[Ed.- This is part two of an ongoing series. For part one, click here.]
It was 10.11 am, and I was in the ante-room with my client, Barnaby Jones.
Mr Jones had been my client for all of 8 minutes now, and I had trial in a month, after his previous lawyer had sat on the case for four years. I’d just given him my spiel (e.g., I’m Leo, I’ve never been a prosecutor, I’ve always fought to the defense, I don’t treat my court-appointed clients any differently than my private pay clients, etc…).
Mr Jones was receptive to all this, and smiled as I shook his hand. I closed my elevator speech by taking out my business card.
“Mr Jones, take this. You and I have to talk. Soon. My office number is on the card, but here, let me write my cell on there…”
I don’t normally give my cell phone out to clients—for good reason. I’m not much a fan of getting calls at 10.30pm on a Saturday asking “So, what’s going on with my case?” (Answer: “Call me on Monday during business hours and I will let you know”.)
But with so little time to prepare, I had to get moving as soon as possible. I mean, we were scheduled for a jury in a month, I had literally no discovery, and I had three other courtrooms to be in that morning alone. The clock was ticking, and we needed to get started.
“Mr Jones, call my office when you get back home, and let’s schedule a time for you to come in this week to discuss your case. We don’t have a lot of time”.
He looked at me and nodded: “Yes, sir. But Mr Leo, it wasn’t me!” A familiar refrain for defense counsel.
“We’ll talk soon. Call me today”, I said as I walked out the door and down the hall to my next courtroom.
* * *
Ten days ago, Judge Blackstone had appointed me to Commonwealth v. Barnaby Jones, and there’d been total radio silence from both my client and the prosecutor. So far, I knew three things about the case: 1) it had been around longer than I’d been a lawyer; 2) my client was accused of possession with intent to deliver and other related charges; and 3) my client said he didn’t do it.
Ten days ago, as soon as I had gotten back from court, I called prior counsel to ask for discovery (no answer from him), ordered preliminary hearing transcripts (court reporter would get them to me “as soon as possible”), formally requested discovery from the district attorney’s office (still waiting), and sent a letter to my client reminding him to call me to set up an appointment with me (no response).
Ten days ago, I was excited to be on this case. Now, I wasn’t feeling as well. Things were not shaping up as I had hoped, and I was getting more frustrated and nervous by the day. I was still as clueless as I had been before I had been appointed. “I really ought to stop taking cases like this”.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to push the creeping anxiety out of my mind so I could focus on the motion I was trying to finish in another case. I opened up the draft file and started typing when my phone rang.
I picked up. “Law office, Leo speaking, how may I help you?”
“Yeah, Mr Leo, this is Barnaby Jones”. Finally! “I’m sorry it took me so long to get to you, but I had to get a new phone, and I didn’t have a way to get in touch with you”.
We had no time to waste. “Mr Jones, good to hear from you. We have trial coming real soon in your case and you and I have to talk about it. Can you make it into my office tomorrow at say, 10.30am? You still have my address, right?”
“Yes. You got it, Mr Leo. I’ll be there.” He hung up. Well, at least we were making progress.
I turned back to my computer intending to finish my work on that motion, when my ADD kicked in, and I noticed a slew of emails that’d arrived in the past 10 minutes.From: MyFax. Subject: ‘Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. : Discovery — Com v. Jones 36 pages From: Philadelphia Court Reporters. Subject: Com v. Jones Preliminary Hearing Transcript From: ADA Tracy Shea. Subject: Commonwealth v. Jones
Bingo. I guess that other motion would have to wait for now.
I saved the attachments to my hard-drive and needing a change of environment for a bit, I loaded everything onto my iPad and left the office to grab a cup of coffee.
In preparation for tomorrow’s meeting, I had to review everything to figure out the story at play. As the old saying goes, every story has three sides: Yours, Mine, and the Truth.
The fact of the matter is that the truth is overrated. I blame the Bible for giving people the idea that the truth is some sort of salve light that heals all wounds.”The truth will set you free”, says John 8:32. That’s fairytale bullshit, right there. Anyone who’s ever been asked “does this dress make me look fat” knows that the truth is NOT always the best answer. The “truth” is subjective, a series of events viewed through a lens of personal bias. In the real world, the truth will get you locked up.
Silence is Golden, Handcuffs are Silver.
But regardless of my personal feelings on the “truth”, just like every other tale, the story of a criminal prosecution too has three sides: 1) The Prosecutor’s; 2) The Client’s; and 3) The Side that Gets a “Not Guilty”.
And I had 20 days to figure out all three if Mr Jones had a shot at beating this case.