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Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Day In My LIfe ... Or ... Why I Kvetch ...

I drive for an hour (listening to the Roberts confirmation hearing) to get to the law office where my client is waiting. When I get there, BC is wearing a bilious face like someone going nowhere on a wobbly carousel.

He sums for me. Our clients have a new version of their story. They were still going to do "massages," but crucial details have been altered. The wits they had promised aren’t there. No phone numbers, no last names.

I hop onto the carousel for a while, but get queasy in a hurry, so I try a little cross-exam, which is another kind of ride, what with the need for interpreters. Like a Jerry Lewis skit, I ask a five word question, and the interpreter rants for ten minutes, then the client answers for another ten and the interpreter translates: “She says, ‘No.’”

In the end, I sum up the defense, speaking slowly for translation. “So you were wearing sleep clothes? ... waiting for your boyfriend? ... You got a call from a guy you didn’t know? ... who sent a taxi to pick you up? ... to take you someplace to meet a man? ... to get money for a massage? ... and you didn’t change? ... and two condoms were in your pocket? ... and K-Y jelly?

Even the interpreter laughs. She translates the client’s answer: “Would it be better if I said something else?”

BC lectures on ethics and the role of defense lawyers, sounding like Judge Roberts explaining stare decisis to senators from Kansas. He goes on for about ten minutes before telling the interpreters to translate.

This time I laugh. Trial is supposed to start on Monday.

BC and I go out for dim sum and remind each other of nightmares --- hearing client’s testifying to completely new stories on the witness stand. When it happened to me the first time, I had looked down at my notes, found nothing there to help me. So I had done what DA’s always did with their witnesses, “What happened next?” I kept asking, trying to sound as if I knew the answers, ignoring the sweat dribbling down my spine.

I drive to the jail, hand in two request slips. AV comes first. He’s pro per, facing the death penalty and I’ve been appointed as advisory counsel. I don’t like the role - my name on the docket that judges can point to as an excuse to affirm the sentence. I see my real job as trying to persuade him to go back to his previous lawyers. He fired them because their advice was daunting.

He’s worked a week on a motion to continue that a lawyer would do in a half hour. I ask him if he’s read the discovery material I copied for him. He nods.
“Have you thought about your defense?”
“Yes,” with a very serious face. “I didn’t do it.” Then an embarrassed smile.
“How are you going to explain your DNA at the scene?”
“I’m working on that.”
“And your taped confession?”
“Are you on my team?”

I explain that I’m there to advise him, not make him feel good.
“I heard you say that I’m sticking a needle in my arm.”
“Yeah, I told your sister that in my opinion anyone defending himself on a capital case might as well stick the lethal injection in his own arm, because he’s committing suicide.”

“I need somebody on my team.”
“Not if your team is gonna be executed.”

He smiles as if nothing more needs be said. But it does. “If you want to ask the judge for a different advisory counsel, that’s okay with me,” I say.

He’s sullen now. “Maybe I will. I’ll call you.”
“Make it collect.”

I give him more discovery he won’t understand and go on to the next client who is sitting in another row.

The client called me so I can put more money on his books. I’ve been doing that each month for about a year. He's worried; one of the three psych experts I’ve retained got him scared by asking what his defense is.

“We’ve talked about this a lot,” I remind him. “You confessed to both murders - on tape. On each, you began by denying the crimes, but eventually admitted when you were confronted with the evidence by the cops.”
“I didn’t know they were taping. They tricked me.”
“Did you tell them the truth?”
“So they tricked you into telling the truth?”

Mercy is what I need now, and finally it comes - a stay of execution. The desk deputy calls out, “Lock down is now in effect. The attorney room will be cleared.”

The client understands. I’ll go and put the money on his books and we’ll talk the next time. It’s an amicable parting, my first of the day.

I walk across the street to the twin towers and up the stairs to the property area. I curse because there is a long line of mostly women carrying babies there to deposit money for their jailed loved ones. I stand in the back of the line and peer to the front. All three windows are dark.
“Where’s the lady who takes the money?”
“Computers are down.”

I can go home now and prepare for the trial set to begin tomorrow. In the car, I listen to Judge Roberts explain how lawyers can advocate without believing as their clients do.

My cell phone rings. The court clerk. The trial now in progress is going long, my case will be delayed. Another stay of execution. I can sleep tonight - if I don’t think about today.


  1. I really like this post. You should do more in this style. Just straight narrative about your job throwing us in at the deep end on all the jargon. One can figure it out as one goes. If you wrote an entry like this every day or so, you'd feel better and you would have a great blog.

  2. I agree with Greg that this is a great post - extremely educational for those of us lucky to find it all pretty foreign. I too would love to see more of these reportage postings.

    I disagree with him, though, in implication: I also really love the philosophical essays, meditation pieces, and family reminiscences.

    Oh, and this is already a great blog.

  3. agreed - this is already a great blog - and this is a marvelous post! in style, in content, in wistful despondence. i love it.

  4. I suspect that there will be a better story in Jem / Greg / Max than in all my tales of 'wistful despondence.'

    I can't write daily of such days as this because I have few of them left in me.

    My 'job' now is to cut a hole in the top of my head and spew forth the gunk inside. That does make me 'feel better,' if that matters.

  5. Mr. Borenstein,

    You missed your real vocation in should have been a writer, for sure!! This is excellent! Looking forward to reading more and...please consider publishing!!