Serial Fiction: Legal Aid - Part Two

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of "Legal Aid." If you missed it, you can start from the beginning here. Sometimes the wheels of justice veer off the track.

African Street Graffiti by Faith47

I brought two heaping plates back from the taco bar. Sharon had only taken dabs of salad, but I could tell by the speed she cleared her plate that she was hungry. I did something I don’t like to do, but sometimes it’s necessary to apply a little force. I put a touch of authority into my statement and didn’t frame it as a question.
“You need to eat. I have a client or two pass out every month. The judge is required to call 911 and it’s almost always hunger or dehydration. Plus, you don’t want Mr. Rojas to think we don’t appreciate his hospitality.”
After asking for permission with her eyes and receiving my nod, she picked up a fork and dove in. I kept the conversation light until I heard cutlery scraping on china.
“We need to talk about your case. Tell me what happened and tell me about the letter.”
She detailed a story I’d heard many times before. A fight escalated into blows. She tried to use her above-average strength to shield her face and body, but she’d had to flee into the yard. A neighbor heard the tumult and called the sheriff. When the deputies arrived, she was unconscious on the front lawn with her five-year-old crying and pulling on her hand. Her husband was nowhere to be found.
“How’d you get the letter?”
“It was on the front porch the next day. I called the sheriff again, but they wouldn’t do anything. The lady on the phone suggested I call you for a protective order.”
I knew the rest of it. Marty Klein wasn’t arrested for strangling his wife within an inch of her life. He was arrested during a bar fight at the VFW hall in their small town. Luckily, he couldn’t make bail and a sharp-eyed intern in the DA’s office put the two cases together.
“I have to ask because they will. What about the brick?”
“I was on my back and he had his hands on my neck. I reached around and found it, the garden is edged with them, and klonked him to get him to let go. It cut his forehead. I’m really sorry for that.”
“Don’t be. Did he let go?”
* * *
I got my first look at Marty Klein when court reconvened after lunch. Sitting in the jury box, hobbled and shackled with a belly chain, he seemed small and inconsequential. Until he raised his eyes and bathed me and Sharon in a blaze of rage and hatred. She trembled as I put her in a seat in the back row and asked a bailiff to stand in Klein’s line of sight.
It was game time.
As the docket droned on with short hearings, it pleased me to no end to think of Dan Gold stuck on the third floor waiting for a client that was unlikely to show any time soon.
It was well after four when the judge announced, “In the matter of Klein, parties please state your appearance.”
“Jillian Sinclair with Legal Aid for the petitioner Sharon Klein.”
Finally, the judge said, “Bailiff, is Martin Klein present in the courtroom?’
“Yes, your Honor, he’s in custody, in the jury box, on the right side.”
“Mr. Klein, your presence is noted for the record. Do you have an attorney?”
“Mr. Klein?” The lilt at the end made it very clear that she expected an answer.
In a vote so low and tight that I had to strain to hear, he said, “I do not recognize the jurisdiction of this court, as an arm of the bankrupt corporation of the United States, over a sovereign citizen.”
Oh, fuck no.
It takes a lot to make Judge Reinhardt angry. From the counsel tables, the flex of her clenched jaw told me we were about five seconds away from a contempt citation. Instead, she turned to her clerk and said, “Does Mr. Klein have an attorney appointed in his criminal case?”
“Yes Ma’am, Dan Gold of the PD Office.”
“Well, Mr. Klein, you apparently don’t have any problem with the United States on the third floor. I am appointing Mr. Gold to represent you in this case as well. I’ll continue this until Friday at three. I don’t need this frippery bogging down the rest of the week’s docket. Ms. Sinclair, do you have any motions?”
It was hard to hide the smile. I may be stuck here, but Mr. Golden Boy was going to be right here with me. Just him and Mr. Sovereign Citizen.
“Yes, your Honor. I know that he is in custody, but I ask that the temporary orders continue and be strengthened to enjoin Mr. Klein from any contact with Mrs. Klein, the minor child Ryan Klein, and to not set foot on the marital property, including casual contact such as driving by, parking across the street, or being within one thousand feet of any child care where Ryan Klein is present.”
“That’s extreme Ms. Sinclair. What is your probable cause basis?”
“Stand up Sharon.”
I hooked my fingers on her collar and pulled it out. The reddish-purple handprint glowed in relief against her fair skin. With the other hand, I picked up the letter and read a single line:
When I was choking you, I was really kissing you.
The courtroom stragglers fell silent as I met the judge’s eyes.
“Granted. We are adjourned.”
My client pulled away from me and sat down as if her legs would no longer hold her weight. As I gathered my files and repacked the cart, the deputies shepherded the chain gang out of the box. I couldn’t help a peek at the prisoners and I immediately regretted it as Klein locked me in a baleful glare. I couldn’t look away, that would make me weak, so I held it, absorbing the venom until the deputy tugged on the leash attached to the shackled men and led them shuffling out of the room.
* * *
The Tuesday docket was a breeze and I used my downtime to mark-up Sharon’s DIY divorce paperwork. I’d seen worse, but it needed some sharp teeth. On Wednesday morning, I filed the amended petition and dropped a copy at the sheriff’s office to be served on Klein in jail. I also talked to Sharon and came up with a battle plan. Friday was the first showdown. With the permanent PO in hand, I planned on pushing through a set of draconian temporary orders in the divorce. After that, the details could take as long as they took.
Things were on track.
On Thursday afternoon, after mucking through the assortment of he-said-she-said free-for-alls, revenge applications, and genuine protective orders, I was ready to be done with my monthly turn. One more day. I pushed the message button on my office phone. The robotic voice on the third one snapped my head up, paperwork forgotten.

This is the Victim Notification Service of the Sheriff’s Department. You are receiving this call because you registered with VNS for updates on inmate movements. Martin Joseph Klein, inmate number 95678 was released at 3:15 p.m. local time on Thursday . . . 

I tuned out the rest of the message. Only one thing mattered, Marty Klein was on the street and his wife was in danger. I forced myself to organize the thoughts racing through my head. First up was to find out how the hell this happened. I hit the speed-dial to the prosecutor’s office.
“This is Jenkins.”
“I need to talk to Melanie, where is she?”
“Maternity leave. She went into labor yesterday afternoon. I’m covering her docket for the next few weeks.”
As I processed this, a picture of Paul Jenkins popped into my mind.
“Plead’em Paul” was legendary in the defense community. On the glide path to retirement, he was trial-adverse and could be coaxed into ridiculous plea agreements. I’d used him to my advantage more than once.
“What happened with Martin Klein? I got the VNS notice today.”
“Simple Battery, six months suspended, and probation. His so-called victim should be thankful I didn’t dismiss this mess. This was a clear case of mutual combat. She hit him with a brick for heaven’s sake. They can settle it all in the divorce.”
Dan Gold.
I hung up. Nothing contained in my bubbling rage would change a thing. The papers were signed and the prisoner released. Justice had spoken.
My next call wasn’t on speed-dial, but I’d memorized it. The first try went to voicemail. I called again. She picked up on the third ring.
“You promised this would be okay. There were roses and a note on the porch when I got back from the store.”
I didn’t have time to atone for my own hubris and arrogance. I had to act. It was the only way to keep that promise.
“Where’s Ryan?”
“I sent him away with my mother. They’re going to one of her sisters. I don’t know which one. I didn’t want to know.”
What she wasn’t saying was, “I don’t want to know so he can’t beat it out of me.”
“Do you have someplace to go?”
“No. I can’t drag my sins among my friends. This just is what it is.”
That line was akin to a suicide note. She was waiting for him to kill her. I had to jolt her out of it.
“Do you have a gun in the house?”
“Yes. My mom brought me grandpa’s sawed-off shotgun. He was a bootlegger.”
“I need you to listen to me for Ryan’s sake. Do not let Marty win. If anything happens to you, he’ll use the court to get custody. Remember O.J.,” I hesitated, hating myself for the lie I was about to tell, “They’ll put your mother and her sister in jail.”
That got her attention. Her voice lost some of its flat intonation and she asked, “What can I do?”
“Lock all the doors and windows. Don’t answer the phone or the door unless it’s me or a law enforcement officer. I’ll call the sheriff about the roses.”
“They’re paper. Toilet paper. One for every day he was in jail. He wants me to forgive him.”
“Do you?” It was a hard question, but I had to know if she was still ready to fight.
“Good lady. Give me a couple of hours. And one more thing.”
“Make sure he has one foot inside the house before you blow him away.” I hung up without waiting for her answer.
Another speed-dial, this time to the sheriff’s department. After some lawyer-voice pufferfish-bluffs that had no substance at all, I got put through to the undersheriff. I took a deep breath and explained the situation to him.
“I know all about that. In fact, Mr. Klein reported here after his probation intake to talk about it. He said he left a note asking her to work with him on the divorce and that he wanted to see his boy. I didn’t know about the paper roses, but that’s kinda sweet. The inmates do that for their wives all the time.”
“You do know there’s a protective order, don’t you?”
“Yeah, keeping a man away from his rightful home and his boy. He didn’t do nothing. He didn’t even knock on the door. I don’t blame him after she hit him with that brick. This one’s a non-starter. They’ll sort it out in the divorce. You and Mrs. Klein just need to untwist your ti . . .”
The awkward silence told me all I needed to know.
“Why thank you and your concern for my titties. They’re just fine. Magnificent, to be honest. And know that I’ll be discussing that with the county commission.”
Another empty threat. Unless the sheriff wanted something done, the civilian command would just write a memo. It was clear that I was on my own. I needed to get Sharon into the jurisdiction of the city police force. It was a completely different culture.
“Come in.” My manager’s door was always closed. He wasn’t avoiding us. He was conserving every breath of the air-conditioning that the center offices still received.
“I need a hotel voucher for a client. Just until Monday. I swear this is serious. I know things are tight, but there’s always some wiggle room somewhere. He’s going to kill her.”
“This is about Klein, right? I just got off the phone with the sheriff’s department. A commander said you made sexually-charged comments to him.”
“Oh, that’s just fucking rich.”
“I didn’t say I believed him. It sounded more like a pre-emptive strike. Tell me what’s going on.”
I lined it out, including the very real threat to my client.
“By Monday, I’ll have the temp orders I need and she can leave the state if that’s what it takes. But if she doesn’t show or he gets to her, we’ll be back to square one.”
“Why didn’t you staff this?”
“It went too fast. I decided the word Aid in our title meant something.”
His laugh didn’t extend to his forehead. Instead, the vertical line between his eyebrows deepened.
“Let me make a call or two. We’re going to talk about this next week. Just you, me, and the director. I’ve always given you a lot of slack because you’re good. But, this one could be too far off-label. We have rules because our funding has rules.”
Buried in his words was my last chance to back off.
Fuck it.

“Understood. Please let me know if you’re able to help. I’ll be working on the motions for Monday.”

Everything's going to be okay, right? Come back to this space for Part Three . . .