“So, Mr. Samuel Wilson, you have no trial experience. Did you do Moot Court in law school or an internship that allowed you to participate in or witness trials or administrative hearings?”
My interrogator, Lena Morgan, is the Office Administrator for the Legal Division of the Department of Adult and Child Care. She is a heavyset, no-nonsense woman with only traces of blond in her gray hair.
“No, no Ma’am. I have represented employees at administrative hearings, but never as an attorney.”
She seems slightly perplexed by my lack of trial experience. She studies me for a minute, looks me in the eyes and leans toward me over her cluttered desk. “Well, you are the first virgin I have seen here in fifteen years. The work we do here demands experience. You have to hit the ground running.”
I lean in and smile back at her. “I have on my running shoes. I can play catch-up.”
Humm, we are going to see about that, aren’t we? You’ll need a strong, experienced Secretary and Legal Analyst to help you. And I have a pair that would be perfect for you, but Maria Gonzales, the Legal Secretary, is going on maternity leave this week. And Gabby Salazar, the Analyst, is tied up with a major case.” Morgan studies me for a moment and drums her fingers on her desk. “We have the three other new attorneys going through our regular three-week training, but that is for experienced attorneys. Not a good place for you to start, so, what are we to do with you?”
“I’m willing to run with the big dogs. I think I can keep up-
“Wilson, are you willing to take a gamble, a leap of faith, say, and work with ahh, ahh, a different personality, but very knowledgeable?”
Now, I sit back and take in Morgan’s office littered with boxes, case files, stacks of printouts, and scattered law books. She is comfortable with my taking my time and scoping out her den. She is comfortable with getting old, letting her gray hair show. I decide I trust her. I like her.
“Different, humm, sounds like difficult might be a better word… but I want to trust your judgment. Can I do that?”
Morgan chuckles, “Yeah. I think you just might work. We’ll try it for a few days and see how it goes. Now, this is critical, if you feel aaahh overwhelmed or just real uncomfortable come see me immediately. You got that?”
“Is this Attila the Hun or Ted Bundy you’re fixing me up with?”
Now she laughs loud and clear, “You should be so lucky, Samuel. Can I call you Samuel?”
“Listen her bite is way worse than her bark. If she finds she can dominate you, she will. She has left one of our star attorneys in tears and forced another to leave the Department. She can be more than a handful.”
Now, I’m starting to get a little worried. This is my first job as an attorney. I’m forty years old, and I struggled to get this damn degree and pass the Bar. My wife and kids put up with a lot to help me get here. I don’t want to blow it all on my first job. Still, a baptism by fire… shit… I did that in Nam… I think I’m going to trust Morgan this once.
Morgan has summoned my Legal Analyst/Legal Secretary/trainer. Her name is Anna Kemper. Morgan and I exchange small talk while we wait for this hell on wheels, lawyer devouring, fire-breathing dragon that is going to help me catch up with the seasoned troops.
Morgan has just warned me not to be shocked by Anna’s appearance just as the dragon darts into her office like an angry bee.
I can’t help it. I stare. I blink. My jaw drops. She stands in front of Morgan’s desk with her petite hands on her miniature hips and a frown on her little angry face. She’s clearly pissed, all 4’ 8” or so of her. She is tiny, tiny with gold hair and almond-shaped sparkling blue eyes and a little-upturned nose. She’s a dead ringer for Tinkerbelle. I mean, her hair is in a bob, and she’s wearing short heels, a white blouse, and blue skirt, but even with that, she’s the spitting image of Tinkerbelle. My first thought is to paste some wings on her, and take her home for my girls, eight and nine, to play with. I have to try really hard not to break out in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
Morgan confronts Kemper before the fairy can cast a spell or sprinkle pixie dust.
“Not a word, Kemper. Not one word. You are on my shit list, at the very top of my list. So, meet Samuel Wilson, your new attorney to train and explain life hereabouts.”
She spins to look at me, looks me up and down and those blue eyes are chips of jagged blue marble. Not very friendly or Disney like at all.
She turns back to Morgan. The little elf finally speaks, “Why me? Is he mentally challenged or brain damaged?” Her voice is not tiny at all. It carries weight, authority, anger, not a voice you can ignore or laugh at. I’m starting to regret my decision to work with this imp.
“I’m beginning to think I’m a little of both.” I offer her my hand. She crosses her arms under her breast and sneers at me. The little snot actually sneers at me.
Morgan intervenes. “Dial it down Kemper. You two make a lovely couple. Off you go now and don’t forget to write.”
At that moment, I’m starting my own shit list and Morgan, and Kemper are at the top.
“Are you telling me you have no real or imagined courtroom experience? I will kill Morgan. No, that’s too easy. She will die the death of a thousand paper cuts, the old cow. And you, you could have told me before I got into this situation.”
I’m sitting in a chair in her impossibly neat office as she paces back and forth in front of me.
“I live in Southgate. I drive by the courthouse every day, and I used to watch Perry Mason if that helps.”
She is not at all impressed with my sense of humor. “Have you ever written an accusation?”
“No, but I have been accused of lots of stuff. I have been accused of so many—“
And that’s how I started my apprenticeship with Captain Bligh.
I’m working in the small conference room across from her office. I have a cubicle office, but she says I need to concentrate free of interruptions. I have three accusations drafted by different Department attorneys. I have the case files including the decisions. My job is to do a critical analysis of the three, five and ten page documents and rewrite the charges to make them more effective. I have three hours.
She rips my work to shreds. She finds problems that I missed in every document. She rewrites every one of my corrections, and I have to admit; her rewrites are vast improvements. Her contempt is palpable. It is more of the same after lunch. I think I will get at least one rewritten charge through her, but she crosses out my rewrite altogether as redundant, she’s right. I have homework, five accusations to review.
“It’s ten o’clock, babe, are you going to be much longer?”
I yawn, stretch and reach for my wife. She stays just out of my reach.
“You didn’t work this hard in law school, last chance, going once, going twice…” She moves off toward our bedroom.
I’m truly beginning to hate fairies.
She reviews my homework, marks it up and notes that at this rate, I will be sixty before I can write a decent accusation. Today I go back over the same accusation to look at compliance with our regulations, are the citations correct and is the correct regulation being cited. And again I’m to correct any errors I find. I’m marginally better at this task, but the grim little elf is not impressed. Next, I go over the same documents to see if the regulations are a fair reflection of the laws they are based on. It is tedious exacting work under a harsh, relentless little tyrant.
After lunch she summons Alene Watson, one of the Senior Attorneys, into the meeting room. Alene is the author of one of the truly dismal accusations that I have read. It was three pages of too vague or too specific or misapplied regulations.
“Kemper, what the hell is this? I’m on my way to LA. I don’t have time for your shit today.”
The little sprite turns to me, “Wilson. This is your instructor for as long as you find her helpful. She’s going to explain how her accusation in the Bradley case cost us the case and gave the Department a long lingering black eye.”
“You horrid little bitch! You, you are so full of shit! I will… Fuck you!”
Watson starts out the door.
“Wilson’s a virgin. He’s never done a trial or an administrative hearing. The Chief Counsel hired him because the Director asked him to. I will personally inform the Director that you refused to assist in the training of his baby attorney. You should use your time in L.A. to look for a new job because you will be finished in this Department.”
Watson is frozen with her hand on the door knob. She is shaking with rage and frustration. Watson turns to face me. She avoids looking at Kemper. Watson tells a short, bitter story of her legal analyst suddenly taking ill and another legal analyst from a different shop completing the accusation. Watson assumed the accusation was done by her very competent legal analyst and approved it without reviewing it. At the hearing, the judge would not allow the accusation to be amended or withdrawn because the hearing date was past due. The other side challenged the competence of the accusations, and the judge found for the defendants. The recitation has taken a visible toll on Watson. Her complexion is pale, and her face is drawn. Her hands grip the back of the chair so hard I hear a finger nail snap. She just stares at me, waiting.
“A child had died in the facility. Surely the DA—“
She cuts me off. “The DA found no evidence of criminal liability in the death.” Now, she hates me as much as she hates Kemper. “Is that all? I have to catch a flight.”
“Just, when did you discover the accusation was screwed up?”
She spits out, “At the hearing. I have to go now.”
I nod for her to go.
Watson slumps out like a broken rag doll.
I catch immediate hell from the very angry elf.
“That was a learning opportunity, Wilson. It cost her a lot to be here. I’ll pay hell for that expensive lesson, and you have two softball questions. Do you even want to work here?”
“You didn’t have to do that. There are better ways to teach that lesson.”
“Teach what lesson? What lesson did you learn?”
“Treating people with respect is a lesson I learned early on.”
“Really? But you’re a long way from learning to be an effective attorney.”
“Kemper, she made a mistake. We all make mistakes, even you.”
“Mistakes! You think this is about mistakes? That slime ball is still here drawing Senior Attorney salary. If you cared about respect, if you had even a little bit of attorney in you, you would have asked what happened to her legal analyst.”
“The analyst fucked up. Even I saw that when I first looked at the accusation.”
“No, you are wrong again. The analyst who drafted the accusation came from the policy shop. She had never drafted an accusation. She wasn’t familiar with the regs. She was told to put something in the computer system as a place holder that the attorney would complete. She had thirty minutes to enter something.”
“I, I didn’t know—“
“That analyst is gone. She received most of the blame when Bradley went south. Shit rolls downhill.”
“Look; I didn’t—“
“You didn’t ask. You didn’t ask the right questions. Watson’s regular analyst was invited not to return to the Department after her gallstone surgery. Both gone, Watson’s still here.” All of sudden Kemper looks tired like her little internal light bulb had dimmed. “Wilson, take the rest of the day and do what you will. You report to Morgan in the morning.” She doesn’t spring away as usual. She seems to fade out of the room.
“What an interesting workplace you have. Kemper sounds like she’s on a vendetta. You may be better off joining the training with the other new attorneys.”
Cindy and I are cuddling on our couch having a glass of wine after finally getting our girls to sleep. “I don’t know. She’s a damn good trainer and knowledgeable… smart… I don’t know.”
“Well, Mr. Wilson, I think it’s not a matter of what you know. She sounds like she has cut you loose.”
“Well, Mrs. Wilson, you may be right, and the other new attorneys don’t have homework. That means I would have time to…”
“To help with the girls and to fix the vacuum cleaner, the lawn mower and-“
“Honey, a kiss is worth a thousand words.”
I try to get a dictionary’s worth of kisses.
Kemper looks up from the case she’s reading. “This is not Morgan’s office.”
I take a deep breath. “I want you to train me if you will. I need your help. You’ve helped me enormously, but I need more. I know I need a lot more.”
She doesn’t hesitate. She points to a thick case file on the edge of her desk. “Review it, every page of it. Know it. After lunch, you have a witness prep interview with Denise Means. Patterson has this case, but she has a hearing today. You will prep the witness and be at the hearing tomorrow to support Patterson. Go read.”
I have a ton of questions, like why did she change her mind and how did she know I would be coming back to her. But, she’s back reading her case.
“Who is Denise Means?” Kemper’s at work even when she’s driving is driving and obviously enjoying her three series BMW convertible. She’s a skillful driver. She handles the BMW with ease and confidence in the downtown traffic and on the freeway.
“Denise is a six-year-old black girl who has been in county institutions and foster homes since the age of three. She is thin, undersized, has a slight lisp and is good at math. She has bad hair and unhealthy charcoal colored skin. She collects bottle tops and loves to read.” I pause as I recall the case file. “She is, is a very strong little girl. She hasn’t given up.”
“Given up on what?”
I take so long to respond that Kemper glances over at me. “She hasn’t given up on herself… she believes in herself, and that things will get better. That’s her religion, her lifeline.”
“Wilson, I read that case file three times. I didn’t see any evidence of her strength or optimism. What’s bad hair?”
“It’s in there. In her case – short, nappy hair that will not grow more than a couple of inches long.”
Denise greets us at the door in a blue and white school uniform. Her foster mother, a very tall, homely looking white woman is right behind her.
Denise is stunned when she sees Kemper. Her mouth drops open, and she points at Kemper and turns back to look at her foster mother and continues to point at Kemper. The foster mother stops short, puts her hands to her chest and mutters, “Oh my, oh my.”
Kemper puts on her icy, still as death voice. “Is there something you want to ask me?” The voice and the look on her face dispel any image of Tinkerbelle that those two had formed.
Denise and her foster mother both are shaking their heads no and are trying desperately to look away from Tinkerbelle; I mean, Kemper.
Kemper, Denise, and I conduct the interview in Denise’s bedroom. Kemper makes herself invisible speed reading case files. The only other words Kemper says during the entire visit are “Goodbye.” and “Thank you.”
“Mr. Wilson is it hard to be a lawyer? Are you rich? All lawyers are rich, right? Do you have kids? Do they have a dog? Is that your car? It’s pretty. We have food. I can open the fridge whenever I want. I’ll show you.” When she’s finally over the initial gush of questions and comments, I answer each of her questions in the order she asked them. She keeps trying to sneak peeks at Kemper, but there is freeze zone around Kemper that discourages us from even looking in Kemper’s direction.
I had planned to convince Denise to testify by telling her she would be protecting other kids, and that it was the right thing to do and that it was a demonstration of her bravery. I did none of that. I just talked to her about things she wanted to talk about. We looked at pictures of my daughters. “Wow, they are so pretty. Their mother’s pretty, huh?”
I admire her bottle top collection, “These are amazing. You must have drunk a lot of beer to get all these beer bottle tops.”
The fifteen-year-old son of a previous foster mother had come into her bedroom when she was five and tried to force his dick into her mouth. She tried to fight, but he was too strong. She cried, and her roommate in the upper bunk screamed at the boy to stop that. She would do it. She did what the boy wanted, and her roommate pleaded with Denise not to tell anyone because it would just make things worse. The roommate was six years old. The boy came back two nights later and forced both of them to perform oral sex on him. This time, Denise told her foster mother what happened. The foster mother slapped her, called her a liar. Denise called her social worker three times each day for the next three days and left messages with each call. Denise never got a response to her messages. The boy came back to her and her roommate twice during that period. One of the other foster kids told a different social worker what was happening to Denise and her roommate. It still took two weeks to move Denise and her roommate. The only reason the attacks stopped was because the boy was arrested on unrelated charges two days after the second social worker was informed of the assaults. She tells me the whole story and answers all my questions. She is quiet, still and remote as she talks about the events. It has taken eleven months for our Department to get the case to hearing.
I explain the hearing process and answer her questions. I ask her if she will testify.
“Will you be there?”
“Yes, but another attorney will be asking you the questions. She’s very kind and very good at interviewing young people.”
She thinks about it for a while. “You promise to be there?”
“I do.” We shake on it.
She takes us for a tour of her home, shows me the fridge and the back yard and introduces me to the two other foster kids.
We drive back to the office. I don’t have much to say, and Kemper has nothing to say until we park.
“She’s your witness tomorrow. I will clear it with Patterson. You be ready.”
She pauses for a minute and adds, “She is a very strong girl. I’m glad you saw that in the file.”
Cindy and I are fixing dinner. The girls are doing homework.
“Well, that was quick. I thought you were struggling with your little pixie, and now you are putting on a witness. What happened?”
“I’m not sure. I must have done all right in the witness prep.”
The girls want to come to the hearing and see their dad in action. I tell them next time when I have my own case. Cindy wants to come to until I tell her about the case. She decides to pass on this hearing.
I don’t worry about the hearing that night. I can’t stop seeing Denise Means and her bottle top collection.
I arrive at the hearing room early. I have two legal pads of questions for Denise.
Kemper asks politely if she can see them. I hand them to her, and she pretends to read as she walks to the nearest trash bin and dumps my five hours of work into the bin. The little devil walks back to me and has the nerve to smile at me.
“Just do what you did yesterday. You will not have any problems with Denise.”
She just doesn’t know how close she came to following those pads into that bin.
Abby Patterson is an attractive brunette in her mid-forties. She has a kind face, but she has a reputation for being a shark in the administrative hearings. She thanks me for putting on Denise. She gives me a few tips. I will be sitting at the prosecution table with her.
When Denise arrives, I spend ten minutes talking to her. She is delighted that I will be “her” attorney. She hugs me.
On the stand, I take Denise through the qualifying questions to establish her ability to recall and relate factual information from the time of the alleged incidents. I establish that she knows the difference between the truth and a lie. I have her promise to tell the truth.
Judge Sampson finds her to be a competent witness. I make a motion to have Denise testify in a narrative fashion. The motion is not opposed by the defense attorney and is granted by the judge.
It was a rehash of my interview yesterday.
The cross-examination is effective and fair. I make only a few objections during cross, and I couch them as suggestions. The judge and the defense attorney go a long with this approach.
I have a very short re-direct.
Patterson thanks me and compliments me on my court room manner and the effectiveness of my work.
Afterward, Kemper and I take Denise to lunch at McDonald’s.
“The little thief stole your heart didn’t she?”
Kemper and I are walking out of the garage and back to work after the hearing.
“You want to adopt her and have her be part of your nice little middle-class life right?”
“It won’t work. Your girls will hate her, and your wife will not accept her, and she will be worse off than she is now.”
“You presumptuous little bitch. You, you – did you ever think about plastic surgery and dying your hair black and wearing heels?”
“No. Did you ever think about bleaching your skin white and straightening your hair?”
I’m ashamed of what I just said. I can’t look Kemper in the face.
“Well, I hope you got that out of your system. Come on; you have accusation drafting this afternoon.”
“Did you apologize to her?”
“Cindy, I tried. What an asshole thing to say.”
“Well, she got you back. You need to move on.”
The next morning before I’m in the office good I’m told Morgan wants to see me ASAP.
Morgan’s not in a good mood.
“Close the damn door. Sit!”
I sit. I start to explain about my comments to Kemper, but Morgan cuts me off.
“What did you do to Kemper? I have tried to be fair to you Wilson, and you go pull some shit like this.”
I try to stammer out a response, but Morgan rushes on.
“Are you playing in the pixie dust? Are you lifting little fairy skirts?”
It takes me a moment to understand what Morgan is saying.
“What? What the hell are you talking about? Are you—“
“OK, OK sit back down. I just had to ask. I, I have known Kemper for years, and she has never raved about anyone like she did about you.”
“Morgan, what the hell is going on here? Have you gone crazy?”
Morgan points to three large ugly looking case files on the front of her desk.
“That is the H. Williams case, a dog of a case involving two four-year-old victims. The case is an embarrassment to the Department. It is overdue. No one wants this case. Patterson was going to get this case because she’s the best we have at working with children that young.”
“OK, but what does this have to do with me and me having sex with Kemper?”
“Kemper said you were the best attorney in the Department to handle this case. She praised you, said you were ‘a natural.’ Kemper and praise are not a natural state.”
“And, you jumped to the conclusion—“
“I have a dirty mind, so shoot me. Anyway, I checked with Patterson and lo and behold after some reflection she agreed with Kemper.”
“I could have been sleeping with her also. Did you think about that?”
“OK, OK I apologize again. However, I never trust lawyers, especially, when they will dodge a bullet like the Williams case. So, I put my ear to the street, and the street told me that at least one judge thinks you could pull it off.”
“Yeah, I could have been sleeping with her too.”
“Knock it off. You got all the apology you are going to get. I can’t force you to take this case. This is a case for a Senior Attorney, but, but if you take this case, you will not lack for any support or assistance that the Department can provide. This comes from the Director himself.”
“What did Kemper say about me exactly?”
“Humm, ‘He’s not that bad’… and ‘I’ve seen worse…’ and ‘better than average.’ I think that about sums it up.”
“Oh, huh, well aah, if she thinks I can do it. I don’t think I’ll need much help. Kemper’s all the help I’ll need.”
“Wonderful, but she returns to the AG’s office at the end of the week two days from now.”
“What? She never said anything about leaving.”
“Yeah, well our little fairy got into it with the Chief Counsel over the fallout from the Bradley case, a very ugly scene, so she goes back. Don’t feel sorry for her. She goes back with a promotion and she kind of created her own job over there.”
Things are beginning to fall into place for me.
“Listen, you are not expected to win this case, just do your best and move it off the books. Patterson will co-chair if you want. Anything you want anything you need, OK?”
We take a long lunch, and she has the top down as she puts the BMW through its paces on the South River roads’ twist and turns. The sun is kind. The wind is gentle, and the little Beamer is purring with contentment.
“Wilson, what you have that makes you connect with the kids will kill you in this job. One year, eighteen months at the most and you find something else to do after that.”
“I’m taking Denise and her foster sibling’s roller skating after school on Thursday.”
“I revise my advice, twelve months or less.”
“Yes, mother. I hear you. Can I call you if I need your help with the Williams hearing?”
“Are you going through the motions or are you serious about revoking the group home owner’s license?”
She has on large dark glasses that cover her eyes and half her face. She looks straight ahead and takes the thirty miles per an hour curve at fifty.
“Wilson, the owner is a substantial corporation. You will be confronting first class legal talent, the best that money can buy.”
She drops into second and screams by a truck doing forty.
“When it starts to get expensive, and it will; the Department will ‘encourage’ you to settle at any cost.”
We slow to twenty-five as we enter the village of Sinclair.
“Are you prepared for the enemy to be the Department and Morgan?”
We leave Sinclair and are cruising at sixty-five.
“Kemper, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You should come to the hearing and see for yourself what I do.”
Frederick K. Foote, Jr. has published over a hundred stories and poems including literary, science fiction, fables, and horror genres. A collection of Frederick’s short stories, For the Sake of Soul, was published in October 2015 by Blue Nile Press. Another collection of short stories, Crossroads Encounters, is scheduled for publication in May 2016 by Choose the Sword Press.
To see a list of Frederick’s publications, go to: https://fkfoote.wordpress.com/