Here's this week's episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing story of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“Up to now you’ve been the client,” my boss said to James, as we entered the courtroom. “But in this courtroom, we’re the show, you’re just the evidence.”
The evidence nodded but had no intention of quietly collecting himself while we prepared for the show. As I tried desperately to review the file for documents to corroborate him, James kept talking, mostly about inadmissible things. After all, in his eyes, I was just doing paperwork.
“Who’s that guy?” he demanded, pointing to a lawyer who’d come in with the prosecutor and was poring over documents at counsel’s table in enviable silence.
“That’s Mahoney’s date,” Howard snarled. He didn’t approve of prosecutors having second-seats to help them at a hearing, even though technically there were two of us on our side as well. Of course, since Howard didn’t actually know anything about the case, he was right I’d basically come without a date.
“This guy Mahoney,” James asked, “did you ever beat him before?”
I nodded apprehensively. We had in fact beaten him a number of times, but not because our superpowers were stronger than Mahoney’s. Though clients don’t like to accept it, a case usually comes down to the evidence, as homely as that may be. In this case it was pretty homely, with a comb-over and a big gut that even an expensive watch couldn’t hide.
But Howard had no problem with James’ question. He made a dismissive gesture implying he’d ensnared Mahoney many times with webs that flew out of his wrists whenever he sat down at counsel table in his monogrammed shirt and gold cuff links. Meanwhile, in actuality he didn’t even have any briefs on him, let alone a special suit.
The truth was Howard had gotten a little big picture recently, partly because clients still flocked to him even though he’d retired from the actual practice of law.
“In America everyone has a right to a lawyer,” he told a rejected client, “but not everyone has a right to me.”
His superhuman powers consisted mostly in striking fear in the hearts of those whose paychecks he controlled. When I tried to explain that there were some gaps in our defense, he looked angrily at me.
“Get to Yes,” he hissed, pressing his forefinger down on the surface of our briefs. “I want you to get to Yes.”
I like Yes as much as anyone else in the right circumstances, but, as has been emphasized recently, No can mean No, whether the other person wants to hear it or not.
“I got this client because we had a great first date,” Howard continued, “and you’re not going to ruin it for us.”
He was a real romantic about clients and money, though not so much with his wife.
“How are you going to spend my money today?” he’d barked at her earlier when she stopped by to say hi with his kids before a day out in the city.
Meantime his romance with James continued hot and heavy.
“You really think we can beat them?” James asked. I sensed perhaps he knew himself better than I’d originally thought.
But Howard isn’t into self-analysis. He waved away the question without answering it.
“What are they doing?” James asked, watching Mahoney and Jacobson doggedly marking exhibits. “Haven’t you told them their case sucks?”
Howard scoffed. “Have you ever seen a case go away because you tell the other side their case is a bucket of shit? What are they going to say – ‘Now you put it that way, I see your point?’”
He was unconcerned about the intensity of the other side’s preparations.
“Nobody’s my first fight.”
The most important thing in his view was never to show weakness. If we flexed our muscles enough the other side would assume we had a good defense and would make us an offer.
Anyway, having never gone beyond a first date with the evidence, Howard didn’t even know its weaknesses. He was still judging it on appearances like the fancy watch and big bank account, even though those qualities are not always inconsistent with financial fraud. As he explained to James, he left review of the accounting entirely to others.
“At the trial, they’ll bring their helicopter hats, we’ll bring our helicopter hats.”
Whenever I’d tried to give him any details about what our accounting expert was finding, he shooed me away.
“I’ve got a day job,” he growled.
Not that our expert’s findings were all bad. On the minus side, there were definitely irregularities in the books. But on the plus side, the irregularities were different from what the government thought they were, giving us a chance at a defense.
The real problem was getting Howard to pay attention to those subtleties.
“I don’t know if you’re working,” he said, interrupting my meeting with the accountant prior to the hearing to chat about something else. “Supposedly you are.”
The stacks of paper and furious note-taking must have given us away.
But Howard wasn’t interested in papers or notes or even discussing the case until the appropriate time. He never said much about a case unless he was talking to the judge, which he usually did outside the judge’s hearing like while we took the client out to breakfast before the court appearance.
“Your Honor,” he said, smacking down his coffee cup hard on the formica table. “As is patently obvious, my client has never been anything but an honest business man, running a legitimate company in full view of the entire world. Last time I checked, Your Honor, it wasn’t illegal to make money in America and it wasn’t illegal to use the mail or the telephone or even email to make that money. As we will make clear in the course of this hearing, Your Honor, the government’s charges of mail and wire fraud in this case attack the very foundation of American capitalism, violate my client’s due process rights, and offend the liberties we hold so dear in this country.”
To drive the point home, he slapped three twenties down on the table to pay the check. Then he turned to me.
“You fill in the blanks.”
That was exactly what I’d been trying to do for the last couple of weeks with a mixture of success and failure. As soon as I could get a moment away from James and Howard before the hearing, I took a few of our successes over to Mahoney and his date Max. They didn’t need to know we still had a lot of blanks unfilled.
I held my breath as the stenographer came in to set up and the court deputy began to prepare the courtroom for the judge’s entrance. If we didn’t at least get the hearing put off for a couple of months so we could put together a tighter defense and try to work out an agreement it wasn’t likely to go well for James.
Then just as I’d given up hope, Max turned to Howard.
“What we’d really like to do is ask for an adjournment,” he said.
Howard pretended to think a moment. Despite that amazing first date, somehow he seemed to realize it would be better for him to postpone going all the way with our client until the third date, when maybe they’d have gotten to know each other better.
“Sure, no problem.”
“That surprises me,” Max said. “Mahoney told me you’re very difficult.”
Howard smiled. “Because he’s Mahoney. I never say yes to Mahoney. But if you want anything I’ll say yes. Tell Mahoney I said that.”
Mahoney rolled his eyes, but fortunately the adjournment itself was enough of a victory for Howard and James, at least for the moment.
As we left the courtroom, they made a plan for their second date, which I made sure would be a little less romantic than the first one. It was going to be a double date with me and the accountant.