Friday, September 7, 2012

Chapters 59 1/2 through 64, Hijinks and Doubt

(Haven't read the first chapters?  Start here.)
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We decided to talk to Gordon Monday after lunch the next day.  We chose Matthew as our spokesperson, since Gordon seemed to hate him the least.  With the newspaper editorial clutched in his hand, Mathew knocked on Gordon’s door.  A look of displeasure crossed Gordon’s face when he saw us.  He stood back as we walked into his office.
Matthew and Janice sat in the office chairs while José and I stood behind them.  “Um, we were kinda wondering if you had seen the newspaper editorial from Friday?” Matthew asked.
“Of course.”
“We were kinda thinking that this might be a good time to go to the commissioners and ask for more lawyers?”  I wished Matthew didn’t always make statements sound like a question.
“I don’t plan on taking such action.”
“But we don’t have enough lawyers?”  Matthew unfolded the crumpled newsprint.  “Look, it says so right here in the newspaper.”
“I think I am sophisticated enough to refrain from basing my opinions on what I read in the newspaper.”
“But we could, you know, use the editorial to support a request for more lawyers,” Matthew said.
“I have a responsibility to this county to ensure that this office is run economically.  You need to learn to be more efficient.  You should feel lucky to have this job, and you’re certainly paid enough to do it.”
“Are you joking?  The court reporters get paid more than we do.”  I said this before I could stop myself; we had also agreed that I shouldn’t say anything since Gordon seemed to hate me the most.  “But we’re not asking to be paid more, we’re asking for a manageable amount of work.  It’s not fair to our clients and it’s not fair to us.”
“It’s not in the budget.” He said dismissively, and turned to face his computer.
“Ex-excuse me, Gordon, I mean, boss, sir, um …. I mean …”  Matthew took a deep breath.  “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
“Bring this up again,” Gordon said, turning back to us, “and I will terminate you all for insubordination.”
“You know what, Gordon,” I said.  I decided it didn’t matter who he hated most.  Apparently it was all of us.  “If you won’t go to the commissioners, then we will.”
“I forbid you to do that.”
José walked around Matthew’s chair to Gordon’s desk and leaned over because he knew his height intimidated Gordon.  “Last time I checked, you were not crowned King of Olympic County.  We can participate in our local government like every citizen.”
“I will have you all fired.”
I laughed a little too loudly.  “Go ahead and fire us,” I said.  Matthew, his one point of bravery now passed, was looking at me with large eyes.  If he lost his job, he’d have to move back in with his parents.  I had to finish, but hoped I wasn’t sacrificing Mathew’s job.
I walked around Gordon’s desk and stood directly beside his chair, hands on my hips.  “Go ahead and fire us.  We’ll just add you as a party to our lawsuit.  Talk about costing the county a lot of money.  I can just see it now,” I said, pointing to an imaginary marquee, “Olympic Public Defenders versus Gordon Elliott.  It will be nice for someone to hear the facts, rather than your propaganda.  So stay out of our way.  We’re going to get more lawyers for this office.”
José opened Gordon’s door, and I led the way out, the others following behind me.  As soon as we turned the corner in the hallway, we stopped.
“What just happened?”  Matthew asked.  “Do we still have jobs?”
“What just happened,” José said, “is that Gordon learned that a woman can be aggressive enough to be a good lawyer.  Come on, let’s get the hell out of here before he realizes that he hasn’t fired us yet.”

Later that week, I was at Moezy’s, halfway through a pitcher of beer and a pot of coffee—a recipe for certain inspiration, I thought—when Janice, José, and Matthew came in.
“You look like you’re up to something,” Janice said.
“I’m trying to think of a way to get rid of Gordon or force him to ask for more lawyers.”
José poured himself a beer from my pitcher.  “I’d always hoped that you would turn your powers to good instead of evil.  Have you come up with anything?”
“I feel like I’m close to something,” I said, “but I can’t quite grasp it.”
“There’s always poison,” Janice said.  “Remember that one case you had, Matthew?  What did the lady use to kill her husband?”
“There you go,” she said.  “We’ll poison him with ricin.”
“Um, you know,” Matthew said, “my client got caught and sentenced to life in prison.”
“OK, maybe ricin is a bad idea,” Janice said.  “How about we get Gordon sent to prison?  Maybe plant some drugs in his office?  Wait, I know.  We could download some child porn onto his computer.  You get a hundred years in prison for possession of child porn.”
“That sounds like a very bad idea,” Matthew said.
“I like the computer idea,” I said.  I could feel an idea worming its way to the surface.  I had a knack with computers, not in a useful way, where I could write programs or make money, but I understood that they were just tools.  Computers did what you told them to do.  They didn’t know things independently; they didn’t have a moral center.  After my AutoCorrect discovery, I had made José’s computer change “Hi” to “HOWWWDEEEEE!” which he claimed to like, and I had made Matthew’s computer change correctly spelled words to misspelled words, which he hadn’t noticed.  I knew better than to mess with Janice.
“Something with computers.”  I was thinking out loud.  “Gordon went to law school before computers and the internet, so he’s probably pretty old-school when it comes to his computer.”
“Yeah, he’s one of those guys you think will faint if they have to do their own typing,” Janice said.  “I saw him dictating the other day, for God’s sake.”
“All right, something with computers,” José said.  “But what?”
“We need to think about what we are trying to do,” I said.  “In the short term, we are trying to get more lawyers.  In the long term, we need to get rid of Gordon, but we can save that for later.”
“So, something with computers and getting more lawyers,” Janice said.
“What was Ed saying the other day?” I asked  “Something about the budget?”
“He said that our office’s yearly budget request to the county commissioners’ office was due soon,” Matthew said.
“Maybe Gordon can request more lawyers without knowing about it,” I said, feeling the idea come together.
“What are you talking about?” Matthew asked.
“We can use his computer,” I said.  “His computer just does what he tells it to do—or what we tell it to do, if we have his password.  We can make our own budget request, and send it from his computer.”
            “OK, Einstein,” José said, “how do we get the password?”
            “You know how I get here really early lots of times to get ready for trials?” I asked.
            They all nodded.
            “One time, I was doing paces around the office, practicing my opening statement, and I noticed that Gordon had left his office door open.”
            “What did you do?” Janice asked.
            “Let’s just say that it’s not the best idea to hide your computer password under your mouse pad.  Totally predictable.”
“But that’s where I keep mine,” Matthew said.
            “I know.”
            Matthew looked alarmed.  “Kate, you didn’t do anything to my computer, did you?”
“Um, no.”  I told myself to change his computer back right away.
            “So we just propose a budget for him?” José asked.
“Well, it’s easy to send the proposal by his email, but what happens when the commissioners respond?” Matthew asked.
            “We need to take over the communication between Gordon and the commissioners,” I said.  “First, we need to make a rule in the email program that all emails from the commissioners’ office get sent to his junk mail.  I’m sure he never checks his junk mail, if he even knows it exists.  Then, a corresponding rule that sends one of us an email when he receives a message from the commissioners.  We can use Gordon’s computer to talk to the comissioners by email, and persuade them to give us more lawyers.”
“But we’re going to have to go into his office at some point and either send emails from his computer, or respond to emails out of junk mail,” Janice said.
“How are we going to do it?” Matthew asked.  “We can’t send emails from his computer at three in the morning.”
“We’ll have to wait until he goes to court,” José said.  “And then form a watch.”
“This doesn’t sound good,” Matthew said. “He doesn’t go to court that much, and if we get caught, we’ll get fired.”
“Wait a minute,” Janice said.  “I think I know how to handle access to his computer.”
“You’re not, um, consorting with Gordon, are you?” I asked.  “Because that would be sick.”
“Please.”  Janice rolled her eyes.  “Even I have limits.  The parking guys?  Yes.  Gordon?  Never.  Gordon teaches a class at the law school every Tuesday and Thursday at at noon.”
“Gordon teaches a class?”  I coughed.  “In what?—How to plead someone guilty quickly?”
 Matthew broke in before I could get too wound up. “Do you really think your idea can work?  It sounds risky.”
“It’s the only plan we have, and we have to do something,” I said.  “For ourselves, for our clients, for the new lawyers who come next.”


It turned out I was lucky that Judge Peterson had continued Mark’s case two months rather than the two weeks I had requested.  It took two weeks just to get a court order directing the emergency room doctors to answer my questions and provide me with Mr. Smith’s medical records.  I had again asked Frank to agree to the order, because I was clearly entitled to the records; as usual, he refused to cooperate.  I filed a formal motion with a legal memorandum attached.  My motion was granted, of course, but the process burned up 14 valuable days.
Once the reams of medical records arrived, I spent a week reading through the documents.  Stacked together, the papers formed a pile three feet high.  One foot of the stack was the records from Mr. Smith’s hospital stay and the other two feet were a lifetime of doctor visits.  The next Monday, I called Dr. Rudolph, Mr. Smith’s family doctor, who reluctantly agreed to meet with me on Wednesday.  I was hoping that Mr. Smith had a history of vision problems or had been advised that he shouldn’t drive.
Dr. Rudolph’s office occupied the corner suite of a three-story office building.  The harsh lines of the ugly concrete building were softened by abundant ivy covering the walls and flower beds.  Dr. Rudolph’s receptionist led me to the doctor’s personal office.  He was sitting at his desk with his hands laid flat on his clean desk surface.  He wore a white doctor coat, and had a beefy face made walrussy by a large mustache.  He looked like a person who was probably jovial with his patients.  This demeanor did not extend to lawyers.
I sat in one of the leather chairs facing his desk.  “First, I want you to know that I’m not that kind of a lawyer.”  I smiled.  “I don’t sue anyone, especially doctors.  I’m just trying to help a kid out.”
            Dr. Rudolph didn’t respond, apparently unimpressed by my friendly tone.
            “So, you were Mr. Smith’s doctor?” I finally said.
            “Yes, treated him for 40 years,” he said.  “Nice guy,” he added in a way that made his death seem like my fault.
            “I guess you know that he died after a car accident?”
            “Yes, I am aware of that.  Doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t make it.  He was healthy, but when you’re that age, you’re pretty frail.”
            “Did he have any problems with his balance?”
            “Let’s see … he had had a few falls in the past couple of years, but nothing serious.”
            “What about his vision?”
            “He was OK to drive, if that’s what you’re getting at.  Like most elderly people he was overly cautious—he probably got flipped off a lot for going too slow, but he was OK to drive.”
            “I’ve got all these hospital records, and this autopsy report.  I was wondering if you would mind taking a look at it?”  I handed him the report and a summary of the emergency room records.  “It says something about how the emergency room doctors saw a hernia and then surgically repaired it.”
            His expressions changed from tolerance to interest.  He scanned the report.  “He’s had that hernia for years.  Twenty years, to be exact.  It was actually huge.”
            “What exactly is a hernia?”
            “A hernia occurs when one part of your body protrudes through an opening into another part of your body.  Mr. Smith had a large hiatial hernia.  There is a muscle, your diaphragm, that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.”  Dr. Rudolph held his hands flat about mid-chest to show me where the diaphragm was.  “This type of hernia forms at the opening, or hiatus, in your diaphragm, where your esophagus, or food tube, joins your stomach.  When the muscle tissue around the hiatus becomes weak, the upper part of your stomach can creep through the hole in your diaphragm into your chest.  Part of your stomach then basically resides in your chest cavity.  This is called a hiatial hernia.”
            “But they thought he got the hernia in the accident?”
“A person can also have a traumatic hernia, where trauma causes a tear in the diaphragm, and the stomach bulges through the tear.”
“Could a doctor tell from an x-ray whether the hernia was pre-existing or, um, traumatic?”
            “They sure as hell should be able to.”  He was animated, a little angry now.
“Would it help to see the x-rays that they took in the emergency room?”
“Sure, I’ll take a look at those.  But they didn’t need to be able to tell whether the hernia was traumatic from the x-rays—they talked to me before the surgery.”
            “They talked to you?”
            “It’s standard procedure to contact a patient’s primary doctor before emergency surgery, if possible.  You know, get the medical background, general condition, et cetera.”
“Did they ask you about the hernia?”
“They didn’t even mention it.  In fact, they didn’t even tell me that they were doing surgery.”  He shook his head in disbelief.  “What was the cause of death?”
“An unknown source.”
“My God.  They killed him.”
            “Do you think they should have asked, or at least checked to see if the hernia was pre-existing?”
            “You’d sure as hell think you’d check before you go hacking away at someone.”
            I suppressed a smile.  “I anticipate I will be calling you as a witness in the trial.  I’ll be in touch as the trial date gets closer.”
“How can they have a trial when I’m going to come in and say that the hospital killed the guy?”
I shook my head at his naiveté.  He thought the fact that a person was innocent would prevent him from being prosecuted.


José, Janice, Matthew, and I implemented our plan to get more lawyers over the next weeks.  José enlisted his mother, a tax lawyer, to help with our budget proposal.  His mother and an accountant from her firm developed a professional proposal with spread sheets, graphs, and charts.  A bar graph demonstrated our budget’s lack of growth in the last 20 years.  A pie chart illustrated the disparity in funding between the prosecutors and public defenders.  Appendices listed national caseload standards and showed how our office failed to meet these standards.  At the end, a summary proposed funding for an additional ten lawyers, six secretaries, four paralegals, and four investigators.
We also attached the newspaper editorial advocating additional staff for our office.  José done some national research, and had found that many of the public defender systems across the county were in crisis.  Some states appeared to be even worse off than us.
José cited a study by the Spangenberg Group, which showed that the crisis in Olympic County was a symptom of a nation-wide problem: “There is a crisis in defender services. Historically underfunded, the strain on the indigent defense component of the criminal justice system has been exacerbated by the federal government’s declared ‘war on drugs’ fought with a zero tolerance policy that promotes the criminalization of more behavior and Draconian penalties (such as ‘three strikes’ and mandatory sentencing laws). While drug war pressures have resulted in increasing sums of money to fund courts, prosecution, police and corrections, criminal defense spending remains almost negligible in comparison. This failure to fairly fund the indigent defense component of the criminal justice ‘eco-system’ has resulted in ‘overburdened public defenders, the incarceration of the innocent, court docket delays, prison overcrowding, and the release of violent offenders into the community.’”
A few public defender offices had filed law suits in federal court.  Some counties had been sued by the ACLU for their failure to provide adequate indigent defense services.  José had attached copies of the complaints in a couple of the lawsuits.  He also attached copies of the jury awards for innocent people who had been wrongly convicted because of ineffective assistance of counsel.  The documents made clear that paying to defend a lawsuit in federal court, paying an ultimate settlement or jury award, and paying for individual lawsuits by clients inadequately represented, would cost far more than simply giving our office more lawyers.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, one of us would sneak into Gordon’s office to check his junk mail.  We intercepted emails that announced the budget proposal deadlines.  The Thursday before the budget proposal was due, we ransacked Gordon’s office until we found a copy of his finalized budget proposal in his desk drawer.  It was in an interoffice mail envelope addressed to the commissioners resting on top of a stack of Fish and Wildlife magazines.
“Oh, my God,” Janice said.
“Come on,” José said.  “It’s not like you’ve never seen fish porn before.”
“It’s not the that, it’s this.”  Janice was scanning pages of Gordon’s proposal.  “That Fucker!” she hissed.  “He’s proposing that our office be dismantled and our cases contracted to private firms.”
“No,” José, Matthew, and I said together.
José grabbed the proposal from Janice and started flipping through the pages.  “The bastard is trying to destroy us.  He’s probably trying to funnel money to his friends in the private firms.”
“We all know what happens when a private firm takes a public defender contract,” Janice said.  “The private firm takes the money and screws the clients.”
“Yeah,” Janice said.  “The clients come in and the lawyer says, I’ve been appointed to represent you, but if you want me to do a really good job, then you need to cough up five thousand bucks.”
“Now Gordon is going to know we changed his request,” I said.  “I was hoping he would just think it was weird if he got more lawyers than he requested.  But he’s requesting that our office be dismantled.”
“He won’t know until it’s over,” José said.  “We have to keep going.  Even if it means we get fired once the budget is approved.”
“But how are we going to keep Gordon from sending his budget proposal to the commissioners?” I asked.  “Won’t they think it’s strange when they get two different proposals from him?”
“Easy,” Janice said.  “I know a couple of guys in the mailroom.”
“We also need to send an original of our request,” José said, holding a folder containing our proposal.  “But the cover letter needs his signature.”
“What are we going to do about the signature?” Matthew asked.
 “Here,” I said, pulling a document from my purse, “We can copy his signature from my latest admonishment letter.”

Over the next week we monitored Gordon’s emails as closely as possible.  We allowed an email through to his inbox that acknowledged receipt of his proposal.  We were holding our breath, because the plan seemed to be working, but we knew it could implode at any time.


            Two weeks before Mark’s trial, I saw Doug in the courthouse cafeteria.  He held a tray with two cheeseburgers and a large order of fries.  He was stuffing three French fries in his mouth as he carried his tray away from the cashier.
“Is one of those burgers for me?”  I remembered that I hadn’t eaten since lunch yesterday.
“I’m really hungry, Kate.”  He moved the tray higher so that I couldn’t reach it.  He turned away from me and walked to a table.  I followed him.  My stomach growled just as I sat down with him.  Neither of us said anything.  He sighed.  “Fine, here.”  He passed me a burger.  “But you’ll be sad when I die of starvation.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Pretty sure.”
I unwrapped the burger and took a delicious bite.  “Can I have a drink of your pop?”
“God, Kate, will you never stop?  Would you like a french fry, too?
“Sure.”  I loved french fries, but usually didn’t order them myself.
“I’ve been trying to find you, anyway,” he said.  “I need to tell you something.”
I nodded because my mouth was full of his food. 
“You didn’t hear it from me,” he said, “but there’s something funny going on with your vehicular homicide case.”
            “Funny?”  I took a drink of his pop.  “Yes, it’s hilarious when an innocent kid is charged with someone’s death.  Just like Nate.  You want to send this kid to jail too?”
            “Kate, I’m trying to help you.”
            “What then?”
            “I overheard Frank and Smoot talking.  They’re really worried about you finding out about something.”
            “But they’re supposed to tell me everything.  Especially anything that helps my client.”
            “I think Frank considers that rule more of a suggestion than a mandate.”
            “He considers the United States Constitution a suggestion?  In Brady versus Maryland the Supreme Court held that the prosecution must divulge exculpatory evidence to the defense …”
            “Kate, lighten up.  I know.  I’m trying to help.”
            “Alright—sorry.  I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.”
            “I overheard them talking.  Something like, ‘If she finds this out, we’re dead in the water.’  And then Smoot asked, ‘Do you think she’ll figure it out?’  And Frank said, ‘I doubt it—nobody checks that stuff.’”
“What were they talking about?”
            “I have no idea.”
            “Can’t you go and ask them?”
            “Damn it.”
            “Kate, I’m trying to help.  Take it or leave it.  But something sounds fishy.”



            The next Thursday, we checked Gordon’s email during the lunch hour.  “OK, here’s something from the commissioners’ office ‘Re Proposed Budget,’” José said.  He clicked to open the message, and read aloud.  “Mr. Elliott:  We have reviewed your budget request, and while it does contain rather dramatic provisions, we have come to the conclusion that these changes are justified.”
We all cheered.  “We did it!  They accepted our budget!”
“Wait, there’s more.”  José continued, “Olympic County Code requires a public hearing for all major budget proposals.  While your budget has received our tentative approval, it will nevertheless need to be introduced and voted on at a public hearing.  Your budget presentation will be added to the agenda of the next public hearing.  While the hearing will largely be a formality, you will nevertheless need to make a formal budget presentation, with the opportunity for public input.”
“This is not good,” Janice said.
“Dang,” I said.  “I mean, we knew Gordon was going to find out about our proposal if it was approved.  But that was the beauty of the plan.  He couldn’t refuse to take the money once it had been authorized.  And he couldn’t fire us for doubling our office budget.”
“Shit, shit, shit,” Janice said.
“What are we going to do?” Matthew said.
“He can still receive this email, right?” José said. “We’ll just send this message to his inbox.  Because he did submit a budget request.  So this email won’t look strange to him.”
“Yeah,” Janice said, “but then he’ll go to the meeting and request that our office be dismantled.”
“Wait a minute,” I said.  “I think we can still finesse this.”  I took over José’s seat at the computer and hit reply.  “Dear Commissioners,” I typed.  “I appreciate your tentative approval of my budget proposal.  Regarding the public hearing, I hope you realize the delicacy of my position.  While the budget I have submitted to you in writing is essential to the future of this office, I must downplay my request at the meeting for political reasons.  I assume that you will be able to help finesse the approval of my true request, which is the budget I submitted in writing.  While I must temper my public appearance so as not to appear extreme, be assured that I am MOST FERVED in my position, and will follow through with all available legal options if the request is not granted.”
“Ferved?” José asked.
“Good word, huh?” I said.
“Have you been studying for the SATs again?” Janice asked.
“It pays to enhance your word power,” I said.
“This is getting too complicated,” Janice said.
“We just have to hold steady,” Matthew said.
“Hold steady?” I said.  “Are we on a ship?”
“Hold it together, whatever,” Matthew said.
“If we can hold it together,” José said, “it may still work.”

At the front of the bland meeting room was a raised stage with a long, rectangular folding table, dressed up for the occasion in royal blue skirting trimmed with gold braid.  Three ancient microphones sat on the table in front of each commissioner’s empty chair.  Fake wood nameplates with white lettering designated each commissioner’s place:  Miriam Dickensen, Roger Frankfurter, Clay Kunkle.
“It seems strange that these people have power over our office,” I said.  The room seemed more likely to host a PTA meeting than government action.
“The commissioners control the money,” Janice said.
We were sitting in the back of the audience portion of the room.  Commissioner meetings were open to the public, but sparsely attended.  We sat behind a group of anti-flouridation people and hoped we blended with their group.
At exactly seven o’clock, the commissioners entered the room from a door behind the stage.
Miriam Dickensen was a small, thin woman with short hair frozen with hairspray.  She had a small, pointy nose and gold-framed reading glasses.  Clay Kunkle was cuter than I expected, with wavy brown hair and a muscular physique.  Roger Frankfurter looked like middle-aged county functionary—he was balding, overweight, with a red, puffy face.
The men waited for Miriam to sit, either in deference to her gender or power.  “We call this hearing to order,” she announced.  “This is the public hearing of the County Commissioners for Olympic County.  On the agenda today are the budget proposal for the County Public Defenders’ Office and a petition to add fluoride to the water supply.  This meeting is now in session.”
Gordon stood and walked to the podium.  He adjusted the microphone to his level.  “Good evening.  My name is Gordon Elliott and I am a public official involved in the administration of public defense.”
“Nice intro,” Janice whispered.
“I think he’s embarrassed to say he’s a public defender,” Matthew whispered back.
“Yeah,” José said, “Ed would have been like, ‘I’m The Public Defender of Olympic County, Motherfuckas!’”
One of the anti-fluoridation people turned around and shushed us.
Gordon cleared his throat and continued, “I understand that these are lean times in Olympic County, and that lean times calls for sacrifice.  And sacrifice from everyone.”
“If you’ll take a look at my presentation, you will see a summary of my request.”  He turned to the lap top he had set up with a projector and clicked to start his power point presentation.  The image appeared sideways initially, and then every time he hit “next,” the image would dissolve or zip off the screen or otherwise fade to nothing.
“Good, job, Kate,” José said.
“Don’t you love the one that dissolved into a big acid trip rainbow?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with this danged thing,” Gordon said.  “Darn computers.  I assume you all have the handouts that contain my budget request?”
“Why, yes they do, Gordon,” Janice whispered, “although you might not recognize their packet.”
“We admire your moderation, but we understand the urgency of your request,” Clay Kunkle said.
Gordon cleared his throat uncomfortably.  “Yes, well, if not in the immediate future, certainly, at some point, we will need some additional staff …”
“Yes,” Roger Frankfurter said.  “I assure you that we understand the urgency of your position.  We understand that it is important for you to ask for these new lawyers, for the purposes of the ABA committee on public defense.”
“I understood those guidelines to be merely advisory,” Gordon said.  “I don’t think the guidelines mandate compliance.”
“Again, we appreciate your dedication to fiscal responsibility, but we believe we must comply with the ABA guidelines, or potentially face costly legal action.  I’ll now open the floor to public comment.  Anyone?”
Because the meeting had gone as planned, we didn’t say anything.  The anti-fluoridation people didn’t have any comment either.
“All right, then.  The floor is closed to public comment, and we will take a vote.  All in favor of the proposed budget, say ‘AYE.’”
“Aye,” they all said.
“That carries it, then.  The budget is approved.  You can start hiring the new lawyers and staff right away.”
We ducked out of the room as quickly as we could, and burst out laughing the minute the door shut behind us.
“Can you believe it?”
“Did you see the look on his face?”

We had all maintained our composure while in the commissioners’ room, but José now leaned his head back and howled like a coyote.  We all grabbed him to make him stop and ended up in a happy group hug.
“Let’s go have a drink,” Janice said.
“I can’t,” I said, although there was nothing I wanted more than a night of giddy celebration.  “I have to get ready for Mark’s trial—it starts a week from Monday.  I can’t risk having a hangover tomorrow.  I have to go home and go to sleep.”  Maybe OK, just one.


            I couldn’t figure out what Doug’s tip meant, but otherwise made progress in my preparation for Mark’s trial.  My accident reconstructionist would testify that Mark’s speed was probably between 50 and 55 miles per hour.  This estimated speed was faster than I liked, but slower than the state’s calculation.  I had also subpoenaed Dr. Rudolph to testify about Mr. Smith’s pre-existing hiatial hernia, and that the hospital’s surgery to correct the hernia was totally unnecessary.  I had also written a trial brief that addressed the issue of whether Mark’s speed was the proximate cause of the accident.
In the week before Mark’s trial, I was aware of nothing other than the upcoming trial.  I organized nine large notebooks of materials.  Four of the notebooks contained medical records.  Two contained photos and accident reconstruction data.  Two others held research and various cases regarding legal issues I thought might arise.  The last organized my trial preparation—an outline of my opening and closing, cross-examination, direct examination, and voir dire.

            By 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, I was ready for Mark’s trial.  After scrounging around, I found an old pack of cigarettes in my lingerie drawer.  I went outside, sat with my legs sticking out of the neon ‘O’, and smoked the stale cigarette.  The night was clear, and the stars reminded me of my insignificant role in the universe.  I had done my best, but what if that wasn’t good enough?  What if my absolute best wasn’t good enough to save an innocent kid?  In most of my trials, there was always something more I could have done to prepare the case—more time spent on preparation of cross-examination, more time spent polishing my opening statement, more investigation …  The stress was usually: what if I hadn’t worked hard enough to do a good job?  This was different.  I had done everything I could possibly do.
            This time the stress was:  what if I wasn’t good enough?

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