Read Rogue Lawyer Page 2

  So Trots sits at the end of the table, his head buried in useless note taking, his eyes seeing nothing, his ears hearing nothing, but he feels the stares of all those sitting behind us who hate us and want to string us up with our client. Trots figures this too shall pass and he’ll get on with his life and career the moment the trial is over. He is wrong. As soon as possible, I’ll file an ethics complaint with the state bar association alleging Trots provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” before and during the trial. I’ve done this before and I know how to make it stick. I’m fighting my own battles with the bar and I understand the game. After I get finished with Trots, he’ll want to surrender his license and get a job at a used-car lot.

  Gardy takes his seat in the middle of our table. Trots does not look at his client, nor does he speak.

  Huver, the prosecutor, walks over and hands me a sheet of paper. There are no good mornings or hellos. We are so far beyond even the most benign pleasantries that a civilized grunt from either of us would be a surprise. I loathe this man the way he loathes me, but I have an advantage in the hating game. Almost monthly I deal with self-righteous prosecutors who lie, cheat, stonewall, cover up, ignore ethics, and do whatever it takes to get a conviction, even when they know the truth and the truth tells them they are wrong. So I know the breed, the ilk, the subclass of lawyer who’s above the law because he is the law. Huver, on the other hand, rarely deals with a rogue like me because, sadly for him, he doesn’t see many sensational cases, and almost none in which a defendant shows up with a pit bull for a protector. If he dealt with rabid defense lawyers more regularly, he might be more adept at hating us. For me, it’s a way of life.

  I take the sheet of paper and say, “So who’s your liar of the day?”

  He says nothing and walks a few feet back to his table, where his little gang of assistants huddle importantly in their dark suits and ham it up for the home crowd. They are on display in this, the biggest show of their miserable backwater careers, and I often get the impression that everyone from the DA’s office who can walk, talk, wear a cheap suit, and carry a new briefcase is packed around the table to insure justice.

  The bailiff barks, I stand, Judge Kaufman enters, then we sit. Gardy refuses to stand in homage to the great man. Initially, this really pissed off His Honor. On the first day of trial—it now seems like months ago—he snapped at me, “Mr. Rudd, would you please ask your client to stand?”

  I did, and he refused. This embarrassed the judge and we discussed it later in his chambers. He threatened to hold my client in contempt and keep him in jail all day long during the trial. I tried to encourage this but let it slip that such an overreaction would be mentioned repeatedly on appeal.

  Gardy wisely observed, “What can they do to me that they haven’t already done?” So each morning Judge Kaufman begins the ceremonies with a long, nasty scowl at my client, who’s usually slouched in his chair either picking at his nose ring or nodding with his eyes closed. It’s impossible to tell which one of us, lawyer or client, Kaufman despises the most. Like the rest of Milo, he’s been convinced for a long time that Gardy is guilty. And, like everybody else in the courtroom, he has loathed me from day one.

  Doesn’t matter. In this line of work you rarely have allies and you quickly make enemies.

  Since he’s up for reelection next year, as is Huver, Kaufman slaps on his phony politician’s smile and welcomes everyone to his courtroom for another interesting day in the pursuit of the truth. Based on the calculations I made one day during lunch when the courtroom was empty, there are about 310 people sitting behind me. Except for Gardy’s mother and sister, everyone is fervently praying for a conviction, with a quick execution to follow. It’s up to Judge Kaufman to deliver. This is the judge who has so far allowed every word of bogus testimony offered by the State. At times it seems as though he’s afraid he might lose a vote or two if he sustains one of my objections.

  When everyone is in place, they bring in the jury. There are fourteen people crammed in the box—the chosen twelve plus a couple of alternates in case someone gets sick or does something wrong. They are not sequestered (though I requested this), so they are free to go home at night and trash Gardy and me over dinner. Late each afternoon, they are warned by His Honor not to utter a single word about the case, but you can almost hear them yakking as they drive away. Their decision has been made. If they voted right now, before we offer a single witness in defense, they would find him guilty and demand his execution. Then they would return home as heroes and talk about this trial for the rest of their lives. When Gardy gets the needle, they will take special pride in their crucial role in finding justice. They will be elevated in Milo. They will be congratulated, stopped on the streets, recognized at church.

  Still sappy, Kaufman welcomes them back, thanks them for their civic service, asks gravely whether anyone tried to contact them in an effort to gain influence. This usually prompts a few looks in my direction, as if I have the time, energy, and stupidity to slink around the streets of Milo at night stalking these same jurors so I can (1) bribe them, (2) intimidate them, or (3) plead with them. It’s now gospel that I’m the only crook in the room, in spite of the torrent of sins committed by the other side.

  The truth is, if I had the money, the time, and the personnel, I would bribe and/or intimidate every juror. When the State, with its limitless resources, commences a fraudulent case and cheats at every turn, then cheating is legitimized. There is no level playing field. There is no fairness. The only honorable alternative for a lawyer fighting to save an innocent client is to cheat in defense.

  However, if a defense lawyer is caught cheating, he or she gets nailed with sanctions by the court, reprimanded by the state bar association, maybe even indicted. If a prosecutor gets caught cheating, he either gets reelected or elevated to the bench. Our system never holds a bad prosecutor accountable.

  The jurors assure His Honor that all is well. “Mr. Huver,” he announces with great solemnity, “please call your next witness.” Next up for the State is a fundamentalist preacher who converted the old Chrysler dealership into the World Harvest Temple and is drawing crowds to his daily prayer-a-thons. I watched him once on local cable; once is enough. His claim to fame here is that he says he confronted Gardy in the middle of a late-night youth service. According to his version, Gardy was wearing a T-shirt advertising a heavy metal rock group and conveying some vague satanic message, and this T-shirt was allowing the devil to infiltrate the service. Spiritual warfare was in the air, and God was unhappy with things. With divine direction, the preacher finally located the source of evil in the crowd, stopped the music, stormed back to where Gardy was sitting, and kicked him out of the building.

  Gardy says he’s never been near the church. Further, Gardy claims he’s never seen the inside of any church in all of his eighteen years. His mother confirms this. As they say out here in the country, Gardy’s family is severely “unchurched.”

  Why this is allowed as testimony in a capital murder case is thoroughly inconceivable. It is ridiculous and borders on stupidity. Assuming there is a conviction, all of this crap will be reviewed in about two years by a dispassionate appellate court two hundred miles away. Those judges, only slightly more intelligent than Kaufman but anything is an improvement, will take a dim view of this redneck preacher telling his trumped-up story about an altercation that supposedly took place some thirteen months before the murders.

  I object. Overruled. I object, angrily. I’m overruled, angrily.

  Huver, though, is desperate to keep Satan involved in his theory of the case. Judge Kaufman opened the gates days ago and anything is welcome. However, he’ll slam them as soon as I start calling witnesses. We’ll be lucky to get a hundred words into the record.

  The preacher has an unpaid tax bill in another state. He doesn’t know I’ve found it, and thus we’ll have some fun on cross-examination. Not that it will matter; it will not. This jury is done. Gardy is a monster who deserves to
go to hell. Their job is to speed him along.

  He leans over long enough to whisper, “Mr. Rudd, I swear I’ve never been to church.”

  I nod and smile because this is all I can do. A defense lawyer cannot always believe his clients, but when Gardy says he’s never been to church, I believe him.

  The preacher has a temper and I soon stoke it. I use the unpaid tax bill to really irritate him, and once he’s pissed he stays that way. I lead him into arguments over the inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the apocalypse, speaking in tongues, playing with snakes, drinking poison, and the pervasiveness of satanic cults in the Milo area. Huver yells objections and Kaufman sustains them. At one point the preacher, pious and red-faced, closes his eyes and raises both hands as high as possible. Instinctively, I freeze and cower and look at the ceiling as if a lightning bolt is coming. Later, he calls me an atheist and says I’m going to hell.

  “So you have the authority to send folks to hell?” I fire back.

  “God tells me you’re going to hell.”

  “Then put Him on the loudspeaker so we can all hear.”

  Two jurors actually chuckle at this. Kaufman has had enough. He raps the gavel and calls for lunch. We’ve wasted the morning with this sanctimonious little prick and his bogus testimony, but he’s not the first local to wedge himself into the trial. The town is filled with wannabe heroes.


  Lunch is always a treat. Since it’s not safe to leave the courthouse, actually the courtroom itself, Gardy and I eat a sandwich by ourselves at the defense table. It’s the same box lunch fed to the jurors. They bring in sixteen of them, mix them up, draw ours at random, and take the rest to the jury room. This was my idea because I prefer not to be poisoned. Gardy has no clue; he’s just hungry. He says the food at the jail is what you’d expect and he doesn’t trust the guards. He eats nothing there, and since he’s surviving only on lunch, I asked Judge Kaufman if the county could perhaps double up and give the boy two rubber chicken sandwiches, with extra chips and another pickle. In other words, two box lunches instead of one. Denied.

  So Gardy gets half of my sandwich and all of my kosher dill. If I weren’t starving, he could have the entire box of crap.

  Partner comes and goes throughout the day. He’s afraid to leave our van in one spot due to the high probability of slashed tires and cracked windows. He also has a few responsibilities, one of which is to meet occasionally with the Bishop.

  In these cases where I’m called into a combat zone, into a small town that has already closed ranks and is ready to kill one of its own for some heinous crime, it takes a while to find a contact. This contact is always another lawyer, a local who also defends criminals and butts heads weekly with the police and prosecutors. This contact reaches out eventually, quietly, afraid of being exposed as a traitor. He knows the truth, or something close to it. He knows the players, the bad actors, and the occasional good one. Since his survival depends on getting along with the cops and court clerks and assistant prosecutors, he knows the system.

  In Gardy’s case, my deep-throated pal is Jimmy Bressup. We call him the Bishop. I’ve never met him. He works through Partner and they meet in strange places. Partner says he’s about sixty with long, thinning gray hair, bad clothes, a loud, foul mouth, an abrasive nature, and a weakness for the bottle. “An older version of me?” I asked. “Not quite,” came the wise reply. For all his bluster and big talk, the Bishop is afraid of getting too close to Gardy’s lawyers.

  The Bishop says Huver and his gang know by now they’ve got the wrong guy but have too much invested to stop and admit their mistakes. He says there have been whispers from day one about the real killer.


  It’s Friday and everyone in the courtroom is exhausted. I spend an hour haranguing a pimply, stupid little brat who claims he was at the same church service when Gardy called forth the demons and disrupted things. Honestly, I’ve seen the worst of bogus courtroom evidence, but I’ve never seen anything as bad as this. In addition to being false, it is wholly irrelevant. No other prosecutor would bother with it. No other judge would admit it. Kaufman finally announces an adjournment for the weekend.

  Gardy and I meet in the holding room, where he changes into his jail uniform while I offer banalities about having a good weekend. I give him ten bucks for the vending machines. He says tomorrow his mother will bring him lemon cookies, his favorite. Sometimes the guards pass them through; sometimes they keep them for their own nourishment. One never knows. The guards average three hundred pounds each, so I guess they need the stolen calories. I tell Gardy to take a shower over the weekend and wash his hair.

  He says, “Mr. Rudd, if I find a razor, I’m gone.” With an index finger, he does a slashing motion against his wrist.

  “Don’t say that, Gardy.” He’s said it before and he means it. The kid has nothing to live for and he’s smart enough to see what’s coming. Hell, a blind man could see it. We shake hands and I hurry down the back steps. Partner and the deputies meet me at the rear door and shove me into our vehicle. Another safe exit.

  Outside Milo, I begin to nod and soon fall asleep. Ten minutes later, my phone vibrates and I answer it. We follow the state trooper back to our motel, where we grab our luggage and check out. Soon we are alone and headed for the City.

  “Did you see the Bishop?” I ask Partner.

  “Oh yes. It’s Friday, and I think he starts drinking around noon on Friday. But beer only, he’s quick to point out. So I bought a six-pack and we drove around. The joint is a real dive, out east, just beyond the city limits. He says Peeley is a regular.”

  “So you’ve had a few beers already? Should I be driving?”

  “Only one, boss. I sipped it until it was warm. The Bishop, on the other hand, took his cold. Three of them.”

  “And we believe this guy?”

  “I’m just doing my job. On the one hand, he has credibility because he’s lived here all his life and knows everyone. On the other, he’s so full of crap you want to dismiss everything he says.”

  “We’ll see.” I close my eyes and try to nap. Sleep is virtually impossible in the midst of a capital murder trial, and I’ve learned to grab it whenever possible. I’ve stolen ten minutes on a hard bench in an empty courtroom during lunch, just as I’ve paced back and forth in a dingy motel room at three in the morning. I often black out in mid-sentence when Partner drives and the van hums along.

  At some point, as we head back to our version of civilization, I fade away.


  It’s the third Friday of the month, and I have a standing date, if you’d call two drinks a real date. It feels more like an appointment for a root canal. The truth is this woman wouldn’t date me at gunpoint, and the feelings are so mutual. But we have a history. We meet at the same bar, in the same booth where we had our first meal together, in another lifetime. Nostalgia has nothing to do with it; it’s all about convenience. It’s a corporate bar downtown, one of a chain, but the ambience is not bad and it’s lively on Friday evenings.

  Judith Whitly arrives first and gets the booth. I slide in a few minutes later just as she’s about to get irritated. She has never been late for anything and views tardiness as a sign of weakness. In her opinion, I possess many of these signs. She, too, is a lawyer—that’s how we met.

  “You look tired,” she says without a trace of compassion. She, too, is showing signs of fatigue, though, at thirty-nine, she is still strikingly beautiful. Every time I see her I’m reminded of why I fell so hard.

  “Thank you, and you look great, as always.”


  “Ten days and we’re all running out of gas.”

  “Any luck?” she asks.

  “Not yet.” She knows the basics of Gardy’s case and trial and she knows me. If I believe the kid is innocent, that’s good enough for her. But she has her own clients to fret and lose sleep over. We order drinks—her standard Friday night glass of chardonnay and my whiskey sour.

  We’ll have two drinks in less than an hour, then that’s it for another month. “How’s Starcher?” I ask. I keep hoping that one day I can pronounce my son’s name without hating it, but that day has not arrived. My name is on his birth certificate as the father, but I wasn’t around when he was born. Therefore, Judith had control over the name. It should be someone’s last name, if it has to be used at all.

  “He’s doing well,” she says smugly, because she’s thoroughly involved with the kid’s life and I am not. “I met with his teacher last week and she’s pleased with his progress. She says he’s just a normal second grader who’s reading at a high level and enjoying life.”

  “That’s good to hear,” I say. “Normal” is the key word here because of our history. Starcher is not being raised the normal way. He spends half his time with Judith and her current partner and the other half with her parents. From the hospital, she took Starcher to an apartment she shared with Gwyneth, the woman she left me for. They then spent three years trying to legally adopt Starcher, but I fought them like a rabid animal. I have nothing against gay couples adopting kids. I just couldn’t stand Gwyneth. And I was right. They split not long afterward in a nasty fight, one I enjoyed immensely from deep in left field.

  It gets more complicated. The drinks arrive and we don’t bother with a polite “Cheers.” That would only waste time. We need the alcohol ASAP.

  I deliver the awful news by saying, “My mother is coming to town next weekend and she’d like to see Starcher. He is, after all, her only grandson.”

  “I know that,” she snaps. “It’s your weekend. You can do what you want.”

  “True, but you have a way of complicating everything. I just don’t want any trouble, that’s all.”

  “Your mother is nothing but trouble.”

  Truer words were never spoken, and I nod in defeat. It would be a dramatic understatement to say that Judith and my mother hated each other from the opening bell. So much so that my mother informed me she would cut me out of her last will and testament if I married Judith. At the time, I was secretly having some serious doubts about our romance and our future, but that threat was the last straw. Though I expect Mom to live to be a hundred, her estate will be a delight. A guy with my income needs a dream. A subplot in this sad story is that my mother often uses her will to bully her children. My sister married a Republican and got herself cut out of the will. Two years later, the Republican, who’s really a nice guy, became the father of the most perfect granddaughter in history. Now