Serial Fiction: Legal Aid - Part Three
After *cough* too long of a delay, here is the third and final installment of Legal Aid. I tried to catch and distill what working high volume low-pay law is like. Amazing work is done but there is also the very real limitations on resources and options. Also the security issues. I'll share a bit more on the other side.
Just wandering in? You can find Part One here and Part Two here:
Just wandering in? You can find Part One here and Part Two here:
|Lady Justice by @danferrer_art
“You owe me, Sinclair.”
My boss took the one comfortable chair on the other side of my desk.
“Challenge accepted. What’s up?”
“Two things. First, Richardson Oil is willing to comp an executive suite for the weekend. One of their board members also sits on our board. They keep a floor at the
for visitors. Once I promised that their name would be on top of the sponsor banner for the rest of the year at no extra charge, they jumped at the chance to be altruistic.” Parkshire Building
“The Parkshire? Can I stay with her?”
“Not even on a bet. I also called in some big markers. After the protective order hearing, The Essex Firm is taking over the divorce.”
In the silence, I realized I was gripping the file. This was my case. I wanted to see it through. I wanted to win.
He nodded toward my clenched hand and said, “And that’s exactly why you have to step away from it. Law can’t be personal. Well, not too personal.
Essex has the resources, investigators, and security to keep her safe. We don’t.”
“Do they know everything? Even about the brick? This isn’t really in their portfolio.”
“Given the laughter on the phone, I think the brick sealed the deal. Listen, I know they made their millions defending white-collar criminals and drug lords. Once every year or so, they like to cleanse their collective soul with a pro bono case. Something nice and messy that’ll get their name in the papers as do-gooders. It’s a chip I don’t cash in easily or foolishly. Don’t make me regret going all in on this.”
He was right. I couldn’t let my pride stand in the way of
Sharon having a lawyer that didn’t get out of bed in the morning for less than $10,000.
“Thank you. You know what? I no longer believe half the things I’ve heard about you.”
The joke broke the tension. My manager did his job. He had my back, and more importantly, my client’s back.
“Half is about right. I’ll send Willy over to sit in on your Friday morning docket. He’s so fresh out of school that it’ll seem like an adventure. As for you, why don’t you get her stashed and go home. You have a big day tomorrow and it’s too damn hot in here.”
The implied don’t fuck this up hung in the air.
* * *
“I can’t accept this.”
The corporate suite was a fully-equipped two-bedroom condo with a million-dollar view of downtown.
“Yes, you can. It was donated by some people who believe in you.”
“I’ve worked on some construction jobs in buildings like this, but I’ve never seen one complete. I didn’t know such places existed outside of TV.”
“They do and it’s yours. Don’t go out and don’t use the phone. You can use the intercom to call the concierge and order take-out. It’ll go on the company account. You don’t have to do anything except eat, sleep, and soak in that gigantic tub.”
She didn’t move. It was up to me to give her permission. I got a designer sparkling water out of the fridge and sat at the granite breakfast bar with my finger hovering over the embedded intercom panel.
“What kind of pizza do you like?”
She smiled and said, “Anything but pineapple. Marty always insisted on pineapple. Will you stay and eat with me? Is there any chance you could maybe stay tonight? This place is so big and quiet.”
I nodded and placed the order. What’s the point of receiving a direct instruction if it didn’t get a bit bent a little to fit the circumstances?
* * *
The best part of Friday afternoon was watching Dan Gold squirm and cast furtive glances at the courtroom door. My gut told me that Marty Klein wasn’t about to show. He’d probably found the trailer empty, trashed the place, and went on a bender. I wasn’t disappointed. The best law is the kind where the number of variables is reduced to zero. Drama and law are a bad combination.
“Mr. Gold, where is your client?”
His decision as to whether or not to lie played in his face. When his shoulders sagged, I knew the truth had won.
“I have no idea. I’ve been calling him since he got out of jail. I respectfully request a continuance.”
“Ms. Sinclair, your reply?
“The petitioner objects and moves the permanent
PO be granted based on the unopposed allegations in the petition.”
The last word was barely out of my mouth before she banged the gavel and said, “So ordered. We’re adjourned.”
Smiling, I gathered my files and flipped Dan the bird when the bailiff turned his back.
“What just happened?”
Sharon’s voice was shaky.
“You have a Protective Order that’s good for two years. I wish it was a bulletproof shield, but it is the best I can do right now. Come Monday, you’ll have temporary custody of Ryan and the freedom to move wherever you want. You’ll only have to come back when your lawyer needs you for divorce hearings.
“When you need me, right?”
I motioned to a man dressed in a black suit that barely contained his muscular physique and sunglasses tilted back on his shaved head. The unbuttoned jacket told the observant that he was armed. He took a chair on the other side of the table.
Sharon, this is, um, Mr. Smith. He works for The Essex Firm and is going to be your escort and security through the hearing on Monday. They are the best lawyers in the state. You couldn’t do better if you tried.”
She slapped the table, “But I want you. You know. You understand. I can’t afford this.”
“You need the best. I’m not the best. The protective order is done and my boss arranged this. Their usual retainer is $50,000. There’s no charge to you for as long as it takes. But you have to cooperate.”
“Mr. Smith” leaned forward and said, “Ma’am, I was a Marine and then Secret Service. No one, especially that sack of shit that didn’t have the balls to show his face, is going to hurt you. We’ll even help you move after the legal beagles sort it out. You’re safe with me. I pack a lot more than a brick.” He punctuated the last line with a wink.
Something in his strong even tone got her attention and she listened to every word. I knew exactly what he was doing. He was edging me out and assuming authority over her. I was simultaneously relieved and sad.
I stood. “
Sharon, you’re in the safest hands possible. I’m going to say goodbye to you now and go back to my office to get your file together for your new lawyers.
“Can I call you? After I get settled with my mom?”
The plaintive note struck me to my bones, but there was only one answer. “No. I need to be able to say I don’t know where you are, even if asked by a judge.”
Her bodyguard stepped into the breach and led her from the courtroom.
It was over.
* * *
The laid back Friday afternoon attitude in the office wasn’t the usual comfort. I tidied the file, brought the notes up to date, and sealed it in a courier envelope. One of our law students volunteered to run it the six blocks from the crumbling Legal Aid building to the gleaming brick and leaded glass headquarters of The Essex Firm.
The departing intern nearly bowled Lana over as she leaned in my door. “He’s probably going to drop off a copy of his resume as well. Come on baby, we’re all going for a beer.”
“I’ll pass. I’m not in the mood.”
“It wasn’t a multiple choice question. We’re just going across the street. Have one and then you can go home to whatever’s waiting.”
Whatever was a pile of laundry, a carpet that needed vacuuming, and a pint of ice cream. I hadn’t even made time for a pet.
“You know what, that’s the best idea I’ve heard today. I’ll be right there.”
“You know I’ll check.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I stayed for two and a round of happy hour buffet. Even though it was still sunny outside, as I descended into the bowels of the parking garage, the hot stuffy gloom soon enveloped me. We got our parking free, another tiny Legal Aid perk, but the worst building on the block also got the worst parking. The bottom level was low-ceilinged and tangled with dripping pipes. My space was in the corner.
I saw it after I threw my briefcase in the trunk. The beer and hot wings rumbled in my stomach and threatened to come back up.
There were three toilet paper roses on my windshield.
The End . . .
This story is based on real cases I saw working in public interest and social justice law. In the bowels of the courthouse, you saw the pain of domestic violence. After victims' wounds were bandaged they were left to face the legal system. I did tell the construction worker in the polyester blouse that I didn't want to know her new address because I didn't want to have to lie. Less than a week later, her abuser popped out from behind a shrub and demanded that I tell him where she'd taken their son. I was able to hold my ground and say that I didn't know. I also remember well a woman calling me weeping in relief that her husband had wrapped his truck around a tree and was dead. She asked me if I thought she was terrible. I was honestly able to say "no."
Some people think lawyers are cold and arrogant. Sometimes we are. We're also sin-eaters. We have to ingest everything our clients give us and reconstitute it into something that will help them all while being the keeper of their hopes and secrets. So yeah, the armor builds layer by layer.