She isn't finished. "And I trust you instructed them to demonstrate the same respect that you have shown to this court?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Glad to hear it, Mr. Daley." Her smile disappears. Time to get down to business-at least until the lunch bell rings. "What brings you back to my courtroom?"
I try to keep my tone perfectly even when I say, "A chicken, Your Honor."
A rookie ADA named Andy Erickson is getting his feet wet today. The earnest USF grad was an all-area baseball player at St. Ignatius, and his new gray suit hangs impressively on his athletic frame. He's going to be a good prosecutor when he grows up, but it's his first time at the plate and he's a little nervous as he tries to muster an appropriately prosecutorial tone. "Mr. Daley is attempting to minimize the seriousness of this case," he says. "The defendant violated Section Two-Forty-Five A-One of the Penal Code. He committed a felony."
I've never been impressed by people who recite Penal Code section numbers. The judge's pronounced scowl suggests she isn't, either. In English, Andy is saying that the tall African-American man sitting to my left has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Showtime. I give young Andy a patronizing look and begin the usual defensive maneuvers. "My client has been accused of a felony," I say. "Whether he's guilty is a matter for a jury to decide."
Welcome to the practice of law, Andy. And you're right: I am trying to minimize the seriousness of this case. That's my job. My client, Terrence Love, is a soft-spoken, good-natured thug who makes ends meet by taking things that don't belong to him. That's his job. I represented him for the first time when I was a PD and I help him out from time to time for sentimental reasons. He's never hurt anyone and he uses his loot to pay for booze and a room in a flophouse. On those rare occasions when he's particularly flush, he pays me. I've suggested to him that he might consider a more conventional-and legal-line of work, but he's elected to stick with what he knows best. He's spent about a third of his forty years in jail. He's been drug-free for almost two years now, but sobriety has been more elusive.
Andy furrows his brow and says, "The defendant has a long rap sheet, Your Honor."
Nice try. Every baby prosecutor nowadays tries to sound like Sam Waterston on Law & Order. Luckily for Sam, his cases on TV are resolved in an hour or so, minus time for commercials, credits and a preview of next week's show. Andy will find out soon enough that things don't always go quite so smoothly out here in the real world-especially when he has to deal with pesky defense attorneys like me. He'll calm down in a few weeks. I'll ask him if he wants to go out for a beer when we're done. We'll be seeing each other again-probably soon.
I keep my tone conversational. "Your Honor," I say, "the prosecution has blown this matter out of proportion."
There's more at stake than I'm letting on. Terrence has been convicted of two prior felonies. If he goes down again, he could be in jail for a long time-perhaps even for life-under California's mandatory "three strikes" sentencing laws.
Judge McDaniel stops me with an uplifted palm. "Mr. Daley," she says, "this is an arraignment. Your client is here to enter a plea."
"Your Honor, if we could talk about this for just a moment-"
"If you'd like to talk about anything other than your client's plea-including the subject of chickens-you'll have to save it for the preliminary hearing."
"But Your Honor-"
"Guilty or not?"
She sets a date for a preliminary hearing a week from today. She's about to bang her gavel when I decide to take a chance and break a fundamental rule of courtroom etiquette by addressing her without an invitation. "Your Honor," I say, "if we could discuss this, I think we can come to a fair and reasonable resolution that will be satisfactory to all parties and will not require us to take up more of your time."
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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