Order in the Court III

The third and final True Lawyer story is also a prank -- this one actually went as intended.

It was Halloween eve in 1994. I was in court for trial on a case where my client was charged with assaulting a police officer with a crossbow. The case was incredibly defensible -- so much so that the prosecutor's office had put a new kid on it who clearly wanted to ditch it rather than lose in front of a jury. But his efforts to persuade his supervisor to drop the case were for naught. He was sent forth to "get some trial experience."

To add some spice to the mix, my client was a transgendered person, switching from female to male. That is indirectly how the case arose, in fact. He received a gas bill in the name of "Ava" and refused to acknowledge it as he was now "David", "Ava" being dead according to him. He had quite the go-round with the gas company, refusing to pay a penny unless he was properly billed.

They sent the gas man around to shut off his gas for non-payment. The gas man found the meter guarded by a large, snarling German shepherd on a 12 foot tether. He followed procedure and called the police.

Two officers arrived and began trying get David to see reason. At one point they asked him for some identification. David went to get it, and they observed him in a large window picking up a crossbow. They claimed he aimed it directly at them, thus constituting assault. They ultimately contrived to arrest him for the offense.

The prosecutor became nervous when it became evident that the rookie officer had actually not seen what he'd written in his report. In an interview he said that as soon as he saw the crossbow he dove behind a large tree. The other officer was quite specific about what he'd seen and his claim that David had aimed a loaded crossbow directly at him. He purported to know all about those crossbows, which (according to him) could pierce skin and cause injury, but wouldn't break a window. Until I reminded him by way of a question, he had forgotten that David was behind a large plate glass window the whole time. The window did not open.

As if that weren't enough fun, my client was a Wiccan who called himself a witch and engaged in various and diverse forms of divination and spell casting. He was also a very nice, if somewhat eccentric, person.

It being All Hallow's Eve and all, I thought I'd amuse the court and my brand new associate, just hired out of a local law school. He had never before been to court. Just before the judge came out, I put on a long, flowing blond wig and some lipstick. The bailiff and clerk raised their eyebrows, but before they could say anything there came a single, sharp rap at the inside door -- the judge was ready to be announced. Looking at me dubiously, the bailiff stood and intoned,

"All rise! Criminal court Division 4 is now in session, the honorable John Darrah presiding."

The Judge strode into the courtroom. The judge was a nice fellow, but very straight and narrow (yes, he was also tall and thin) and as humorless as they come. He looked straight at me and did not so much as wince, smirk, or twinkle, much less guffaw.

I then heard the main door to the courtroom open. I turned to find my new associate trying as hard as possible to look like he'd never seen me before and had stumbled into the wrong courtroom by accident. At that moment, the guards led my client in (who had contrived to have himself locked up on a different matter about a week earlier). The guards were so stunned by the sight that they let go of my client, who promptly fell to the floor in gales of laughter.

Through all of this, the prosecutor looked utterly perplexed. We told the judge that we were ready. But before we could proceed, the prosecutor asked for a recess to discuss settlement. The judge left the bench, and the prosecutor agreed to an "Alford" plea to a misdemeanor charge with no jail or other penalty. ("Alford" plea means a plea where someone does not actually admit guilt). That was tantamount to outright dismissal and my client took the deal.

I like to think it was the wig that made that difference. But perhaps it was my shade of lipstick?

Posted June 16, 2010

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