So when you are a criminal defense attorney you tend to talk on the phone a lot. I tell people news they don’t want to hear and it can get tedious. As a cop I used to stand beside a person at, or soon after, one of the worst moments in their life. Nowadays, I am on “the dark side” as my cop buddies call it. I help sweep up the aftermath, defending the downtrodden. I protect the accused rights and ensure that they get a fair shot, as I attempt to poke holes in the State’s general case.
The telephone calls tend to go down the same misguided road. The potential client wants Perry Mason to represent them for the price of a happy meal. That person sounds easy to work with and please, right? Sounds like they have a nice grasp of reality. What does it matter that they were speeding 90 mph down the highway with a loaded 9mm and a couple of ounces of pot? “I know we are going to win this one! The cop didn’t read me my rights BEFORE they put the cuffs on me!” You poor, dumb son-of-a-gun…..you are so painfully unaware…let me please help you for next to nothing. Yeah, right.
I have started directing people to my website after first talking to them on the phone. I want them to see a picture of me. My partner says I have a sweet, feminine voice and people are taken aback after meeting me in person. They get a consult from “Ally McBeal” and then get to meet the big girl from “The Practice.” It has worked out and has eliminated that first puzzled look I was experiencing with new clients.
I have never had a client not hire me because I am queer. That is a pretty good thing, it makes me happy just to write that down. People generally hire me for my brain, not my appearance or sexuality. If I can get them to come talk to me, the retention rate is about ninety-percent. That just goes to show you when someone’s ass is truly on the line, all prejudice goes by the wayside.
One day a woman set up a consultation at my office and we chatted about her incarcerated husband. Hubby was in the county jail on two counts of credit card abuse, a felony. We discussed the procedure for bonding him out and my fee. She stated she would like to hire me…of course, I told her I wouldn’t accept a card. The woman left stating she would come up with the cash and call me in a couple of days.
Next day arrives and I get a call from the woman’s adult son. He related that now both of his parents were in the county jail. It seems the woman was caught walking out the front door of a Lowe’s Home Improvement store with a microwave hoisted on her shoulder! The son had gathered money from extended family members….I gave him my “family plan” rate and he hired me.
I did a jail visit with my criminal couple and asked the woman why on earth had she stolen a microwave oven?? “I had a plan. I was going to steal stuff, pawn it, and bring you the cash.” You can’t make this stuff up folks. I NOW advise clients to come back when they have “legally” obtained the cash to hire me.
I wish I could tell you I have had a “Perry Mason moment”…you know the type, where the camera zooms in, I spin and point at the person I am cross examining….they blurt out tearfully that they were the one that killed the guy and not my client! If you want one of those moments, head on out to Hollywood with the money you will save by NOT going to law school.
The closest I have ever come to that scenario…and I am reaching, is the following case:
I was consulting a young woman and her father in the hall of the courthouse before going inside to have a misdemeanor trial before a judge. My client was accused of disorderly conduct at an apartment complex. The complaining witness told police my client was in the middle of a large crowd of raucous college students fighting and cursing in public, with anyone that would take her on. The scene was a parking lot of a complex that was within a few blocks of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
We went into the courtroom and the State proceeded to present their case. The star witness entered, he was in full Navy dress uniform…sparkling and crisp…in his attire and demeanor. The prosecutor asked him the necessary questions to get the elements of the offense into the record. One key response piqued my interest. When asked how he was so sure that the defendant was the instigator of the disturbance, acting so disorderly and obscene,…he retorted the following way: “Well sir, I tell you…I am very precise in everything I do, that is why I joined the Navy. I am a very observant person and my place in the military has made me be even more acutely aware of details. I am NEVER wrong about something that I see personally.” The prosecutor smiled and lowered his head, wishing he had spoken to the young sailor a little bit more before putting him on the stand. Then it was my time to cross-examine the “precise” witness.
Good afternoon sir. You are NEVER wrong in something you observe personally?
Response: No Ma’am.
Did you have a chance to see me in the hall before we all walked in to this trial?
Response: Why yes, you were seated with your client and a man.
Did you contact or talk to me at all?
Response: Well ma’am, I walked up to you and asked you if this was court #3.
That isn’t PRECISELY what you said, is it?
Response: No, Ma’am.
Will you state PRECISELY what you did and what you said?
ANOTHER LONG PAUSE
Response. I walked up to you from behind and tapped you on the shoulder. You were seated and turned away from me. I said, “excuse me SIR, is this court #3?” I am sorry Ma’am, I just didn’t see you well at first, then I corrected myself.
So you SOMETIMES make mistakes in your observations, don’t you?
Response: I guess I do Ma’am.
So you are not as PRECISE as you think you are?
Response: No Ma’am.
Are you sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person causing all the trouble in the parking lot was this young woman seated to my left?
Response: No, I guess not Ma’am.
The Judge cast a smile in my direction as she declared my client not guilty.
The next day a very large flower arrangement was delivered to my office. The card read, “from a very grateful Dad, you MA’AM, are an excellent attorney.”