblanc pen down on her desk.
            “All right, Ms. Hamilton, how much time do you need?”
            I let out my breath.  I hadn’t realized I had been holding it.  “Two weeks should do it.”
            She opened her calendar and ran her finger down the days.  “No, we’re busy that week, and then we have a product’s liability trial, and then I’m on vacation …  OK, I’ll reschedule the trial to April 15th.”
I looked at her.  The new trial date was almost two months from now.  What happened to the victim’s right to swift justice?  What about the citizens of the State of Washington?  Not as important as a vacation or a product’s liability trial, I supposed.
            “Let’s go put this on the record,” Judge Peterson said, pushing her chair away from her desk.
As soon as she and Frank left the office, I turned to José.  “We did it!” I whispered triumphantly.
“We did,” he said in an even tone, but not loud enough for the judge to hear.  I held up my hand for a high five, but he took it down and shook it, like he would have shaken a client’s hand, or another lawyer’s.
Janice and Matthew rushed over to us when they saw us coming into the courtroom.  “Did you get the continuance?  Are you going to jail?  What happened?” they asked simultaneously.
“We got it!”  José said, smiling broadly.  “No handcuffs today.”  Matthew looked visibly relieved.
“I need a cigarette,” Janice said.
“Me too,” I said, “but I guess I’ve got to stay while the judge puts the continuance on the record.”
            As I turned around to wave goodbye to Janice and Matthew, I saw two newspaper reporters and one TV camera.  Who had told the press?  I was worried that J. Gordon would think I had called them after he told me not to, or that the judge would think I had done it to show the world that she had backed down.
            Because the press was present, what should have been a perfunctory five-minute hearing became a 20 minute diatribe by Frank.  “We are here, your honor, in the State of Washington versus Mark Holland.  This was to be the time and place for the trial in this matter.  However, despite twenty-seven prior continuances, Ms. Hamilton has not managed to get ready for this trial.”  I kept my mouth shut tightly, determined not to respond to his scurrilous attacks.
            “And then,” Frank said grandly, his tone appropriate for a television sermon, “when she had already previously asked the court for a continuance, which was denied, for good cause I might add, she comes to court and openly defies a valid court order.  I think the court should be aware that these dilatory tactics cause grave inconvenience and heartache for the family of the victim.  Additionally …”
            Unable to bear his pompous posturing, I interrupted.  “Judge, I believe the court has made its ruling, and continued the trial date to April 15th.  We are here to put that fact on the record.”
            “He can finish, Ms. Hamilton.”  I should have realized that I hadn’t made a new friend in the judge today.
            I could tell the reporters were thinking that I was trying to hide something from them, and now the judge was going to let them hear it.  In a small effort to protect myself, I took a few copies of my affidavit and walked over to the reporters.  Frank was in the middle of the second half of his character assassination, and we were in the middle of a court hearing, but I walked away from the counsel table anyway.  I handed the copies of my affidavit to the reporters.  If they read it, they’d at least know my side of the story.
            Frank droned on, clearly enjoying the spotlight.  I forced myself not to roll my eyes.  He had apparently forgotten that I had urged him many times to have the case pre-assigned in order to have a priority trial date.  He had forgotten that every time I had asked him to help me procure documents, he had thrown up roadblocks to my access.  He had forgotten that there were three signatures on each continuance form—not just my signature, but also his signature and the judge’s.  I was not going to respond to his attacks.  I figured debating every point would just lend him more credibility.  And the thing was—I had won.  I didn’t need to talk anymore.
Frank continued uninterrupted until he ran out of insults and outrage, and finally stopped.  The reporters were waiting for something dramatic to happen, but the judge had already made her ruling earlier when we were in her chambers.  Frank sat down, and the reporters looked at the judge expectantly.  She cleared her throat.  “As I have previously ruled, trial on the Holland matter will be continued to the 15th of April.”
José left after the judge pronounced her ruling, 15 minutes late for one of his own court hearings.  Once the reporters were gone, I waited for the bailiff to leave the room.  After she left, only Frank and I remained in the courtroom.
            “What now?”
            “I just want you to know,” I said with a slight smile that did not reach my eyes, “I am going to kick your ass in this trial.”

            People back at the office wanted to know what happened.  I told them I got the continuance, but didn’t elaborate.  I was simply too tired.
Wearily, I climbed the back stairs to my apartment.  I thought about turning on the TV, but decided I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on even the most mindless show.  I took off my shoes and jacket, lay down on my bed, and went to sleep.  It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon.


            The next morning, I woke up at 5:00 a.m.  Early, but not that early considering when I had gone to bed.  I changed out of my skirt and blouse, which I had slept in, put on running pants, and decided to go downstairs to see if Pam was awake.  She usually woke up early to ready the kitchen for the breakfast shift.
            I found her sitting at a small table in the kitchen, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.  She raised an eyebrow when she saw me.
            “Have you seen the paper?”
            I tried to remember what had happened yesterday.  Reality came crashing into my groggy head.  “Oh yeah, that …”
            “Looks like you’re in a heap of trouble,” she said as she handed me the front page.  There, just below the fold: “Judge Lays Down Law to Attorney.”  Underneath the headline was a picture of me, smiling like I hadn’t a thought in my head.
            I felt sick.  “I can’t read it.  Is it bad?”
            She handed me her cigarette.  “Want something stronger than coffee?”
            “No, I have to go to work.”
            I read the first sentence of the article.  “In an unprecedented court hearing, Superior Court Judge Shelley Peterson ruled yesterday that public defender Kate Hamilton will go to jail if she isn’t ready for trial by mid-April.”
            I looked up at Pam.  “Maybe just a capful.”
            She handed me a mug of coffee with a capful of whisky in it.  I read the article and smoked her cigarette.
            The article itself wasn’t as bad as the headline, although it could hardly be called accurate.  It said that after a year and a half, I still wasn’t ready for trial, and the judge told me that if I didn’t get ready in two months, that she would put me in jail.  Actually, Judge Peterson had never said this.  The article had funny editorial comments like, “Ms. Hamilton claims to have 100 open felony files.”  Or, “Ms. Hamilton alleges that her recent trial schedule has prevented her from doing the final preparations for Mr. Holland’s trial.”
            In my affidavit, José and I had tried to point out the disparity in the funding of the public defenders’ office, compared to the funding of the prosecutors’ office.  Our computer system contained a data base in which I could look up all of the open cases for a specific lawyer in our office.  Most people didn’t know that I could also look up all of the open cases for specific prosecutors, as well.  In my affidavit, I pointed out that there were more than twice as many felony prosecutors as there were public defenders.  I also attached open case-load reports for myself and many of the prosecutors, including Frank.  My open cases?  One hundred and eleven.  Frank’s?  Twenty-eight.
            The article continued.  “Ms. Hamilton claims that her high public-defender caseload has prevented her from getting ready for trial.  However, her own boss disputes this claim.  ‘I don’t entirely agree with Ms. Hamilton’s numbers,’ Gordon Elliott said of Ms. Hamilton’s affidavit.”
What?  They were his numbers.  I had gotten them from our office computer system.
            “Thanks for backing me up,” I said out loud.
            “You were on the TV news last night,” Pam said.
            “Don’t even tell me.”
            “No, it was good.  It showed a picture of you, and then said, ‘Public defender willing to go to jail for her client.’”
            I wanted to crawl in bed and hide under the covers for a day or two, but I had too much work to do.  I was completely paranoid; convinced everyone around the courthouse would be thinking that I had done something bad enough to deserve to go to jail.  Unfortunately, I had an 8:30 arraignment.  With a sigh, I went upstairs, dressed in my least wrinkled suit, and forced myself to go to court.

            I arrived at the morning docket to find a courtroom crowded with lawyers.  Judge Johansson, the arraignment judge, would schedule six matters for 8:30 every morning, but wouldn’t show up for work until 9:15.  Nevertheless, the lawyers were required to arrive promptly at 8:30.  I sat next to Mary, the prosecutor assigned to my arraignment.  I didn’t know her that well, but she seemed decent.  A little goody-goody, but nothing like Penny.
Doug, who was also waiting, walked over to us.  “Looks like you’re in big trouble, Kate.”
            “You don’t understand—I won.”
            “Right.  The newspaper just made that story up.  I wish they had gotten a picture of you in handcuffs.”
            “Why would you possibly want that?”
            “For my collection.  I could probably make a lot of money off of a T-shirt with a picture of you in handcuffs.   I could set up a special Kate Hamilton Goes to Jail kiosk.  I could sell coffee mugs and greeting cards—probably a mouse pad, too,” he said, tapping the side of his head with his index finger.  “Creativity is the only limit.”
            “Give it a rest, Doug.”  I was in a foul mood.
            “I guess I’ll see you in the papers.  But wait …”
            I rolled my eyes as he left.  As soon as he was gone, Mary leaned in close to me, conspiratorially.  “Tell me,” she whispered. “Did you smell something?”
I thought for a second.  Oh dear—the whisky.  I thought for a second more.  “Why, yes,” I said slowly. “I did smell something.”
            “That is so sad,” she said earnestly.
            “So sad,” I echoed, equally earnest.
            “That someone would have to drink before they come to court in the morning.”
I nodded my head.  “So sad.”
            “I’m going to have to have a talk with him.”
            “Good idea.”
            “Kate, why did I just have an hour-long conversation with Mary about my drinking problem?”
            “You have a drinking problem?  That explains a lot.”
            “I don’t have a drinking problem.  But Mary seems to think that I start drinking the moment I wake up in the morning.”
            “You really shouldn’t do that.”
            “I don’t do that.  There were a few times in college … but that was different.”
            “A lot of alcohol problems have their roots in college-age binge drinking.  I think you can get free treatment through your health insurance.”
            “Kate, I don’t have a drinking problem.”
            “In treatment you will learn that the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem.”
            “You make me need to drink.”

By Friday, I realized that my public disobedience would not be without its costs.  After a guilty-plea hearing, the friendly court reporter stopped me before I left the courtroom.
“Are you OK?” she asked, gently placing her hand on my arm.
“I’m fine,” I said, knowing that she was referring to the newspaper article.
“I feel so badly for you.  I would be utterly humiliated,” she said, her eyes conveying urgent earnestness.  “I hope you’re not taking it too hard.”
I knew she meant well, but I wanted to shake her and shout, “I won!  Why can’t anyone understand?”
“… because if anything like that ever happened to me,” she continued, “I would die of embarrassment.”
“I’m OK,” I said, removing her gentle hand from my arm.  “Really.”
Walking back to my office, I felt like everyone was staring at me, whispering behind my back, Die of embarrassment!  Die of embarrassment!
When I got to my desk, I saw a yellow sticky note on my computer screen.  “We’re at the bar,” it announced.  I had told José to stop leaving messages about the bar where Gordon could see them.  Without checking my phone or email messages, I stashed my briefcase beneath my desk and turned off my desk lamp.  My clients’ problems would have to wait until tomorrow.  I needed my crazy friends—almost as much as I needed a drink.


I walked to the bar through drizzling rain without an umbrella.  I had lost so many umbrellas that I had stopped bothering with them.  I longed for a hot summer day.  I tried to remember what a Texas summer felt like.  The chilly rain dripping down my neck made it impossible to access the memory of skin warmed by sun.  I wondered if this whole Washington thing had been a mistake.  Maybe I should just move back to Texas, work in one of the Amarillo firms.  I tried to picture myself wearing cowboy boots with a suit.
I opened the door to the bar and brushed rain off my suit jacket.  I looked over at our table and saw that José, Matthew, and Janice were all smiling broadly.  I couldn’t imagine why they were so damn happy until José leaned forward to pour a round of beer.  There, seated behind José, was Ed, deeply suntanned and also grinning.  I rushed to the table and climbed over José to hug Ed.
“Way to go, Kid,” he said after escaping my clingy hug.  Ed was the only person besides my dad who could call me “Kid” without annoying me.
“You mean the Judge Peterson thing?”
“Couldn’t have done it better myself.”
“Thanks, Ed.  I was starting to feel like Jose, Matthew, and Janice were the only ones who understood what happened.”
“I imagine your client understood.”
“I think he did.  He said he didn’t want either one of us to go to jail.”
“That’s about the best you can hope for—to have your friends and your client on your side.  Everybody else can just go to hell.”
He raised his beer glass and we all clinked glasses, toasting, “Everybody else can just go to hell!”
I noticed that I was smiling, too.  I had forgotten what it was like to have a boss who was on our side.  I turned to Ed.  “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Taking a break from sailing.”
“You’re coming back!  You can be our boss again!”  José had to stop me from climbing over him to hug Ed again.
“I can’t come back, Kate.  I didn’t leave because I wanted out, I left because of my health.  I didn’t tell you guys at the time, because I didn’t want to worry you.  But my doctor said I was almost guaranteed to have a heart attack unless I cut back on stress.  Surprisingly, after 35 years of marriage, my wife said she still preferred me alive, so I retired.  She had put up with a lot through all those years of trial work.  Sometimes I miss it—the drama, the adrenaline—but sailing’s not bad, either.”  He finished his pint of beer in one gulp.  “But that’s not why I came today.  I came because I saw the newspaper article and wanted to congratulate you.”
“That article is actually causing me some problems.”
“Why would it cause you problems?  It’s great!”
I must have looked puzzled, because Janice said, “Didn’t you see today’s paper?”
“No.  I’ve been afraid to look at the paper.”
Janice pulled the regional section of the newspaper from her purse.  She pointed to the lead editorial.  “Public Defenders’ Office Needs More Attorneys,” the headline read.
I quickly read the piece.  The editorial board had obviously obtained a copy of my affidavit regarding my refusal to go forward with Mark’s case, because the column used many of my statistics, especially the fact that the number of lawyers in the prosecutors’ office had doubled in the past 15 years, while the public defenders’ office had not increased.  The editorial board understood what the reporter had missed.  “The public defender system is as fundamental to the administration of justice as the prosecuting attorneys, courts, or police.  Last week, a young defender found herself in a skirmish with a superior court judge over her ability to be ready for trial.  This clash was a symptom of a system badly out of balance.  To obtain balance, and therefore justice, the county must fund more lawyers for the public defenders’ office.”
“Wow,” I said.  “I guess we weren’t the only ones who understood what happened.”
“You have to act now,” Ed said.
“But what can we do?” I asked.
“You have to get the county commissioners to give the office money for more lawyers” Ed said.
“Are you kidding?” José said.  “They won’t spend more money on our office.  Don’t forget that Miriam Dickensen is one of the commissioners.”
“Who’s she?” I asked.
“She’s the budget Nazi,” Janice said.  “She was elected on a pledge to cut the county budget in half.”
Ed shook his head.  “Miriam was the bane of my existence when I was the head of the office.  Not only did she refuse every budget increase I requested, she was also incredibly hostile to me.  Every time I requested additional staff, she threatened to replace me with a more compliant director.  When she yelled at me, her spit would actually land on my face.”
“Is she the one who tried to take away our toilet paper?” Matthew asked.  About six months ago, the county had announced that it would no longer supply what they called “personal paper products” for its employees.  “I still think that was illegal.”
“Of course it was illegal,” Janice said, “but we didn’t have time to wait for a toilet-paper lawsuit to limp its way through the legal system.”
“Well, thanks to José’s poster campaign, we got our toilet paper back,” I said.
“Unbelievable,” Ed said.  “What poster campaign?”
“José made a hundred posters at Kinkos,” I said.  “The design was simple.  White background with a large brown handprint.  Across the top the slogan said, ‘Wipe with your hand!’”
This time we toasted, “Wipe with your hand!”
“Is she the reason we have all of those pens that don’t write?”  Like Matthew, I refused to buy my own pens, but then often made a spectacle of myself in court by scribbling mad circles in an effort to make the ink flow.
“Of course Miriam was behind the pens,” José said.  “But we’re just lawyers, remember?  It’s not like we need to write or anything.”
“One time I had to I sign my client’s plea form in lip liner,” I said.  “It kinda smeared, but no one noticed that my signature was dusty rose.”
“Remember Matthew’s ink face trial?”  José laughed at the memory.
“Ink face trial?” Ed asked.
“Matthew had an assault trial, and all he had was a county pen,” José said.  “He couldn’t get it to work, so he eventually tried sucking on the tip.  He must have dislodged the roller ball, because bright blue ink started drooling down his chin.  He won the trial, but we think it was because the jury felt sorry for him.”
“I won because I had a good case,” Matthew said.
To prevent José from teasing Matthew, I said, “What do you think we should do, Ed?  About the commissioners?”
“You’ll have to convince them they don’t have a choice.”
“Can we hold guns to their heads, or do we have to persuade them by nonviolent means?” Janice asked.
“You’ll have to make them do it.  You could threaten a walk-out or a lawsuit in federal court.”
“What kind of lawsuit?”
“You could sue the county in federal court for failing to adequately fund indigent defense services.  I was playing around with the idea before I left the office.  But now you have the support of the newspaper.  You have to persuade Gordon to go to the commissioners.”
“You don’t know him, Ed.” I said.  “He’s not someone you can exactly reason with.”
“Try to talk him into it, and if he won’t do it, take matters into your own hands.”
“You could help us, Ed.  You could come with us to meet with Gordon.”
“I can’t get involved.  My wife would kill me if she knew I came here today.  I have to trust you guys to do it.  But trusting you four is a hell of a lot easier than letting go.  You can do it.  You are tough and smart—and young enough to live through it.”

Want to read more?  Find the next chapters here!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chapters 54-56, Toothbrush Time

(Haven't read the first 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.)
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(Haven't read chapters 22 and 23? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 24 through 26? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 28 and 29? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 30 and 31? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 32 and 33? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 34 through 36? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 37 through 40? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 41 through 44? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 45 through 50? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 51 through 53? Find them here.)


As I tried to wrap up my felony case load, I struggled to squeeze in preparation for Mark Holland’s trial.  I wasn’t being assigned any new clients, but I needed to resolve my remaining cases.  Unfortunately, due to extremely bad settlement offers, it seemed that I could only resolve my cases by going to trial.  Many of the trials were simple—possession of drugs, possession of stolen property, taking a motor vehicle without permission—while a few were more complex—robbery, burglary, drug delivery.  I was still on the trial treadmill, and someone kept turning up the speed.

One night, about half-way through my remaining trials, I woke up at three a.m., my heart beating fast from a disturbingly strange dream.  I had been standing in front of a jury, dressed in only a bra, panties, and beige half-slip.  On a dark wood suit butler near the jury box hung the black wool crepe suit I had purchased a couple of weeks earlier.  In my dream, I struggled to explain my appearance to the conservative community members who stared at me from the jury box.
“I know I am standing here in front of you in my underwear,” I told the frowning jurors, “but if you will look over to the side, you will see I have a very attractive suit that I could wear.”  I noticed that I was wearing my glasses.  I hoped they lent me a modicum of respectability.  “Notice the quality material,” I said, wheeling the suit butler to the jury box.  “And I love these little pink and black flowers on the silk blouse.”  I removed the jacket to show the blouse.  “So you see, if I were wearing the suit, I would probably look quite nice.”
I turned and saw Mark Holland sitting at the counsel table, his face pressed into his hands.  What the hell was I doing in my underwear?  Just then, Judge Piddle came into the courtroom.  I watched as his expression changed from neutrality to rage.  He raised a finger at me in anger, and just as his mouth opened, I woke up, alarmed and disoriented.
I got out of bed and went to my kitchen table, where I had a stack of yellow legal pads.  I had heard of people having dreams where they were awkwardly naked or in their underwear, but had never had such a dream myself.  I had never been particularly modest, and I had always figured that people who had naked dreams must have nudity issues.  But here I was, dreaming about wearing only my underwear in Mark Holland’s trial.  While I lacked the psychological training to know exactly what this dream said about my battered mental state, I guessed it at least meant that I was experiencing stress about Mark’s upcoming trial.
To ease my subconscious, I made a list of the trials I had scheduled prior to my transfer to juvenile.  There was a drug possession case, a burglary, an assault, and then Mark’s case.
I considered the status of my investigation of Mark’s vehicular homicide charge.  The court had authorized funds for an accident reconstructionist.  I had hired Hank Brennan, a retired state trooper, to help me determine if we could challenge the state’s estimation of Mark’s speed.  During his career as a trooper, Hank had investigated vehicular assault and homicide cases for the state.  He now worked independently, investigating traffic accidents for insurance companies and the occasional criminal defendant.
In Mark’s case, Hank was frustrated by the shoddy preservation of the accident scene.  In most vehicular homicide cases, police would spend hours documenting and cataloging every inch of the accident scene.  Because Mark’s accident had initially appeared routine, however, the police had only taken quick measurements of the skid marks and a couple of photographs.  Compounding the fact that the initial documentation of evidence had been minimal, the state had waited six months to file the charges against Mark.  Skid mark evidence will remain on asphalt for some time.  It will not last for six months.  By the time I was assigned to be Mark’s lawyer, the skid marks had vanished.  I hoped Hank’s status as an ex-cop would lend our case credibility when we criticized the state’s work as “sloppy.”
“Talk to Hank,” I wrote on my list.  I wanted to make sure he had prepared any exhibits that he planned to use in the trial.  I also needed to nail him down on how fast he thought Mark had been driving.  I had asked him this question many times, but had never gotten a straight answer.  I didn’t know if he was hiding something he didn’t want to tell me—that is, that he too thought Mark was going over 50 mph—or if he just didn’t know.  In order to prepare him for his cross-examination, I needed to know what he did know, what he didn’t know, and what he couldn’t know.
I still needed to interview Dr. Robinson, the pathologist.  I had read and re-read her autopsy report and it made little sense to me.  I wrote “Interview Pathologist” on the yellow pad.  I looked at the clock.  It was 5:00 a.m.  I could still get a little sleep.  I crawled back into bed, placing the yellow pad nearby on the floor.  I stared at the ceiling, watching the light creep into my room.  At 6:30, I got out of bed.

Two weeks before Mark’s trial, I managed to schedule the interview with Dr. Robinson the same day that I finished a first-degree burglary trial.  I assumed the interview would be routine, but I spent my lunch hour reviewing the autopsy report and photographs and all of the medical records.  The photos ruined my lunch.  I thought I might have discovered the next diet craze.  I could sell packets of pictures of dead people’s brains and guts with instructions to view the photos before each meal.  I’ve heard that a person can become accustomed to anything; I knew better.
            I still didn’t understand the autopsy report, even with a medical dictionary.  The report indicated something about surgery being performed on a hernia and that Mr. Smith died of “acute peritonitis.”  I had no idea what this meant.
            Even though I liked Dr. Robinson for her competency and neutrality, she treated me with the same condescension with which most doctors treated lawyers.  It probably didn’t help that I didn’t try to make my questions seem intelligent.
            “Could you please tell me what this report means without all the technical medical words?”
            Her controlled expression seemed practiced.  “Mr. Smith was admitted to the emergency room at 1:30, shortly after the accident.  Even though he was elderly, he didn’t appear to be in great distress.  Mainly just bruising from the seat belt.  As a precaution, however, x-rays were done.  The emergency doctors saw a large hernia, and after consulting with the family, decided to explore what was wrong by surgery.  Once the doctors were inside Mr. Smith’s chest cavity, they realized the hernia was pre-existing.  Since they had already opened him up, they went ahead and repaired the hernia.”
            “Are you saying the doctors did emergency surgery to fix a hernia that Mr. Smith had before the accident?”
            “Basically, yes.”
            “I don’t get it.  How did he die?”
            “The doctors closed him up, but then nine days later his abdominal cavity became infected.  He died from this infection.”
            “He died from an infection?  Where did that come from?”
            “That’s the 60,000 dollar question.  I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the source of the infection, with no result.  That’s why my report lists the cause of death as ‘acute peritonitis from an unknown source.’”
            “But what if the infection came from the hospital?”
            “It very well could have.”
            “So why do you list the cause of death as traffic-related?”
            “He wouldn’t have been in the hospital but for the accident.  Any surgery can have unforeseen consequences.”
            “But it sounds like the surgery wasn’t even necessary.”
            “Not in hindsight, but it was an emergency room.”
            “I wonder whether they should have done that surgery in the first place.”
            For a second, she let her gaze drop.  She looked back up at me.  “I suppose if I were you, I would want to consult with an emergency room doctor to determine if the surgery was prudent.”
            “Thanks, Doctor,” I said, shaking her hand as I left.  Wonderful, I thought.  Trial was 14 days away—I had two weeks to figure out if the hospital had committed medical malpractice.

I scheduled telephone interviews—the best I could do with such short notice—with the emergency room doctors on Wednesday afternoon.
            “Good afternoon, Dr. Baum.  My name is Kate Hamilton, and I’m calling you about the surgery you performed on Theodore Smith.”
            “Do you have a release of information signed by Mr. Smith?”
            “No.  I’m afraid Mr. Smith is deceased, so he won’t be able to sign a release.”
            “I’ll still need one.”
            “This is regarding a criminal trial where the cause of Mr. Smith’s death is an issue.”
“The records are still confidential; you’ll have to get a release from the family or a court order if you want to talk to me about Mr. Smith.”
            “Fine.  I’ll be in touch.”  Damn, why hadn’t I thought of confidentiality?

            I called Frank.  “I need your help,” I said, trying to sound polite through gritted teeth.   I hated asking Frank for anything.  “I’ve run into some last-minute investigation I need to do on Holland.  It’s about the cause of death.  I scheduled interviews with the emergency room doctors, but they won’t talk to me without a release of information from Mr. Smith.  Which would be difficult for me to get.”
            “You could ask for his family’s consent.”
            “I tried.  They hung up the phone as soon as I said my name.”
            “It is proper for the doctors to protect Mr. Smith’s privacy interests.”
            “You know that confidentiality doesn’t apply when the cause of death is an issue in a criminal trial.”
            “I don’t think that the cause of death is at issue.  Your client caused Mr. Smith’s death.”
            “It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s an issue, but whether I think it’s an issue.  And I do.  I need you to sign an agreed order compelling Mr. Smith’s doctors to provide information to me.  It’s the only way I can get ready for trial in a week.”
            “I’ll do no such thing.”
            “Why not?  You know that I’m entitled to that information.”
            “Then you can ask the court for it.”
            “I don’t have time before the trial to make a formal motion to the court.  That’s why I am asking you to agree to an order that you know the court will grant.”
            “I have no obligation to agree with you, Kate.”
            “Fine.  But I’m going to need a continuance.”


            Mark’s case was assigned to Judge Shelley Peterson, a woman who had practiced family law for 10 years before recently being appointed to be a superior court judge by the governor, her husband’s college roommate.  She was sweet, attractive, and unfamiliar with criminal law.
            After my conversation with Frank, I called Judge Peterson’s bailiff to ask if the judge could hear an emergency continuance motion.  After a few minutes, the bailiff asked, would tomorrow at 9:30 work?  The judge seemed very accommodating.
            Frank answered my telephone call gruffly.  “What now, Kate?”
“I’ve set an emergency motion for continuance at 9:30 tomorrow morning.”
            “That’s not proper notice.”
            “That’s why I said ‘emergency.’  If you want me to do a motion to shorten time, I’ll be happy to prepare one.”
            “You don’t even know if your motion to shorten time will be granted.  I have no obligation to appear in court on such short notice.”
            “Do what you want, Frank.  I will be at Judge Peterson’s court tomorrow at 9:30 asking for a continuance.”
            I wasn’t particularly worried about my continuance motion.  It was true that Mark’s case was old, but it was also legally and factually complicated.  No one could dispute the parade of trials I had conducted over the past year.  I thought about again asking Frank to agree to the continuance, because even Frank should recognize that the continuance was inevitable, but I was tired of talking to him.

            Frank was sitting at the counsel table when I arrived at Judge Peterson’s court the next morning.
            “I thought you weren’t coming,” I said.
            “I came as a courtesy to you, Kate.”
            “A courtesy.  How nice.”
            “We’ve got to do this trial at some point.”
            “I know.  As soon as I get the medical stuff, I’ll be ready.”
            “How much time do you think you’ll need?”
            “A month would be best, but I think I’ll just ask for two weeks.  If I drop absolutely everything else, I should be able to get it done.”
            Just then, the bailiff entered the courtroom.  “All rise,” she said.
The judge came out on the bench.  “I believe you had a motion, Ms. Hamilton?”
            I outlined the history of the case to the judge.  I pointed out that the state had waited six months after the accident before filing the charges, which consequently delayed our investigation, as much of the physical evidence had disappeared by that time, causing my expert to have to rely on computer modeling rather than being able to view the accident scene personally.  I highlighted the series of trials I had conducted in the past year, which gave me little time to complete this investigation.  I explained how my interview with Dr. Robinson had led me to need to investigate what had happened in the emergency room, an issue I hadn’t been pursuing earlier.  I didn’t like to show my hand, but I told her that negligent surgery may have caused Mr. Smith’s death, rather than the car accident.  I listed the doctors that I needed to interview before the trial.
“I will be unable to provide adequate assistance of counsel,” I said, using the magic words.  These words were magic words because a person accused of a crime is constitutionally entitled to adequate assistance of counsel.  Thus, if I told the judge that I couldn’t perform adequately, and I could back this assertion with facts—that I needed to interview doctors, call witnesses, etc.—the case would be reversed on appeal if the judge did not allow the continuance.
.           As difficult as Frank was, I didn’t expect him to protest the continuance too much.  Frank was lazy and didn’t like trials.  I had never before asked for a continuance that he hadn’t agreed to.  However, Frank was also nasty and mean-spirited.  He sensed weakness in my need to continue the case.
            “Judge, I cannot agree to this continuance.  This is the 27th continuance of the case.  Ms. Hamilton is purposefully delaying the Smiths’ quest for justice.  It is simply too late for her to come in, claim some unsubstantiated defense, and ask for a continuance.”  He forgot to mention that the reason there were so many continuances was that the presiding judge would only continue cases for a couple of weeks, even if you said you need six more months to investigate.  He forgot to mention that he had agreed to every previous continuance.  He forgot to mention that the state had waited six months before it filed the case, thus making our investigation that much more difficult.  “I think Ms. Hamilton is simply trying to delay justice for these victims.”
            The judge flipped through the file for a few minutes, and then removed her reading glasses.  “Counsel, I have reviewed the record before me.  I am aware that Ms. Hamilton has had a number of trials recently, and has not been able to complete the last stages of her investigation in this matter.  I am also aware that this case has been continued numerous times.  I have a duty to ensure that Mr. Holland receives a fair trial.”  I smiled.  I was going to get my continuance.  The judge continued, “However, I also have a duty to the citizens of the State of Washington.  I find that it’s not your fault, Ms. Hamilton, that you are not ready for trial; and that you are working under extreme conditions.  However, my duty to the citizens of this state requires me to see that this matter is carried out expeditiously.  The trial must go forward.”
            My mouth dropped open.  Duty to the citizens of Washington?  What about the duty to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial?  Unbelievable.  I numbly gathered my file and notepad and walked into the hallway.
Frank was ahead of me, almost to the stairwell.  “Hey Frank, wait a minute.  I was wondering if you would go back and talk to the judge with me.  You know she had to grant that continuance.  The case will be reversed if you lose.  You can’t want that.  Mr. Smith’s family couldn’t want that.”
            “I don’t agree with you, Kate.”
            “What are you talking about?  You know Mark is entitled to have a lawyer who is prepared and has had time to investigate every aspect of the case.”
            “Not if the court of appeals finds that your lack of preparation is a tactic.”
            “A tactic?  What do you mean, a tactic?”
            “You can’t go in and be ineffective on purpose, as a way to win on appeal.”
            “What?  Are you telling me that you think my inability to be prepared is some sort of ploy?  That I’m doing it on purpose?  To what possible end?”
            “That’s just my opinion, Kate.  See you on Monday.”
I walked back to the office in a mild state of shock.  What was I going to do?  I really wasn’t ready for the trial, and thanks to Frank’s obstructionism, there was no way I could possibly be ready by Monday.  I could subpoena all of the doctors to court, but then I would have no idea what they were going to say.  I knew I had a good argument that Mark was not the legal cause of the accident.  But I didn’t feel safe going with that defense alone.  The law regarding proximate cause was convoluted, stating that there could be more than one proximate cause of an accident, and the fact that the deceased driver was also negligent was only a defense if his negligence was an “intervening cause.”  Who knew what a jury would do with those concepts.
I passed Janet in the hallway.  “What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“Judge Peterson just denied my continuance.”
“On Holland?”
“She can’t do that.”
“She just did.”
“She’ll get reversed.”
Just then, José popped his head over the cubicle divider.  “Who’s getting reversed?”
“Judge Peterson.  She just denied my continuance on Holland.”
“What?  She can’t do that.”
“All right, already.  She just did it.  I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.”
Matthew joined us in the hallway.  “You should just make a really good record that you’re not prepared,” Matthew said.  “You know, say, ‘Your honor, at this point I would call witness X.  I believe his testimony would be crucial regarding the cause of Mr. Smith’s death.’  Et cetera.  She will definitely be reversed.”
“But I need to win this case, not just make a good appeal record.  Mark is innocent.  Imagine what I would have to say to him:  ‘Mark, the bad news is that your lawyer will not be prepared for your vehicular homicide trial.  The good news, however, is that you will have a killer appeal issue if you get convicted.  Yes, you may have to wait a year or so in prison while your appeal works its way through the system, but you’ll eventually get out.’”
“Maybe you’ll win on the proximate cause issue,” Matthew offered.
“Matthew, if you were charged with vehicular homicide and your lawyer thought the hospital might have killed the guy rather than the accident, wouldn’t you want your lawyer to point that out to the jury?”
“I suppose.”
“Maybe if you just said in your opening statement ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I represent Mark Holland here, an innocent young man charged with vehicular homicide.  Unfortunately, due to my recent trial schedule, I am not prepared to conduct this trial.  I’ll do the best I can, though,’” Janice said.
“Frank would have a heart attack,” José said, smiling at the thought.
“And then get a mistrial.  They’d bring a new jury panel in the next day and we’d start all over.  This time the judge would instruct me not to mention being unprepared.”
“You probably just have to make your record for appeal,” Janice said.
            I stood silently for a minute, aware of a steely feeling in my stomach.  It radiated upward and felt like strength or something.  “What if I just refuse to do it?” I said.
            “What do you mean?” Matthew asked.
            “I mean, just say, ‘I’m not going to conduct this trial, and you can’t make me.’”
            “I think that’s called contempt of court.” Janice said.
            “But I do have contempt for the court.”
            “No, the judge would hold you in contempt of court,” José said.
            “Oh.  Well, that doesn’t sound so bad—it almost sounds like an award.  ‘Ms. Hamilton,’ they would say, ‘we can now officiously say that you have Contempt for the Court.’”
            “There’s actually a down-side to it, Kate,” Matthew said.
            “And that is…”
            “Going to jail.”
            “Judge Piddle used to threaten me with jail all the time,” I said.
            “The key word being ‘threaten,’” José said.  “I don’t know if you realized it, but Judge Piddle didn’t have the balls to put you in jail.  He was a petty little dictator who made himself feel bigger by terrorizing the powerless.  He never would have actually put you in jail.”
            “I didn’t know that.”
            “Know this,” José said, seriously.  “It is a different game in superior court.  These judges think they are semi-gods.  People have to pay millions of dollars, just on their say-so.  People spend the rest of their lives in prison by their order.  People die based on an execution verdict that they sign.  So, no, they don’t like it very much when they order someone to do something, and the person refuses to do it.”
            “It’s what I’m going to do.”
            “I figured.”
            “I think I’m going to need a lawyer.”
            “No kidding.”
            “Will you be my lawyer?” I said, looking straight at José.
            “We’re both going to end up fired over this,” he said.
            “What the hell.”
            Over the weekend, I fantasized about the possible consequences of my coming disobedience.  For example, if I went to jail, would I be in the regular population or in protective custody?  Would I have a cell mate?  Could I bring books with me?  I figured if I did go to jail, it would definitely make me famous, so part of me almost wished for brief incarceration.  For a while, I painted a rosy mental scenario of myself in jail.  I could sit and read books all day, I could paint, write music, etc.  I refused to acknowledge the fear that was building inside me.
            José researched the legal aspects of the situation while Janice called a lawyer she knew at the court of appeals.  José found some good cases, from other states unfortunately, that said a court could only hold a lawyer in contempt for disobeying a valid court order, and that it was not a valid court order to make a lawyer go to trial when he or she was not prepared.  Unfortunately, it appeared that the lawyer had initially gone to jail for refusing to conduct the trial.  It was something, anyway.


By Monday morning I was ready to walk into Judge Peterson’s courtroom and refuse to conduct Mark’s trial.  José and I had prepared a detailed affidavit describing the reasons I was not prepared to try Mark’s case.  I described the numerous trials I had conducted in the past six months.  Janice created a chart that showed the disparity in staffing the public defenders’ office versus the prosecutors’ office.  Matthew helped me list parts of the investigation that had yet to be completed.  At the end of my affidavit, José wrote for me, “Thus, despite my best efforts, I have not completed my investigation or preparation of Mr. Holland’s case.  Accordingly, I refuse to conduct this trial.  I take this stance not in disrespect for the court, but due to the higher calling of providing my client with adequate assistance of counsel and a fair trial.”
“That’s pretty heavy, José,” I said after I read the closing lines.  “Where’s your usual combination of sarcasm and mania?”
“Sarcasm and mania can get you through 99 per cent of life.  Every once in a while, you just have to call it like it is.”
I signed the document, feeling slightly proud of myself.

            Noticing that my mouth was dry, I left my office to get a drink from the water fountain.  Too late to duck out of sight, I saw Gordon walking toward me.
“Kate, will you see me in my office?” he said.
“Of course.”  I followed him to his office.  I never liked to talk to him, but I wasn’t too worried about meeting him today.  José and I had spoken with Gordon last Friday and explained what we were going to do.  He had grudgingly given his approval, probably wanting to see me in jail.
            “Kate,” Gordon said, once his office door had closed.  “I just wanted to make sure that the press doesn’t know anything about this situation.”
“I didn’t call them,” I said, wondering what he was getting at.
            “Because I don’t want anyone looking too closely at your situation.”
            “We don’t want too close a scrutiny of your claims.”
            “What are you talking about?”
            “If someone looks too closely at your representations, you, and this office, could end up looking bad.”
            “What?”  I couldn’t believe what he was insinuating.  “Are you saying that I’m lying?”
            He looked at me in a bemused way, as if I should know the answer to my question.
            “Are you saying that we aren’t understaffed?  Or that I haven’t been doing these trials?”
            “You haven’t been in trial every single day, now have you?  The judges don’t think you’ve been working that hard.”
            “Who cares what the judges think?  They don’t have any idea what I do.  They sit around in their vaulted courtrooms and make derogatory gossip.  But you know.  You see how hard I work.”
            “I don’t know anything, Kate.  All I know is that you need to make the judges happy.”
I could feel my face becoming hot and the tears filling my eyes.  Damn.  I had 10 minutes before I pitted myself and my client against the power of the superior court judges of the State of Washington, and I was about to cry.  Nothing made me madder than someone making me cry when I needed to appear strong.
“Let me tell you one thing, Gordon,” I said, still managing to hold the tears back, my voice steely.  “You don’t belong in this job.  You don’t even understand what it means to be a public defender.  This job is not about getting along with everyone.  This job is about fighting for this one little person—the client—against all the people who want to put him in jail.  If you do it right, you’re not going to win any popularity contests.”
“You’re not winning any contests right now, Kate.”
“That’s because I’m doing my job, rather than kissing ass.”
“Watch yourself, Kate.  You got yourself into this mess because your caseload is too high.”
“That’s because we don’t have enough lawyers.”
“No, it’s because you aren’t managing your cases right.”
“Managing my cases right doesn’t mean doing what’s easiest.  I have to do what’s best for my client, and sometimes that takes a lot of work.”
Before he could fire me, I turned and walked out of his office, banging on the temporary walls with my fist as I walked along.  I slammed my cubicle door and tried to stop the tears.  A few deep breaths helped.  I saw Kelly’s antennae where they sat on top of my computer, and picked them up.  “This is one crazy, fucked-up job,” I said to the antennae.  Why did I even talk to Gordon?  I kept fantasizing that I would say something, and he would realize that he was wrong, and then apologize to me.  Why did I care?  Why did I need validation from a person I did not respect?
            I heard a soft knock on my door.  José stuck his head in the door. “Kate, you ready?  Time to go.”  He stopped when he saw my tear-streaked face.  “What happened to you?”
            “That bastard,” he said with intense hatred.  “Listen, Kate.  Gordon is a piece of shit who shouldn’t be allowed to defend the local dog catcher.  The prosecutors are pissed because you don’t bow to them and have been kicking their asses over the past year.  The judges are pissed because you don’t make their priorities your priorities.  Now, come on.  Today is a great day.  You’re going to tell these bastards that your client’s constitutional right to a fair trial is more important than their asinine scheduling agenda.”
            “I might go to jail.”
            “Which would be about the greatest thing on the planet.  You would be famous.  Not to mention the fact that, at this point, a jail sentence would be a nice rest.”
            I looked at José’s intense face.  I had never had friends like this before.  “Let’s go, then,” I said.
            “You gonna take your trial notebook?”
            “Why?  I’m not going to trial.”
            “A toothbrush then?”
            “You’ll bail me out, right?”
            “I don’t have any money.”
            I dug my credit card out of my purse and handed it to him.  “Just in case,” I said.
            “We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” he said, taking the card.
            I finally managed a smile.  “Don’t say ‘we’ unless you’re going to go to jail with me.”

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