The Not Exactly Complete Works of Peter Schulman

Circumstantial Evidence

©2010 Peter Schulman
 

 

  Chapter 1  

  Chapter 2  

  Chapter 3  

  Chapter 4  

  Chapter 5  

  Chapter 6  

  Chapter 7  

  Chapter 8  

  Chapter 9  

  Chapter 10  

  Chapter 11  

  Chapter 12  

Chapter 8

By eleven Saturday, a guard was ushering us into a small conference room. A minute later, Priscilla Caldwell entered from the metal door on the other side with her own guard. She was already unshackled.

“Just knock on the door when you need me,” said her guard. Both guards withdrew.

“Thank you, Alfred,” said Priscilla. Her tone dismissed him.

He said, “I’ll be waiting outside.”

I remained silent, as if what we were doing was obvious.

What were we doing?

Priscilla clearly had access to her makeup. She looked good; not as good as she had in court, but still surprisingly attractive.

“Mr. Smith, I’d like you to represent me.”

I couldn’t suppress a nervous laugh. I didn’t say anything. She had caught me by surprise.

“I know you've left the District Attorney’s Office.”

“You’re represented by Mr. Boxer,” I said.

“I’m in prison for life. I think we both know that Alfred did a less than stellar job. I am in need of some serious help. He concurs.”

I still didn’t know what to say. I decided to go with what had worked the other times I didn’t know what to say: I didn’t say anything.

“Would two hundred thousand be sufficient as a retainer?”

That was not a figure I had considered. Mine would have contained one less zero. I had much to learn about private practice.

I tried to look thoughtful. It was better than looking befuddled.

She mistook it for reluctance. “And if I’m satisfied, I’m prepared to send some of our corporate work your way as well. That would be worth quite a bit more.”

How much more could I negotiate out of her if I remained stupefied?

“I’m not even sure I’m allowed to represent you. I’ll need to reread the Disciplinary Rules.

“Even if I am, there’s no guarantee I can do anything for you. Appeal is a much different situation than trial. You have the burden on appeal to show that there was something essentially unfair in the trial. You have to show it very clearly; not beyond a reasonable doubt, but persuasively nonetheless. And they don’t much care if you’re innocent.”

“Alfred has explained that.”

“I was involved in the trial and I don’t recall any reversible error taking place. There was nothing unfair about it.”

“That may well be, but from my point of view it was fundamentally unfair because I didn’t kill Prentice. I loved him. I still do.”

“I can see how that would leave you less than satisfied with the results,” I said.

“I really need your help. I didn’t kill him and I would like to know who did. Money is no object. Would you please consider helping me?”

Aside from being offered a two hundred thousand dollar retainer, the words any lawyer in private practice most longs to hear are: “Money is no object.” Would I ever hear them again?

Still, “I don’t have a firm. Yesterday was my last day. A lot of legal crap goes into an appeal. That’s a technical term. Can I get any logistical support from Mr. Boxer’s firm?” There are so many technicalities to follow I didn’t want to screw it up.

“He has agreed to help in any way he can. I’m still going to be giving his firm a lot of business. I take it you have agreed to represent me,” she said.

“I’m considering it. First, I've got to find out if I’m allowed. Second, the way you've spoken to me today seems sincere. However, I’m going to need something a little more concrete to convince me you’re innocent.

“I just resigned over an issue of justice. I don’t want to be taking a case just because of money, not that there’s anything wrong with money. If I’m going to represent you, I need to believe you didn’t do it. There is also a lot I need to know to be able to help you. Even if you are innocent, there may be nothing I can do.

“Let me see what I can find out about the legal ethics of representing you and then we'll talk. Do you have any plans for Monday?”

She let out a hearty laugh. “That’s quite an acerbic wit, Mr. Smith. I hope I never have to face you in court.”

“You’re not so bad yourself. If I decide against representing you, I’ll let you know and recommend someone who may be able to help you.”

“I prefer that it be you. Alfred says you have quite a reputation.”

“Nine out of ten defendants surveyed prefer me. If I were in trouble I’d probably want me too. Of course I’m working with a small sample size.”

She laughed. “It certainly helps to have a sense of humor to get you through a difficult situation. I’m feeling much better than I did eight days ago.”

“Considering I won eight days ago, I may wind up feeling much worse. At least I have a worthy adversary in myself.”

She laughed yet again. She smiled. “Until Monday. I look forward to it.” She rose and knocked on her door. The guard came in and led her away.

Who was I kidding? I was taking this case. If Priscilla was innocent, I had added a massive negative to my bonus ledger. Failing to convict the guilty party is bad enough. Punishing an innocent person disrupts the balance of justice in the universe. Worse still, I had been the instrument of injustice. Plus, a good uphill battle really gets my juices flowing.

I knocked on my door and the guard led me into the hall where Alfred Boxer was waiting. We were silent as we wound our way through halls and gates out to his car.

He drove a big, black Mercedes sedan. I hadn’t noticed the model number and had never shopped for one myself so I had no idea where it fit in their line. It was a very quiet ride.

Only when we were on the way back to his office did he speak. “I am so sorry for the way I handled this whole thing. I really like Priscilla and, although I don’t know what I should have done, I’m sure that somebody else could have won this for her. Anything I or my firm can do to help, we will do. Just tell me and it will be taken care of. I’m devastated.”

He was usually somewhat stodgy. This time his tone was rueful.

“Alfred, she told me she didn’t do it. Do you believe her?”

“She didn’t do it. She even has an alibi,” he said.

“What is her alibi?”

If she did have an alibi, he should write a textbook on how to screw up a case based on personal experience.

Start with a client who is innocent and has better financial resources than the Commonwealth itself. Assign a lawyer who has no criminal experience and doesn’t understand the process. Refuse to assert an alibi. Refuse to examine the physical evidence. Fail to hire your own experts to advise and oppose the scientific evidence. Practically all that was missing was a confession.

That was it!

I could just see the enthusiasm with which Boxer’s firm would help me prepare a brief asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. That was a realistic possibility. I would wait until later to tell him I had thought of a strategy that might well help his good friend.

“So that’s about it,” Alfred said.

Shit! I hadn’t been listening. How could I ask the crucial question and not listen to the answer? How could I wander off to think about his ineptitude instead of paying attention? Maybe I have a tumor.

“Amazing,” I said. It was hardly the first time I found myself in this type of situation.

When I saw Priscilla I would have her tell me in her own words. Please, let me pay attention then.

Still, this was probably my worst lapse. It’s bad enough not knowing the details people have told me in conversations about their wives, children, and interests because, even though they told me, I wasn’t listening. I’m all set to make some generic comment about what a wonderful thing their child did when somebody saves me by saying they wish they had a horse like that. It’s torture trying to cover up as if I knew what they were talking about.

But I can envision the humiliation as I stand before Judge Minor and tell him my client couldn’t possibly have done it because she was someplace else I don’t know, doing something I don’t know, with somebody I don’t know.

 

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  Chapter 13  

  Chapter 14  

  Chapter 15  

  Chapter 16  

  Chapter 17  

  Chapter 18  

  Chapter 19  

  Chapter 20  

  Chapter 21  

  Chapter 22  

  Chapter 23