Excerpt of Final Verdict by Sheldon Siegel
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Assault with a "Deadly Chicken"
Rosita Fernandez, Michael Daley and Carolyn O'Malley announce the reopening of the law offices of Fernandez, Daley and O'Malley, at 84 First Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, California 94105. The firm will specialize in criminal defense law in state and federal courts. Flexible fee arrangements are available for clients with demonstrated financial needs. Referrals welcome.
SAN FRANCISCO DAILY LEGAL JOURNAL, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1
JUDGE ELIZABETH MCDANIEL is glaring at me over the top of her reading glasses. The good-natured veteran of the California Superior Court rarely raises her voice, but her demeanor leaves no doubt that she's in complete control of her stuffy courtroom on the second floor of San Francisco's Hall of Justice. It's a few minutes before noon on Friday, June 3, and she's been listening to pleas with characteristic patience for almost three hours. Today's cattle call has dissipated and most of the petty criminals whose numbers came up this morning are out on bail. A few unlucky souls have returned to the unsightly new jail building next door.
Judge McDaniel's chin is resting on her left palm and her light brown hair is pulled back into a tight ball. She arches a stern eyebrow in my direction and says, "We haven't seen you in quite some time, Mr. Daley."
I sense that she may be somewhat less than ecstatic to see me.
I dart a glance at my law partner and ex-wife, Rosita Fernandez, who is sitting in the front row of the otherwise empty gallery. Rosie stopped by to offer moral support after she'd finished a DUI case next door. I suspect she'd rather be spending her forty-fifth birthday in more elegant surroundings. I'll make it up to her over the weekend.
I turn back to Judge McDaniel and try to strike an appropriately deferential note. "Ms. Fernandez and I took a year off to teach law in Berkeley," I tell her. "We recently returned to private practice on this side of the Bay."
There's more to the story. Rosie and I have been representing criminals for a living for the past fifteen years, first as public defenders, and more recently in private practice. About a year ago, we decided to take a break after we defended Rosie's niece, who was accused of murdering a megalomaniac Bay Area movie director who also happened to be her husband. In an attempt to stabilize our schedules, collect some regular paychecks and spend more time with our eleven year-old daughter, Grace, we took a sabbatical to run the death penalty clinic at my alma mater, Boalt Law School. It didn't work out the way we had hoped. We traded the headaches of running a small law firm for the heartaches of supervising a half-dozen death penalty appeals, and we spent what little free time we had trying to raise money to keep the clinic afloat. Most defense attorneys don't hang out with people who have hundred-dollar bills burning through their pockets unless the money happens to be stolen. Our noble experiment in academia ran its course when the school year ended a few weeks ago.
Judge McDaniel's round face rearranges itself into a bemused look. The former prosecutor came to the law after raising her children, and unlike most of us who work in this building whose idealism gave way to cynicism long ago, she relishes every moment she spends on the bench. I can make out the hint of the drawl that is the last remnant of her proper southern upbringing when she says, "Academia's loss is our gain, Mr. Daley." The corner of her mouth turns up slightly as she adds, "I take it you taught your students to comport themselves with the same professionalism and dignity that you have always exhibited in this courtroom?"
"Absolutely, Your Honor."
Rosie and I are unlikely to win any popularity contests in the Hall. The criminal justice system in our hometown is an incestuous little Peyton Place where the prosecutors, police officers, defense attorneys and, yes, judges, get to know each other pretty well-some would say too well. Our reputation as effective-and zealous-defense attorneys accompanies us whenever we enter the imposing gray structure where Judge McDaniel and her overworked colleagues do their best to mete out justice as fairly and expeditiously as they can.
From Final Verdict by Sheldon Siegel, copyright © 2003 Sheldon Siegel, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.