Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lawyer in the womb

In honor of my late father, here's an old story....




When I left the public defender’s department on my thirtieth birthday, my first job was a return to the womb, literally. I worked for my mommy’s law firm. My dad owned the building, so the three of us were all together, one big happy family. To make things even happier, I moved back to their home in the high desert foothills above Albuquerque, as I tried to save enough cash for a security deposit for my own apartment in the city down below.                                                                 

Most of the time, I worked on my criminal cases from a conflict public defender contract, but my mother promised me that she’d eventually trust me with her big time civil cases when she felt I was ready.  I had a handful of juvenile burglary cases at the time, and the prospect of paying clients, especially paying clients old enough to shave, certainly appealed to me.

One day, my parents were heading away for a long weekend, Bora Bora, someplace like that. They’d be totally out of touch.  I’d be home alone, and more importantly, “office alone,” for the first time. Not only was I supposed to water the plants, my dad stressed that the most important duty was to call my grandmother each and every day. She had helped out the family during some hard times, and they were eternally grateful. My dad still called her every day and now he wanted me to do the same.

They left on Thursday night. The client’s meeting with Federal investigators was scheduled for Friday morning. That first night, I rented the movie Risky Business, but unlike Tom Cruise I did not dance alone in my underwear after my parents made it safely to the airport.

Friday morning, I borrowed one of my dad’s ties for the meeting. I nearly spilled milk on it as I munched on my Lucky Charms before heading out. The meeting was at the client’s sprawling adobe ranch complex in rural New Mexico. The issue had something to do with a few missed payments to some Federal agency. How hard could this be?  Inside, two Federal officials -- Good cop, bad cop. “Good” was a bureaucrat in a brown suit, yellow shirt and a red striped tie. “Bad” looked like a professional wrestler with a shaved head.  He called himself some kind of an “agent,” but didn’t give his name, much less his agency.       The meeting started slowly. Good took control and asked about incidents on this date and that. My clients cooperated, but Good still wanted just a little more detail here and there. He was friendly about it, used the word “visit,” as in “Let’s visit about this right here . . .”

“Let’s visit about September again” he said, after an hour, still smiling.

Bad abruptly excused himself to go to the bathroom as if September was some kind of code between them. Good’s leisurely questioning continued down the calendar -- visiting about November, December and especially those twenty eight or twenty nine days of February?

I didn’t want to let my mom down, but it was her case after all. I knew I was supposed to object to things, but the requests seemed innocuous enough. I was distracted by some commotion outside--sirens or something.

Bad came back in and nodded.  My clients look over at me, a little perturbed. I had missed objecting to one of Good’s visits, and they hadn’t liked it.

“Asked and answered,” I said, offering some support.

“We’ll let a judge decide that,” Bad said.

Outside sirens grew closer and closer. Suddenly Bad rose again and headed toward the door.  “I have to go to the bathroom again,” he said, strangely.     

Moments later, Bad returned with more agents, state cops and even some overweight locals from the sub-station down the street. All were armed.  Well armed.

 Something snapped in me. It was time to stand up for myself. Not Tom Cruise as the mischievous rich kid in Risky Business, but Tom Cruise as the young military lawyer in A Few Good Men.

 “Let me see that,” I demanded and grabbed it away. I looked over the warrant, it was valid. Or was it? It was based on hearsay testimony of a disgruntled employee.

 “This will never hold up in court,”,, said, defiantly.

“We’ll see,” Good said. “We’ll see.”

“Those were Good’s last words of the day, visiting hour was over. Bad was in charge now. He sat my clients down in the chairs, as he sat in the desk. “Let‘s start with your real names,” he said. “For the record.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I said to him before he could get much past the spelling of their middle initials. I tried to stare him down.

Embarrassed, he reluctantly read them their rights. I looked at my clients.  “Take the fifth. “ I said. “Don’t say a word!”

The clients listened to me. Even more amazing, Bad, a heavily armed agent, listened to me. He stopped cold.

Outside, two local cops surrounded the janitor’s rickety flatbed truck and nearly defied gravity as they leaned over the windshield to look inside. The janitor looked over at me. “You’re the lawyer, right?”

“You can’t do that,” I shouted at the two very big men. “Your warrant doesn’t cover the truck!”

I was bluffing, yet they stopped in mid-air and returned to earth as if I‘d said some magic word.  Damn, the constitution is a wonderful thing!

Inside the agents seized a few crates of records, but they left. I immediately called a famed appellate lawyer and started on the issues to get this thing kicked. It would take a year, but they would be totally vindicated and even get some money in a law suit. My clients told me two words that I never heard in my years of being a public defender -- Thank and you.

I felt like I was a lawyer for the first time. Hell, I felt like a grown-up for the first time. I couldn’t wait until I told my parents. They’d be so proud.

I celebrated all weekend. I told everyone about how I stared down armed Federal agents with only the constitution to back me up. I think by the twentieth telling, I’d fought off the entire 101st airborne.

My parents came home that Monday. They were furious! Huh? I was a little surprised. I had watered the plants, mostly; I had only left one pair of underwear on the stairs. I was about to tell them about my adventure, but they wouldn’t hear any of it.

“You didn’t call your grandmother!”

And that’s when I realized you can be the greatest lawyer in the world, but you aren’t truly a man, my son, unless you call your grandmother

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