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Sunday, July 16, 2017


      Friday I rode downtown with the Adelsons to a restaurant on Sunset and Alvarado for the annual luncheon held to honor the memory of Jim Cooney, a criminal lawyer who died about 30 years ago. For years I had ignored the invitations for the affair. Never much for drinking lunch and then plunging into the Friday afternoon freeway tangle. Never much for sitting around listening to war stories I know by heart.

            But this time I gave in. Adelson said he would drive, and since I retired I haven’t seen some of these faces in a while. So to the Hollywood Freeway; for forty years my stream of unconsciousness, the same stultifying route into the sun in the morning and back home into the sun at night. The first years I lived on the west side and the trickling stream was the 10, but of course into the sun morning and night. Always west to east. (Maybe it would have been better to live in Pasadena or somewhere else on the east end to have the sun behind, but that never happened to me.)

            I have avoided going downtown, even to visit my sister and nephew in their high rise pieds-a-terre. As a passenger now, I had time to peruse the side of the freeway, appalled at the detritus that has accumulated since I last made the trip. When I first moved from NY to LA in the mid 1960’s, I was amazed at the bright cleanliness of the streets and highways. My streets had always been grey, dirty, cracked, made more so by the lead gray light. But now the litter overwhelms any effort to clean up. Graffiti is the best of it; the trash dumped from cars, from apartment windows, over chain link fences, all testify to a city that has copped a plea and accepted defeat.  

            The worst is the human detritus, the blue homeless tarps and shopping carts that litter every shadowed space, under overpasses. Sunset itself is a shabby avenue of tired facades, signs of surrender to age and loss. Shuttered shops, rehab centers, bare lawns and peeling paint.

            I recall my first morning drive to the CCB after returning from our trip around the world. A year had past. I felt so different, but everything seemed the same, as if I had been on some Einstein time warp voyage. But there was a difference. On Broadway, near Temple, a man slept in a cardboard crate, an absurd table lamp near his head, as if he had turned out the light before retiring on the sidewalk. I had never seen that before in LA, but had seen it in Calcutta.

            Adelson insisted on being early because he hoped to meet with someone he could cajole into signing a letter to help a wrongfully convicted prisoner. The first to arrive was Chris Chaney and we chatted for quite a while before the place began to fill up. Chaney is one of the best people in any gathering, a decent, kind man who takes troubled foster kids into his family. He also defends murderers for a living.

            Herb Barish showed up, wearing the same three-piece suit he has worn for forty years. Herb was one of the PD lunchroom group back in the dim Pleistocene epoch. His cynicism challenged my own for bitterness honors. Once we argued over who was sexier, Linda Carter or Bella Abzug. Like Chaney, Herb is still practicing, although he never has accepted a capital case. Maybe that is why he hasn’t changed in all this time.

            The room filled with faces that were familiar, though now lined and weathered. Paul Horgan who was in my law school class after starting as UCLA’s fullback the year before. Perlo and Cobb and Horn and Rucker who were already PD’s when I came to the Hall of Justice to sit in Horton’s office. There was “Handsome Harry,” who used to have a Cary Grant tan; now has a Danny DeVito stoop. Harry reminded me that I had refused to vote for Humphrey in 1968 because he refused to oppose the war. I admitted that was a mistake that I didn’t repeat last year. Brad Brunon told Mike Crain about the case we tried together in which Mandel, the schmuck, tried to help the DA by screwing our clients. (I last saw Brad when he was on Spector and I was trying my last capital case across the hall.)

            The affair is hosted by the fellows that some call the Irish Mafia, fitting because Jim Cooney was the epitome of Irish wit; a craggy face, ragged white eyebrows, an ever present cigar and whiskey wit that croaked out gems of wisdom that kept you smiling. He was the stuff of legend and his cigar is kept aflame by his acolytes. Most are the sons of the auld sod: Tynan, Horgan, Enright, Shannon, Murphy, Rucker. John Yzurdiaga, (nicknamed “John Xyz”) is one of the hosts although he is a Basque. (The Basques can challenge the Irish drink for drink and for a love of freedom and tall tales.)

            They told the old war stories starring Cooney. Like: In a multi-defendant trial, Cooney stopped a young defense lawyer from asking too many questions (starting with one to a cop beginning with the forbidden “Why . . .?”and messing up the case by grabbing the youngster by the tie and croaking a loud whisper: “Shut the fuck up!”
            Bob Savitt, a retired DA, told about a case in which he opposed Cooney and after hearing Cooney’s final argument that exposed the fatal flaw in the prosecution, Savitt asked his second chair to take the verdict, which he knew would be not guilty.

            Rick and Louise Santweir and Mike and Chris Shannon were there. Louise reminded me about an evening the six of us spent in San Francisco many years ago. “I’ll never forget how sweet and wonderful Bea was that night,” Louise said. “It’s stayed with me ever since.”

            It was good to recall times of laughter and camaraderie. Maybe it is a bit like old warriors reliving their youthful adventures after surviving it all. I was surprised to learn how many are still at it so many years after signing up for Medicare. Sure, they kvetch about pains . . . and how it isn’t the way it used to be . . . but travel and grandkids and hobbies can’t sub in for the courtroom.  

We were the best and brightest for a long time. Some of us were like Willie stumbling around the outfield for the Mets, so we pulled the plug. But others are still hanging in there. Still pretty damn good.