Tuesday, May 10, 2011


From the very first day of your criminal defense practice, every breath you take, every move you make, plants a seed in the soil of practical life, which, as it inevitably grows, becomes your reputation, for better or for worse. You must take note of this and do whatever it takes to shape it into something positive. Generally speaking, its direction is permanent from the gitgo, so nurture it and avoid its jumping off the track. It precedes you wherever you go and influences the results of your every encounter, so attach it to your personal moral compass, as one becomes the other. It's in your hands, exclusively. At the end of every trial, smile and be courteous to the judge and the prosecutor, your internal feelings, notwithstanding. It gets around, faster than you think, as everyone develops a book on you.

I had been practicing for many years, and what I was, I would always be.
The headlines, in the morning newspaper, blared the details of a tragic incident the night before. Unfortunately, it was not a case of first impression.

An on-duty cop had encountered a young individual, fleeing the scene of a home invasion. He matched the description of the perpetrator which had been radioed to the cop, along with the warning that the suspect was thought to be armed and dangerous. The cop began to give chase, yelling for the young man to stop. At first, he continued to run, then stopped short, and turned around to face the officer. The cop screamed out, "You're under arrest!", whereupon the suspect answered with a profanity and began to extract, from his jacket breast pocket, a shiny silver object. The cop, thinking that he was about to be facing a gun, drew his own weapon and fired it one time. The suspect was shot dead. The object in his hand was a heavy flashlight. According to the printed story, members of the community were outraged and demanding that the cop be charged with homicide. The headlines were in large print and the local news media were heavily  concentrating on the story. It was, literally, the talk of the town, lynch mob style.

In my office, I read the paper several times. The cop had no history of on the job misconduct. I don't know why, to this day I don't, but I put in a call to the Police Commissioner. I was just following my intuition. I identified myself to his secretary. Surprisingly, he took my call. We had never met.

"Commissioner, I'm calling about last night's shooting incident. Please tell the cop that, if, at any time, he decides he needs a lawyer, I'll be happy to represent him for the donut. The only condition is that our conversation never happened. I'm not doing this for publicity."

He told me, in very sincere tones, that he truly appreciated my offer and would extend it to the officer. He also stated that he would conform with my request for confidentiality.
The matter, eventually, died down. I never heard from the cop or the Commissioner.

Six or seven months later, I was retained by a woman indicted for grand larceny. The police investigation had been headed by a very well known detective, one Jimmy Reardon, who had nineteen years in service, experiencing just about every type of crime situation you could think of. His face was one of a very savvy and hardened veteran, which he most certainly was.

He was present at the first pre-trial hearing of the case. After the assistant D.A., and I  had our discussion about discovery materials and motions to be filed, we reported to the Judge and another date was scheduled. As I exited the courtroom, I saw Reardon furtively gesture to me, indicating that I should follow him. He led me into an empty room marked "Jurors Only," and closed the door. He put a folder on the table, saying only "That's for you," and he left the room. The folder contained copies of the complete police file on the case---more important information than I could ever obtain from any discovery motion. To a defense attorney, it was the mother lode. Unbelievable.

I knew the District Attorney very well. We had tried several cases together when he was an Assistant D.A., before he ran for and got elected to the top job, and a solid mutual respect had developed. Reputation, doncha know. His name was Walter Flaherty
I could call him directly and request an off-the-record meeting. I did just that.

It was the two of us, alone, in his office. I explained how amazed I was at what Reardon had done for me and that, because of our friendship, I felt that I had to run it by him. I emphasized that this was all confidential, for, in no way did I want to get Reardon into any trouble. Walter looked at me with good-hearted surprise.

"Gerry, my boy, whatsamatta with you? With all your experience, you're still a naive a-hole."

I looked at him, quizzically. He continued. 
"Don't you remember that call you made to the Commissioner, months ago, offering to represent that cop who was being crucified in the media for shooting that burglary suspect? Well, as soon as he hung up, every cop in the city knew about it. And, Reardon was that cop's partner. These guys never forget--the good and the bad. So, take advantage of what you've got. As far as I'm concerned, I don't know from nothin' and this meeting never happened."
We shook hands. "See ya, Gerry."

I was able to plea bargain the case for a resolution of two years straight probation. The client was rightly thrilled.
Another new experience. They never stop coming.
To do the right thing, with no strings attached, is to invite good karma at a future, unknown time.
A merry-go-round.

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