The morning sped by and turned into the afternoon without me noticing. When my secretary Ellie buzzed, I picked up my phone without looking away from what I was working on.
“Yeah?” I said as I finished typing the sentence I was drafting.
As soon as I spoke, I remembered I had not told Ellie about the appointment.
I groaned quietly.
“You have a woman who says she is here to meet you about representing her son,” Ellie said in a slightly annoyed tone. “Says she has an appointment at 1:30.”
I nodded. It was just as I thought. Ellie was not happy. She hated it when I forgot to tell her about an appointment I had coming up.
“I forgot to mention that to you,” I said slowly, wondering if an apology was in order, “she was waiting for me outside. I set the appointment just to get rid of her because I needed to prepare for the Bunker matter.”
“Oh,” Ellie said, the frustration dissipating from her voice a little. I hesitated, wondering if I needed to make it up to her in some way. Ellie was the best secretary I had ever worked with, one of the most competent people at our office.
I occasionally encouraged her to go to law school, but she always insisted that she could never do it because she hated confrontation.
She was talented, had a top-notch memory, quick mind, and would undoubtedly make a great attorney if she ever decided to go that route. I didn’t buy that she hated confrontation because I’d seen her confront more than one person with skill and finesse.
Because she had a good memory, she assumed everybody else did too. It’s not that there was a problem with my memory; it’s just that my head was usually elsewhere at the time I made an appointment.
I glanced at the project I was working on, pressed save on the word file, and then locked up my computer while pulling out a notepad.
“I’m ready. Send her in.”
A few minutes later, the woman was sitting in front of my desk, tearing up.
“My poor boy, my poor boy.” She rocked back and forth. That’s all I could get her to say at first.
I waited patiently, having been through this drill many times. It never became easier to see somebody in pain, no matter how many times I dealt with it. I knew of attorneys who cultivated apathy towards the suffering of others, but that was a mistake.
How could I help if I did not understand what they were going through?
I just didn’t let it get to me.
I usually gave them a few minutes to compose themselves before slowly starting the questions, all while displaying as much empathy as I could for their predicament.
“Let’s start with the victim’s death,” I said after I had given her enough time. “When did that happen?”
“Approximately six months ago.”
I raised my eyebrows. “And you’re just coming to me now?”
“He’s being represented by a public defender.” A scornful look crossed her face, and I could tell even before she said a word more that she was not happy with the attorney’s service. “All he wants to do is to convince my son to take a plea bargain. My son needs better than that. He deserves better than that.” She gave me a stern look, which was surprisingly not at odds with the tears running down her cheeks. If anything, the tears made her seem more poised. “He needs representation, not a bargain.”
“When’s the trial?” I asked as I took a sip from a can of Coke.
I sputtered. “No way. You’re stuck with your attorney. Judges hate rescheduling things at this stage of the game. It’s way too late for me to come in a week before trial. I’m sorry if you don’t like your attorney, but it’s the best you’re gonna get.”
I hated telling a potential client no, so I tried to think of some possibilities. I closed my eyes, letting out a long sigh as I rubbed the sides of my head.
“If we can find a valid reason for a continuance—”
“No!” She leaned forward. “My son has been in jail long enough. This trial needs to happen next week, and you must represent him.”
“You’re not thinking long term here,” I said, “who cares if he sits in jail a little bit longer so he can get the representation you want? What we need now is a reason to ask for a continuance.” I drummed on my desk in thought.
“I don’t think you’re hearing me,” she said, her tone taking on a hard edge. Her tears were gone now. “The trial is next week. We’re not going to change that.”
I was taken aback. I knew a bad situation when I saw one. I had encountered these situations before and had a way of dealing with them.
I would ask for a huge retainer to dissuade them from seeking my counsel. That usually worked, and if they went along with it, at least I knew that I was getting paid.
I opened my mouth, but she cut me off.
“My son is refusing to work with his current attorney because he is so fed up with him. I’ve gotten five calls from that attorney in the last two days begging me to convince my son to take a deal.” She shook her head. “I know my son. That’s never going to happen. Never.”
“Even if he wants to talk about a deal, he also has to be preparing—”
“He is not! He only talks about a plea. That’s not what we want. That attorney is convinced that he is going to prevail upon my son to take a plea bargain so he can avoid the trial. You should see this man. I don’t think he ever goes to trial. I talked to some of the other people he represented. He pled them all out.
“My son needs somebody who will fight for him. That’s not who we have. Even though time is short for you right now, at least you will prepare. We will pay whatever you ask.”
I frowned, thinking that my strategy to get out of this might not work.
“Why didn’t you go with a private defense attorney in the first place?”
“We couldn’t afford it.”
“You don’t worry about that. I will get you the money.”
I hesitated, wanting to ask her further questions, but she was bordering on distraught. I was afraid she was on the verge of laying into me if I provided any more resistance on the issue of payment.
It was not any of my business where she got the money unless I had firsthand knowledge she had committed a crime to get it.
Sometimes it’s just better not to know, I thought, though it was always hard for me to let go of a question.
I also needed to get on with my day.
I studied the woman and decided it was unlikely she would procure the funds through illegal means. Maybe she was selling her house. Maybe she had a retirement fund she could cash in.
Her business is her business.
It took me a moment to come up with a number that I felt would make it worth it to take on the case at such a late hour, but then I hesitated.
Do I really want to do this?
Wouldn’t it be better just to let her run with the attorney they already had?
Just as I was about to tell her I wasn’t going to help, she started tearing up again.
“Please, Mister Turner. Please, for my baby. He needs justice.”
I did not hesitate any longer. I had no choice. Without knowing it, she had pressed the only button I had in matters like this. I gave her the number, part of me hoping she would walk out of my office right afterward, but I knew deep down she would not.
She looked me straight in the eye. “You will have it by the end of today.”
I should’ve asked for more, I thought with a sinking feeling even as I felt a spark ignite within me.
I had a huge challenge ahead of me.
After another glance at her face, I realized it wouldn’t matter what the number was. She would pay whatever, regardless of what she needed to do to get it.
“Let’s start with your son’s name,” I said after I’d taken a moment to regain my composure.
“His name is Jimmy Franzen.”
“And when did Jimmy get charged with murder?”