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Monday, July 30, 2007

My Last Death Journal - Entry 4

July 30, 2007

The call came about 11 A.M. Though not a surprise, it still left me with that faintly nauseous stomach as in the aftermath of a solar plexus punch. “Verdict at 1:30.”

Getting dressed, driving, parking, walking ... all done while in that mode of hardening the bubble of preparation, mind anticipating all the moments to come so as not to react - not to allow my face or body to lend clues... not to be part of their drama. It takes that kind of effort. It’s going to be “we the jury find the defendant guilty ... guilty ...” How many times? 6. Plus “... the special circumstances true ... true ... true...”

I get to the CCB at around 1. The 13th floor attorney room is occupied by a few of the carrion who are always there waiting for appointed cases to drop in their talons.

And Frank Duncan is there.

I’ve seen Frank around the courts my entire career. He’s one of the private criminal lawyers who comes in and out of your view a few times a year. You say hi, talk about judges, traffic, old times and then he is gone.

Frank is now 79 and still practicing law, trying cases. He hasn’t changed much in 30 years - salty hair, craggy face, neat 3 piece gray suits, somewhat fastidious air.

None of the other hacks in the attorney room know about Frank. I learned about him from Dick Buckley a long time ago. Frank’s fame, such as it was, derived not from any case he defended. It came from his mother, Elizabeth Duncan (known by the lurid L.A. press at the time as “Ma Duncan”), who in the 1950's conspired to murder Frank’s pregnant wife and was the last woman executed in California.

We chat about other old times. Frank knew Johnny Marshall, Harold Ackerman and Max Solomon, some of the old legendary lawyers I ran across long ago.

He tells a funny story.

When Ackerman passed the Bar, Marshall took him into his firm to make appearances for him. On the first one, Ackerman went to Division 30 on the 7th floor of the old Hall of Justice to continue a case for Marshall because he hadn’t yet been paid his fee. When they brought the client into the court, he suddenly bolted for the window and jumped to his death.

Ackerman was terrified and refused to go back to court. But Marshall eventually persuaded him to appear once more on another case in the same court. This defendant also tried to dive out a window, but the bailiff was alert since the last time and caught him before he made it.

When Ackerman returned to the office very shaken, Marshall told him not to worry. From then on, he would only send him when clients had already paid the fee.

At 1:30 I took the verdicts and was gone by 2:30.

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