Copyright© 2014 by Jay Cantrell
To say the Pickle was ecstatic with the news would be an understatement. I wondered, briefly, if she were about to start jumping for joy. Thankfully, if she felt that way, it passed quickly.
I was also thankful that she didn't ask where the money was coming from. I had given her a general overview, for which I think she was grateful, where I explained that Huntley's sister had established a defense fund to help defray costs.
The smile vanished from her face as quickly as it appeared.
"That won't work," she said. "If he pays your fees, you're no longer with the Public Defender's office. If you're not with the PD, I can't ensure your transfer back to CYS. No, you can use the fund to help offset the cost of expert witnesses and to pay your staff but your salary will still have to come from the county. I know it's less than you can charge him yourself but if you want to keep your day job it will just have to do."
I admit that I had not considered the ramifications to my future employment. Still, I wasn't disappointed. I had lived off a county salary for quite a while.
"It will probably keep my marriage intact, too," I told her. "I do not think Ms. Vargas-Wallace would be happy to learn why our bank account was suddenly so much healthier. Still, I can appreciate the gesture Mr. Huntley made."
"As do I," the judge agreed. "That means I can pull the forensic accountants off this case and put them somewhere else. I was bound and determined to find some of his money to help out with the trial. Now I don't have to. So, everything except your salary can come from the defense fund. I don't suppose he'd like to help pay for the prosecution, as well."
I chuckled briefly before I began to wonder if she might be serious.
"I didn't think so," she said. "Still, it didn't hurt to ask. OK, the case has been assigned to Leo Tagliotti. I wished for a better judge but that's where the docket fell. The preliminary hearing is set for Friday. Will that work for you?"
"We're going to waive the preliminary," I told her. "So we'll use that time for motions. I'll have them ready by Friday morning."
"Good," I was told. "Now that we have the trial starting you and I are going to have to limit our meetings. People are starting to talk and I don't want that hellcat of a wife you have to get jealous. That video from Judge Castille's courtroom was frightening."
I chuckled again.
"On a serious note, since we have the formalities out of the way, I do need to step back from this case," she said. "Judge Castille is going to work as a liaison for the prosecutor's office. I don't think we need to appoint one for the defense. If you need something, please go through the public defender's office. They know to grant any reasonable request. I want no appearance of impropriety attached to this case."
I nodded. I found I was going to miss bantering with the Pickle.
"However," she continued, "if you find something reasonable and they do not, contact my administrator and we will work things out. But as of right now, we need to conclude any ex parte communication."
"I understand, Your Honor," I answered. "Thank you for doing your best to make sure this case is fairly tried. I'm certain my client appreciates it and I know I do."
"You're welcome," the judge replied and graced me with a warm smile. "I will have to say it was a pleasure to get to know you. I think Mr. Huntley's defense is in good hands."
She shook my hand before I departed the Pickle Jar.
My new office was strangely silent most of the day. Lucinda Barrett had gone to pick up her belongings from her former employer. In fact, she had asked me if I wanted to go with her to ensure that she wouldn't impart anything I deemed confidential. Since I had no strategy at all, I figured it was a safe bet that she couldn't. Still, I gave her a different reason – all in the name of harmony.
"You said you wouldn't, so you won't," I replied. I turned back to the document I was working on as though that was the last word on the matter. Of course, it wasn't.
"I would prefer that you come with me," she said. "If you are there I'll have someone on my side. I know they'll try to convince me to stay. I'm worried that I might even consider it if I don't have tangible evidence in sight of the goal I'm working toward."
I glanced back up at her. I didn't want to go anywhere near the Innocence Group. I had no doubt that I would leave there in handcuffs.
"I'll go," Michelle offered. "It will give us a chance to get to know each other a little. Right now, I'm at a standstill until we really get into it. I've been answering the phones but Ben can handle that. I've only had two calls all day."
"You don't mind?" Lucinda asked. I was relieved to be off the hook but I wanted Michelle to know a 240-mile trip was not mandatory.
"You don't have to go," I told her. "Ms. Barrett is capable of standing on her own. I have faith in her."
"Oh, I do, too," Michelle inserted. "But, as I said, I'm not really doing anything. And I would like to get to know her. You I've got pegged."
"Yeah, yeah," I said. "You do all the work. I take all the glory. We've been over it before."
Michelle smiled and laughed.
"Give me a few minutes to tidy up and we'll be on our way," Michelle announced. Lucinda, unbidden, sat down across from me.
"I wish I could have found a way to leave there without burning so many bridges," she admitted. I saved the file on my computer and turned to look at her. I knew she wasn't going away until she finished speaking or Michelle was ready to leave.
"Perhaps you can return when the trial is over," I offered.
She shook her head.
"They are clear from the outset," she said. "If you're in, you're in. Once you leave, you're gone for good. I probably should have thought it out a little better. I mean, what am I going to do after the trial ends? I'm not really interested in a general practice. I couldn't draft a will or a deed if you put a gun to my head. The only part of the law that interests me is defending against the death penalty.
"I know you think I'm a publicity hound. I'm not, really. It's just that the high-profile cases are the most interesting to me. I also know what other attorneys say behind my back. I'm called the 'Starbanger, ' in case you didn't know. That's not true, either. I have been pestered to the point of threatening sexual harassment charges by those I've worked for but I have never initiated nor pursued any of them. I don't mix business with pleasure. I haven't screwed my way to the top and I haven't cut corners to get where I am. I'm a good attorney, Mr. Wallace, and I think I've earned everything I've ever gotten."
"I think you can call me Ben," I said. I could readily tell that she was troubled by a lot of what had happened in the past few days. I also could see that her reputation bothered her.
"Lucy," she replied. She gave a soft smile.
"Well, Lucy," I continued, "On this case, you're going to get your wish. First off, I won't sexually harass you. It's not because you're unattractive but because I love my wife. And because she scares me."
I offered a smile of my own.
"Secondly," I added, "You're going to find yourself doing more than simply looking for mitigating circumstances in case of conviction. That is a non-starter from the outset. You're not going to be able find anyone credible with anything nice to say about Desmond Huntley."
"I'm telling you this because it is a fact," I said. "I, uh, well, I sort of actually like the guy. I mean, he's always been honest with me. That's rare enough in the world in general and almost unheard of in a criminal case. That's why I've tried to be honest with him. But, more importantly, I don't think Desmond will be convicted. I think we stand a good chance at acquittal, mostly because I am convinced he didn't kill Biff Wells. So, I've been looking at the statutory limitations for Keenan counsel. There are boundaries to what you can do in this case and still be considered Keenan. But we will push those boundaries to the furthest limits we can find.
"I will want you to sit in on planning sessions and ask questions at depositions. I will want you to assist me in drafting motions and researching precedent. I will constantly be asking your opinion on matters of law and, probably, on matters that do not pertain to established law but which will border closely on re-establishing law. In short, you will be co-counsel without any of the frills that go along with the title. By statute, you may not question witnesses at trial and you may not file any motion associated with the case in chief. Outside of that I probably will expect you to handle anything I will be handling."
Lucinda Barrett beamed like a parent whose child just won the county Science Fair.
"That's wonderful!" she said. "That's exactly what I'm looking for. I want to be more than the harmless face the big firms send around to solicit positive comments about the accused. I want to be more than the token woman on the defense team. I want to be more than a person who's kept around because it keeps the TV cameras around. Thanks, Ben. I feel much better leaving the Group knowing I'll come out of this trial as a better attorney."
"So long as you don't hope to learn any new skills from me, I think you'll be OK," I returned with another smile.
Michelle poked her head through the doorway to tell Lucinda she was ready to go. She also let me know not to expect to see either of them until the next morning.
I settled in for an afternoon of research and relative quiet. I wanted to have the discovery motion done earlier. I didn't have to wait to appear before Judge Tagliotti to present it to the prosecutor. It was generally done on what the court terms Motions Day but I could file it whenever I wanted.
The discovery process is where attorneys exchange necessary information prior to a trial. The prosecutor isn't allowed to spring surprise witnesses or introduce evidence that the defense is not party to. Although television crime dramas often depict a stunning last-minute legal maneuver that wins the case for the good guy, reality isn't so spectacular.
Just as I am entitled to all documents, depositions, interrogations, photos, motions and witnesses that the prosecution will introduce at trial, I am obliged to give the same back to the prosecution team. For example, testimony from a witness not on the list the sides exchange will never be accepted by the court unless it directly refutes a statement made by another witness. Even then the judge has great leeway in whether the testimony is deemed relevant to the jury.
The prosecutor is also obliged to offer to the defense any exculpatory evidence it uncovers – that is any evidence that might point to the innocence of the accused. If, for example, the prosecution investigators uncover the fact that Desmond Huntley was ticketed for speeding 200 miles away at the time of Biff Wells death, they cannot simply choose to ignore it or hide the information from me.
In this case, because of conversations I'd had with my wife prior to being handed the defense, I expected little in the way of discovery. I knew the police had not questioned Desmond Huntley after his arrest. He told them he wanted an attorney before questioning even began and they returned him to his cell.
I knew that the state's case hinged primarily on a videotape and an eyewitness. Given the widely-ranged estimated time of death, both would be easy to impeach. In fact, as soon as I got the name of the eyewitness, I planned to do exactly that. I would insist that the police provide a lineup and force the witness to pick Desmond out again. I had nothing to lose. He'd already identified him once, from what I expected was a police mug shot. If he picked him out a second time, bully for him. But if he didn't – which was more than likely given the fact that the police would have to put five other black men with the same general build as Desmond in a row with him – it was a solid win for us. If the witness was any color other than black it would likely pose difficulty and that would mean he would almost certainly be excluded from taking the stand at trial.
That is not a racist statement. It is a factual statement. A white person is more likely to be able to accurately identify another white person. Someone of Asian descent is more likely to correctly identify someone from his or her specific subset (i.e., Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.). I doubted I would have much difficulty discrediting the eyewitness.
The videotape might be a bigger problem. But with the newly found money from Desmond's defense fund, I was certain I could find someone to point out myriad flaws in the product used to capture the damning frames if nothing else.
I had forgotten about the expected visit from Desmond's family so I was caught off guard when two women showed up a little before 2 p.m. I was alone in the office, with my back to the open door and I almost jumped out of my skin when one of them knocked on the frame.
I turned and saw two immaculately dressed women standing in my door. One was black and the other Hispanic. I had a brief recollection of Desmond's sister from years before once I saw her. The other I had never before seen. I smiled warmly and motioned them into the room. Then I stood and offered my hand.
"Ms. Alvarez, it's a pleasure to meet you," I said to Tiny's "lady." "Mrs. Gordon, it is good to see you again. I'm sorry we keep meeting under my professional guise."
"As I am, Mr. Wallace," she said. Both women were refined – a far cry from Desmond's street-wise attitude. They both wore stylish clothes that fit them well. They were both of average height but of decidedly above-average fitness. I will admit to having stereotyped them in my head. The name Evylin Gordon didn't mean anything to me. But I remembered the beautiful young mother who had sought out my services to help her wayward son almost a decade prior. I had assumed Desmond's sister was a gang bitch for one of his chief lieutenants. I had assumed Carmen Alvarez would look like a streetwalker.
I was, sincerely this time, ashamed of myself for my racial stereotyping. And shame is generally not an emotion I am familiar with.
"Ladies," I said, immediately understanding why Desmond called Carmen his "lady." She was nothing short of a lady. "Please, take a seat. Would either of you care for a bottle of water? It's all we have, I'm afraid."
Jesus, I hope Elizabeth didn't catch wind of how I treated these two. She would begin to expect me to act like that at home.
"Thank you, Mr. Wallace," Carmen Alvarez said. "That would be nice. I'm afraid we had a difficult time locating your office."
"Yes," I said. "I apologize. Mr. Huntley told me that you would be here today. I should have contacted you to ensure you knew where to find me."
I got two bottles of water from the small refrigerator that Michelle had procured for us and handed them out.
"We don't have glasses, either," I said.
"Bottles are fine," Evylin assured me. "I hope we can get the business arrangements out of the way. If you've spoken to Dez, I'm certain he told you of why we are here. I know a case like this is expensive. I've done some research and we will pay a $100,000 retainer against your normal hourly rate. Let us know when you need more. Dez says he trusts you implicitly. I admit that I hold you in high regard after what you did for my son. We will not require an accounting of where the money is spent and there is more available should you need to hire expert witnesses or an outside investigation firm."