“Will the defendant please rise?” said the judge about to pass sentence on a burglar. Margold James, the lawyer, and the defendant to whom the judge referred, got to their feet. Six foot seven inch Margold stood, his fingertips touching the table, the defendant’s file open before him.
Today was a routine sentencing after a plea agreement had been reached, and nobody expected the lad to do any actual time. Even the officer from parole and probation who had prepared the pre-sentencing report for the judge recommended a suspended sentence and probation.
Margold had put on a dog-and-pony-show, parading the defendant’s mother, brother, and friends before the judge pleading for leniency for the poor misguided defendant who needed but one more chance. An otherwise fine young lad who transgressed only this once by burglarizing apartments. In contrast, the State presented testimony from the victims, who described in detail the horror and anguish they felt upon realizing they had been robbed. Those victims who could not come to court had written letters to the judge, which he considered silently, Margold having already seen them.
Margold reckoned everyone in the room, except for the lawyers, the judge, and the deputies, had cried during the hearing. His job was over. All he had to do was hear the sentence and deal with the aftermath. His mind had already turned to the question of whether he would have two or three olives in his martini.
The judge, a man in his 60s known for leniency, gazed straight ahead while the defendant got to his feet. The prosecutor, a woman in her early 30s, plain of face, uninteresting of figure, and dressed in a black pantsuit, remained seated, eyed the defendant with disdain.
The tired and shopworn courtroom smelled of mildew and disinfectant. The carpet was filthy, the tables scratched and marred, the chairs soiled by human grease. The judge’s bench, so far from the counsel tables it might as well have been on another planet, contributed to its black-robed occupant’s air of aloofness and superiority.
The defendant, a tall athletic college boy from a well-to-do but not rich family had been caught by the police crawling out of the window of someone else’s apartment. While in police custody, and without the benefit of counsel, he had had the wisdom to write out and sign confessions to several other unsolved burglaries in the same area. In the boy’s defense, he did so on the promise that he would not be charged. The cops only needed to clear the books with respect to some unsolved break-ins. On the basis of these confessions, however, the boy was charged with seventeen different crimes. Margold, seeing the error of the cops’ ways, had gotten all the charges arising from the confession dropped. The real problem he faced today, though, was that the boy and his family expected him to get off with a good scolding, and be sent home to smoke weed and jerk off in the comfort of his upper middle-class bedroom. The investigator for the pre-sentencing report reinforced that notion, and Margold knew even the State didn’t expect him to go to jail.
Nevertheless, the judge could give the boy a fair piece of the twenty-five years to which he was subject. Margold tried to prepare the lad and his family for this eventuality. After all, society frowns on breaking into other people’s houses and taking their stuff. The boy’s mother, however, was sure no judge would put her little William in prison, particularly once she had the chance to explain what a good and upstanding young man he was, and that none of what he did was his fault.
With lawyer and defendant standing, the judge lectured the boy at length, sometimes loudly and with great animation and pounding of bench. He made reference to the statements from the victims, how they were violated, and pointing out that the home is sacred. How would he feel? Margold took that as a good sign. Often a good public ass-chewing is followed by a lenient disposition. The prosecutor looked on with a smug grin, arms folded, legs crossed. Margold grew impatient. Even after twenty-five years, he still felt as though the judge addressed him personally when berating a client. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know what he did, all against the peace, dignity, and government of the State. Out with it.
The judge grew quiet, took a drink of water, and wrote something on a form. Two deputies moved in behind the defendant.
In a calm voice, the judge addressed the boy. “Young man, you are an enigma to me. You come from a good home. Your parents care about you. You have many advantages and privileges that few enjoy. And yet—”
His mother stood. “Your honor?”
“Please, ma’am,” the judge said, “don’t interrupt. You’ve had your say.”
“But nothing. Kindly sit down and be quiet, or I’ll have to remove you from the courtroom.”
Margold turned to her and held up is hand for her to stay calm and sit down.
The judge continued. “And yet, you break into other peoples’ homes. I’ll never understand it.”
A terrible silence filled the room as the judge shuffled papers on the bench.
“You are a very lucky man,” the judge said. “Mr. James has done an excellent job of protecting your rights and working to mitigate your punishment. But there has to be punishment. After considering arguments of counsel in mitigation, and after considering the pre-sentencing investigation, I hereby sentence you to five years in the penitentiary—”
His mother cried out.
“Silence!” the judge said. “All suspended but ninety days.”
Oh boy. The son-of-a-bitch had his pockets full of bullshit, wore a belt, carried a cell phone, and had a wallet the size of a Volkswagen, none of which was allowed in jail.
The boy’s mother began to scream and cry. The prosecutor watched the scene with her mouth open, as even she didn’t expect the little parasite to go to prison. The judge called for order. One of the deputies handed Margold all the boy’s horseshit, put the cuffs on him, and took him from the courtroom. Margold turned to face the unhappy family and handed them the boy’s belongings.
It was not because his client went to jail that Margold was unhappy. Little William would have gotten five to ten if it weren’t for Margold. Fuck him. The little bastard did a lot more than he got punished for. The real bitter herb that called for about a gallon of gin to wash out of his throat was the fact Margold knew the shithead’s mother would blame him. It would be all Margold’s fault the boy went to jail, although she ought to be on her fucking hands and knees thanking him, crawling around barking like a dog in gratitude that he only got ninety days. He’d be out in sixty if he behaved himself. Fucking enabler.
The boy’s father just stood there like the pussy-whipped dope he was. When they left the room, the boy’s father, for all his faults, was polite and shook Margold’s hand, thanked him, and said good-bye. His mother turned her back.
On the way to his car Margold reached into his pocket for the cash to pay the parking garage. It was empty. He had left his wallet at home. He had no driver’s license, no credit card, no ID, no money, no nothing. Not penny one, and no way to get it. He couldn’t buy so much as a cup of coffee. “Cocksucker,” he said out loud.
Although he had many cases in this jurisdiction, his office was in another county, and he didn’t know many people here. He didn’t want to go back to the court house because his client’s family no doubt lurked there planning his death. Maybe he could sweet-talk the girl at the parking lot gate. She always seemed nice. But that was probably because he just paid his bill and was not a pain in the ass. Then the prosecutor emerged from the court.
Fortunately, he had talked to this woman many times and been very friendly and professional toward her. He had learned early in his career to be nice to opposing counsel. Laymen think lawyers are argumentative and confrontational with each other because that’s what they see on TV. Although that sometimes happens, it’s the exception. For one thing, it always helps the case reach a favorable conclusion if the lawyers get along, or are at least civil to each other. More importantly, you never know when opposing counsel will be appointed to the bench. You don’t want to wake up one day with the guy you screwed over a time or two hearing your case. So, as a lawyer, as in any profession, it was important to treat your peers with courtesy and respect. You may need a favor one day to save your ass.
He crossed the street to meet her.
“Hey, Sue,” he said, “that was a bit of a surprise.”
She smiled. “Yeah, I didn’t expect him to go to jail.”
“Neither did Mom. She doesn’t seem able to take a joke.”
She laughed. “No, I’d say she was a tad bit unhappy.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“On the other hand, you can’t say that justice wasn’t done.”
“No, absolutely. By the way, I seem to have left all my money and my wallet home this morning.” He turned his pockets inside out. “Might you be able to spot a learned friend about five American to get his car out of hock?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. There is justice in the world after all.”
“Come on. We’re both really on the same side. We both want justice.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen you in action enough times to know that justice is not necessarily your goal.”
“Oh, now. Depends on what you mean by justice.”
She shook her head. “I’ll give you the money, but don’t forget that I’m a government employee, not a big rich defense attorney. Pay me back.”
“No problem, as soon as the client pays me.” He immediately regretted letting that slip.
She furrowed her brow. “You’ve got to be kidding. You haven’t been paid?”
Margold thought he detected a hint of perverse pleasure in her voice. He scrunched up his face as if in pain. “Not all I got comin’.”
She laughed again, a pleasurable laugh, as though watching clowns at the circus. “Here,” she said, giving him five bucks.
He folded it and put it in his shirt pocket. “Thanks.”
“Pay me back, even if you have to borrow it from your secretary.”
“My secretary has cut me off.”
She smiled and shook her head.
“I’m good for it. You'll see.”
“That’s what my brother says.”
“There’s one in every family, but I’m the good son.”
“Thanks again,” he said, shaking her hand. “Take it easy, and good doing business with you. See you next time.”
“No problem, Margold, see ya. And don’t forget, I know where you live.”
“I’ll pay, I’ll pay. Jeez, you’re worse than my secretary.”
He crossed the street to the parking garage. Nice girl. Up close and friendly, out in the street away from all the conflict, she didn’t look all that bad. She didn’t have good skin, it being pale and pot-marked, but there was something attractive about her. She was slender, and something in her eyes said she could be a lot of fun with a little tequila in her.
Back at the office, his secretary sat at her desk typing. In her 70s, short gray hair, ashen skin and deep raspy voice of a smoker of many years (now reformed), she began working at the law firm before Margold went to law school. Although her beauty had been obscured by booze, time, and tobacco, Margold would like to have seen her fifty years ago. She knew every client the firm had for the past forty-five years, what their case was about, the outcome, and probably the file number. And she knew where everything was. It was like watching a magic show when he would ask for some obscure long-forgotten thing, and she would cause it to materialize before him. The best part was that her name was Evelyn. Nobody had named a kid Evelyn since Roosevelt.
“I hope you’re looking at the keys,” he said, closing the door behind him.
“Ha, ha. You and Soupy Sales.”
“What happened to William?” she asked.
“He got five years.”
Her eyes grew big and she gasped. “They took him to prison?”
“No, no. To the detention center. The judge suspended all but ninety days.”
“He’s actually going to jail for ninety days?”
“Yep, although it will probably be less with good behavior.”
She frowned. “Serves him right.”
“You have no sympathy. He was a good boy. It wasn’t his fault.”
“Then whose fault was it?”
“It was obviously mine,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Why do they always blame the lawyer?” she asked, shaking her head.
“Who else you gonna blame? Mom and Dad? No, they only raised him. Was it his fault? Of course not, he was the victim in all this.”
“He was the victim?” she said.
“Yeah. Somehow, in their minds, he was driven to this by circumstances beyond his control. He’s a good boy, and for the court to treat him this way is just plain wrong.”
She put her head in her hands.
“He’s obviously going to jail because the lawyer didn’t do his job.” He blew on his coffee and took a sip. “What they fail to understand is the reason he’s not going to the penitentiary for twenty years is because I pulled a frickin’ rabbit out of my hat.”
She looked up. “He was just a spoiled brat who always got away with everything.” She slammed a file drawer shut. “There were never any consequences for his actions. His mother always covered up for him, or made excuses.”
She fixed her eyes on him. “Did he pay you?”
“What do you think? It’s all I could do to get out of there with my skin.”
“Guess what. Not counting today, he owes you ten grand.”
Bile rose in Margold’s throat and screamed for gin. His first instinct was to shout every cuss word he knew, and he was pretty much a walking encyclopedia of obscenity. “Obese probability of ever seeing any of that.”
The secretary mumbled something under her breath he could not hear, but had the sound of indignation and disgust, as she noisily shuffled papers on her desk.
“Anything else I need to know about?” he asked.
“Not really. Mr. Whozits called about his neighbor again, but that’s it.”
“He can wait. I’ve had enough fun for one day. I'm going home. See you tomorrow.”