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!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the new installment. Wish Gordon could turn into Ed! Kate and her friends are so brave, it is inspiring :)