Thursday, June 30, 2011

LIKING A "BAD GUY"

I have often explained how I can represent someone whom I know to be guilty. What I didn't do was to go a bit further and deal with the phenomenon of sincerely liking a client, the gravitas of his conduct, notwithstanding. This is kind of a "don't talk about it too loud" area, and I was, at the time, quite selective as to whom I would tell it. But that was years ago, and now is now, and my recollection of it remains fresh. So here is the story.

Years ago, I was associated with a nationally prominent attorney, reputed to be number one in criminal defense work. He was the best I had ever seen. He was blessed with an extraordinary brain. In our suite, my office was next to his.

A Chicago resident, one "Mikey", in no way a stranger to the Feds, was indicted on an organized crime racketeering charge. He set out to interview various lawyers, with outstanding credentials. This endeavor brought him to Boston, where he had a sit-down with the ultra successful attorney. I was at work, in my office, hoping that we would land the case. After approximately 45 minutes, the meeting ended and I heard  the men exchanging pleasant goodbyes. Mikey turned left, towards the door at the end of the corridor and, of necessity, passed me on the way out. My door was open. He stopped, looked at me and asked,"You the number two guy on the letterhead?" I answered that I was. He came in, with his companion, and wanted to chat. We did so, for an hour. His questions were widely varied. During the winding- down process, he asked what my fee would be if he chose to retain me. I did not question him, in any way, about his encounter next door. I quoted a fee, he said thanks and that he would be in touch.
Three days later, he called me and asked me to come to Chicago for more discussion. I met with him the following day.

He had been thinking. He knew what he was looking for. His search for representation was over. He wanted me. "Whaddayusay?" I said yes. He stood, as did I, and extended his hand. We "shook" and that was that. No written fee agreement. To him, the primo factor was mutual trust, and that had just been formalized. I went to work.

Being obsessed with everything in life, most particularly with trial preparation, I would frequently travel to Chicago every week, staying for three days. When work was done, Mikey would take me to the finest restaurants in town. From the moment he entered, with his entourage--and me--the maitre d' and the waiters would fall over themselves to pay him tribute. The place could be filled with notables, movie stars and stage actors, etc. who suddenly became invisible when Mikey was seated.He would acknowledge all of this by palming a double-sawbuck (twenty bucks, Dude) into the grasps of the adoring employees. When he put a Cuban cigar in his mouth, his face was eclipsed by a dozen match-holding hands. And his clothes! All that was missing was a runway. Designer suits, alligator shoes--straight out of casting, only he was the real McCoy. His desire, as a host, was for his guests to indulge in the best of everything, expense be damned. He was the Master of Ceremonies throughout the meal. Straight talk blended with earthy humor. And this was an every night occurrence. Heady stuff for a thirty-five year old, but , it was so sincere, coming from someone with a dangerous turn in the road looming. His charm was contagious.

I was, always, talking about my young son and his hobby of photography. On my next trip, he gave me a terrific Canon SLR camera complete with carrying case, saying "This is for your boy". And when my "thank you's" became excessive to him, he 'd get a wee bit pissed. That was Mikey.

When the trial was winding down, three days to go, my wife and son flew into Chicago. Mikey didn't think my modest hotel was fit for the occasion. He reserved a new room at one of the city's finest. I gave my wife the location with instructions to take a cab from the airport. When I arrived from court, I found her and my son in a single room. I had a cot brought in, which, with the two twin beds, would accommodate three, but it was cramped as hell. There would be, however, no complaints to Mikey.
The next morning, I navigated into the bathroom, and, in the middle of my shave, we lost all power. Shaving in the dark resulted in four whopping face cuts. I had candles brought up and covered the bleeding with toilet paper. (Buffy and Stosh would say tissue.) There's an old line. "When you were born, the doctor didn't know which end to slap." I was that joke's truism. I looked like a rectum with eyes. When Mikey saw me walk into the courtroom, he wanted to know what the hell had happened to me. When he heard the story, he went into a huddle with four of his "constant companions". They went directly to my room, packed everyone's belongings, drove to an even higher level hotel and established occupation of the largest suite in the freakin' world. Neatly put everything away, finally stopped apologizing, and bade farewell. Five rooms. A wet bar. T.V.'S and telephones everywhere! I wanted to notify my Post Office of a change of address. And that was Mikey.

It was a Friday. Closing arguments. I gave it my all. The judge adjourned until Monday for jury instructions and deliberation. I told Mikey that I was flying to Boston with my wife and son and would return early Monday. The next morning, 9 a.m. the phone rang. Mikey was in the lobby and wondered if I could meat him in the coffee shop for breakfast. I told him to eat me. (JUST KIDDING, FOLKS!)
I found him and his boys in a booth and joined them. Midway through, he caught my eye and motioned with his head to follow him. We walked into the rest room and he looked under every door to make sure we were alone. He then turned to me.
"Your closing argument was great. So was the way you represented me during the whole trial. I'm convinced that nobody could have done a better job than what you did for me. Believe me, I know how flakey a jury can be, but nothing can change what I just said." He reached inside his suit coat pocket and pulled out an envelope. "This is for you, kid." I thanked him profusely and we joined the others. Only when I returned to my room did I open it. It was the fee, all over again.
And that was Mikey.

Two days later, the jury found Mikey guilty. As the verdict was read, I felt as if a mule had kicked me in the gut. I turned to look at him. He was standing erect, looking straight ahead. The judge announced the sentence right then and there. A total of thirty-five years. He was placed under immediate arrest and was taken to the holding dock in the basement of the federal courthouse. I had to wait for paperwork to be done before they would let me see him. When I finally entered the holding area, my face must have reflected what I was feeling inside. Mikey yelled at me. "What the hell do you have a long face for? I'm the one that's gonna do the time. If I can smile, then, Goddammit, so can you!" And, despite everything, he was smiling.
And that was Mikey.

I would often visit him at the federal penitentiary. His official job was "librarian." In actuality, he was the "jailhouse lawyer", writing appeal briefs and advising inmates who stood in line for his services.
 Always, at least on the surface, in good spirits. Always with that warm smile. Never allowing himself to be broken.

Ultimately, he was released from prison and rejoined his wife and family. I can never forget him and his strength of character.  I fully appreciate the serious nature of his crimes. But, Heaven help me, he was a man.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic blog piece! Enjoy your summer, Judge.

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  2. Great post - really enjoyed it.

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